Is our technology stable enough to use?

Oh, how many times I’ve asked myself that question while sitting in front of a crashed computer! PCs are known for their bugs, freezes, crashes, and “Blue Screens of Death.” I was chatting with a friend over lunch and learned that his digital camera had crashed with the BSOD! Personally, my cell phone has frozen, requiring me to remove the battery to “unfreeze” it.

Ah, yes…Technology! It is laden with errors and almost infamous these days for unreliability and frustration. Yet, we grow increasingly dependent, if not addicted, to it. It begs the question: is this stuff really stable enough for our world to depend on? Think about all the technology items we consume for the following: banking, communications, preservation of special events and memories, medical care, etc. Is this stuff stable, let alone usable for the average Joe/Jane?

It was the convergence of three recent events that prompted these thoughts.

  • A problem with my DSL-based internet connection that required me to call my phone company for resolution (1 hour of my time on phone)
  • A billing error with the same phone company requiring more calls (4 hours over three days) revealing that part of my service had not been activated correctly.
  • Gerry McGovern’s posting, Hidden costs of self-service, which relates an all-too familiar story.

I hate calling my phone company, and I have to do it more than I’d like. Billing errors have been frequent, and this time billing errors actually disabled some of my service. So you can imagine how irate I was to have to call knowing that it would cost me my own time to fix the company’s errors. I was prepared for the fight, but not for the experience with the company’s support structure. Luckily, I’ve worked for a company with fairly large call centers and know a little about how those phone menus and customer support centers work. Here is just a short look into how the series of events began:

First call — I patiently responded to the menu prompts, including providing the same identifying information more than once. Eventually, I was informed my call was being routed, and finally (after delay) received the message, “This extension is not in service…” after which my call was disconnected. Ironic, based on the company in question, don’t you think?

Second call — I pressed redial, only to be informed my call could not be completed. At this point, I wondered if it was my deodorant.

Third call — I manually dialed the support number again, tried the same menu path as before, but didn’t respond to the final prompt, instead opting to press “zero” to see if any human operators still exist at the phone company. After waiting until my next birthday while listening to a poorly crafted, deafening 20 second music loop, I was finally greeted by real a human being, who asked me, once again, for the same information I had provided the automated system twice before. After being told I didn’t pay my bill and that my service problems were clearly my fault, I requested to be placed in a 3-way call with someone from the main billing department who better understood how their billing system worked. 45 minutes later, the three of us resolved the first issue.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the remaining calls, but those, also, involved me requesting issues be escalated, documented, and other parties brought on the phone to provide additional information. After working essentially as the mediator between my phone company and two more parties, I finally managed to win my case that I was not at fault for my service nightmare and that my phone company indeed was. In fact, my principle evidence was information contained in their own customer support system, and those of the related companies. I knew the information had to be there. I just had to teach them how to piece it together… at the expense of my own time.

After completing that last call, I began wondering if even the technology used to support the “support structure” of his company itself — the phone menus, the support system, the billing calculations, the Web site, etc. — are not mature enough to make good on the company’s own promises to customers. If my internet connection can be shut down, my long distance service switched, and my billing cycle trashed without my knowledge or consent, one has to wonder if the technology is even stable enough to meet the core requirements for a legitimate business, let alone provide a successful support experience when something does go wrong.

All that said, I’m a fairly savvy technology user. What about new technology users? Are they prepared to deal with servicing themselves both for and with less than perfect technology? How would my personal “self-service nightmare” have turned out for someone without my past technology experience? As companies continue to pass the service and support duties on to the customer, what will result for the less savvy? Are they prepared enough to even identify what problem has occurred, let alone fight the battle to resolve it? I think you know the answers.

Personally, I wish much of our technology would be re-evaluated for stability and usability. What about you? Have a similar experience to share? What are your thoughts on our reliance of technology? Have you witnessed a new technology consumer struggling with supporting him/herself?

3 Responses to Is our technology stable enough to use?

  1. Ben K says:

    Well, the same night I posted this, I received an e-mail from the company stating that I had to contact the internet billing department within 10 days or my DSL service would be terminated. The message claimed I had not updated my “billing information” but that I had continued to use my internet service. Yeah, how about that? Imagine me using a service I’m paying for. What’s left to update? One would have thought all that happened during the several hours on the phone with the billing department already. So much for customer service…

  2. Ben K says:

    Well, as it turns out, the e-mail is an indication of another billing issue that, ironically enough, has nothing to do with my phone number. I’m glad that communication was clear. Once again, I’ve been promised that I will have no more billing “issues.” I’ll believe that when I no longer have to call the company every week.

  3. Ben K says:

    Tonight I returned home to find my DSL service denied, again. The message presented in my browser claimed, “We were notified that you have disconnected your Voice service.”

    So, another call (using my disconnected voice service, interestingly enough!), another trip through the phone menus, and another customer service rep telling me my service has, contrary to the online message, been deactivated due to “non-payment” on the account. However, after a quick glance at her computer screen, the rep notices that in fact the account has been paid in full, as always, and apologizes profusely. Once again, I’m promised this will never happen again. I doubt it.

    I’m beginning to think this company needs to change their motto to “You never stop working for you.”

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