Inside Tech Support

An insider's view of the OOL technical support call center. I am an OOL techical support representative and I've created this blog to give you an insight into the workings of the call center as well as help you get inside the mind of the guy who is helping you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Management's obsession - Part II

When you call in, do you ever have the feeling you are talking to a machine? That the techs all say the same thing in the same way? That their speech pauses in awkward places in their opening? Do the techs ever repeat your questions back to you as a statement or talking around an issue instead of saying no? If so, it is all because of BPA.

BPA is management's other obsession, their most important tech statistic of all. As stated previously, this stat has nothing to do with your technical ability to fix the customer's problem. In fact you can completely botch the call and you can still score a 100%! All that matters is that the tech says the proper things to the customer. This stat counts for 50% of a tech's rating.

As usual with Cablevision, on paper this looks good but it fails miserably in practice. You are monitored, randomly, 3 times a month. For Each call you are graded on the following:

  • Corporate Response
  • Uses Positive Words and Phrases
  • Upbeat Tone / Sounds Interested
  • Bridges One Part of Call to Another
  • Filling Silences
  • Offers Help Before Being Asked
  • Actively Listens
  • Acknowledges Customer/Offers Action
  • Identifies Needs
  • Takes Ownership
  • Focuses on Solution
  • Summarizes/Gains Agreement
  • Closes Call Politely

Corporate Response
The opening of all calls should techs should be the same: Cablevision, Technical support, my name is Joey, how may I help you. Sounds reasonable, right? But in practice Cablevision fucks it all up. They expect a half second pause between each phrase. If you don't pause, you get it marked wrong. I can understand the desire not to have a tech give you a run on sentence: CablevisionTechnicalsupportmynameisJoeyhowmay Ihelpyou, but enforcing a pause for each phrase is ridiculous. In my experience, all a customer needs to here is Cablevision or Technical support and they jump in and start talking. Meanwhile you are trying to finish your Corporate Response. So you're fucked both ways, you are either marked wrong for interrupting the customer or you are marked wrong for not finishing the Corporate Response. But wait, the micro managing of the call gets better.

Uses Positive Words and Phrases
This should be titled Does not use negative words. That's right, you can't tell the customer No. Or you can't tell the customer they are doing something wrong. You have to talk around it. Even if a customer asks a simple question. Does Optimum Online support IMAP? You can't say No. You have to word it so you don't hurt the customer's feelings. Optimum online supports POP but we do offer a Webmail service that holds 20 MB. If the customer doesn't really understand why you didn't answer his straightforward question and asks again, Does Optimum Online support IMAP? You have to answer the same thing again, maybe word it a bit differently: We have Webmail that holds 20 MB of email. All the customer wants to hear is Yes or No. But the morons in management feel that the customer cannot handle hearing a simple No. To show how ridiculous this metric is try this yourself, go 8 hours without saying a negative word to anyone. If there is one thing I've learned while dealing with customers is that they don't want to be bullshitted, they want a straight answer.

Bridges One Part of Call to Another
This has to do with transfers to other departments and it is one metric I agree with. If you need to transfer the call you should 1) tell the customer you are going to transfer them, 2)contact the other representative 3) put the other rep on hold and tell the customer you are going to transfer them and 4) transfer the customer. The call center rule is wait 30 seconds while trying to contact the other department, if there is a queue, then go back to the customer, explain there is a wait and then transfer them into the queue. There is nothing to quibble about here, this is just good customer service. EVERY tech should get this correct, no excuses.

I have been corrected by someone in the comments.

Bridges One Part of Call to Another This standard has nothing to do with transfers. If you recall correctly, what they want you to do here is to use full sentences and avoid short sharp questions and statements (ex: Name?)

This is almost as stupid as the next metric, Filling Silences. Tech support is all about giving the customer step by step instructions. Instructions are short, abrupt, quick and to the point. They are not full sentences. This is yet another instance where BPA fails in the real world.

Filling Silences
This is among the most annoying metric of all. If I am silent it is because I am working on your problem. I am probably running a variety of tests on your modem/pc/email, etc but they expect me to fill silences with babble. Even if I try to cover myself with Please bear with me while I run some tests, BANG marked wrong for not using positive phrases. We often have to wait for the customer's PC to reboot. With some of those dinosaur PC's it takes quite a while to boot. What am I supposed to say during that time? Make small talk? So, what's the weather like by you? How's the wife and kids? Got any nekkid pics of your wife?...Want some?.

Offers Help Before Being Asked
What the fuck does this mean? I don't know. My Corporate Response already asks how may I help you? What else do they want? And yes, management's guidelines on this are extensive......HA!

Actively Listens
This is related to if you ask a customer to repeat himself. I've asked a customer for his phone number, entered in our ticket tracking program Remedy and had it crash. After I restarted it, I had to ask the customer for his phone number again, explaining my program crashed. Yep, another black mark. It is also difficult to Actively Listen when the customer babbles on and on and on and on about multiple or completely unrelated issues. When you try to get the customer to clarify their problem, you run the risk of being marked wrong. This service sucks, it is sometimes static or I cannot hear the other person, and when I call my brother's wife's daughter's therapist who says his phone service from you also stinks and my PC is running really slow since I got the phone and I cannot get any voicemails and I was unable to call American Idol the other week....... Now of course all this is said before you can even ask for their phone number to bring up their account. And then you have to say So exactly what is wrong? BANG! Black mark.

Acknowledges Customer/Offers Action
Here we must emphasize with the customer. I'm sorry that you are having such an issue, I'll help you with that. What a condescending load of shit. Note that you are not apologizing. It is an empty bullshit phrase. You don't know any of the details yet, all you heard is the initial customer complaint. Apologize when you hear the full story, when you know it is Cablevision's fault. The customer doesn't want to hear empty phrases, they want action.

Identifies Needs
Doesn't the customer do this for you already? They are the ones that called up and asked for help.

Takes Ownership

Focuses on Solution
I was trying to focus on the solution but I was too busy Filling Silences with empty babble.

Summarizes/Gains Agreement
Yeah, this is a brilliant one. After a 45 minute call I'm supposed to go over what we did in detail. After you solve the customer's problem, all they want to do is get off the damn phone, they don't want to hang around to hear you summarize shit. Gaining Agreement is asking them if you can help them with anything else. Let's say I have a pissed off customer that I was unable to help. Now I'm supposed to Gain Agreement? I say: Is there anything else I can help you with? He says: Fuck you! You didn't help me with my original problem! All I know is that if I have an irate customer the only agreement that I can gain is that Cablevision Sucks.

Closes Call Politely
This is simply saying something like Thanks for calling Cablevision, have a great day. Great on paper, lousy in practice. Again, when you have an irate customer, nothing sounds more empty. Let's say you have a customer that has major problems with his phone, that we've been unable to fix for a couple of months and the problem has been escalated a couple of times. He is PISSED. After you explain to him that it is still being worked on, how about ending with Thanks for calling Cablevision, have a great day!

And you wonder why people hate customer service reps, we are forced by management to treat customers like idiots, be condescending and utterly insensitive to their situation. But hey! Just like the Status Page, this is a great thing that management can check off their list, all our techs follow standardized call metrics. Who cares if it doesn't make sense for every call.

All this bullshit counts for 50% of a tech's rating. Did he fix your problem? Did he give you good accurate advice on how to or where to get it fixed? WHO CARES!!! Not Management! Now you don't need to wonder why you get lousy technical support, all the techs are busy blowing smoke up your ass.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Have you ever felt rushed off the phone like the tech is just blowing you off? Have you been told you were in an outage but called later to find out you weren’t? Has a tech ever referred you to a router/OS/PC vendor when the actual problem was on our side? Has a tech ever hung up on you “accidentally” after about 10 minutes? It might not have been incompetence, it may have been the need for the tech to meet management’s unreasonable goals.

As stated in a previous post, the holy grail of management is the call center’s ASA, or Average Speed of Answer. EVERYTHING the tech does affects the ASA so management watch the techs like a hawk. As soon as you walk in the door, management has you under a microscope. Even the time you spend taking a dump is recorded. And any deviation from their specs are met with a heavy hand.

When your shift starts you sign into your phone and you immediately start to Idle. Idle is bad. Very, very bad. Too much Idle time and you will feel the iron fist of management. But you need time to log into your PC and then start up and sign into the 10 applications you need to do your job. Lucky for us we have a special code we can put in the phone that allows us Sign In time. Don’t go over 5 minutes though! Of course management only implemented that sign in time after a class action lawsuit was settled. Before that you had to be at your desk, and signed in (which takes about 10 minutes) BEFORE YOUR SHIFT STARTED. When your shift started you had better be ready to take a call immediately (or feel the iron fist). That this was wrong was brought up numerous times to management, but they ignored it until the lawsuit was filed.

Now you are signed in, management is watching carefully. Your entire day consists of idle time,call Time,hold time and wrap time. Call time is the amount of time you spend on the call with the customer. Hold time is the time the customer spends on hold. Wrap time is the time after the customer hangs up and before you hit the Ready button to take another call.

Management is oh so generous with breaks, for an 8.5 hour shift, we get two 15 minutes breaks and a 30 (unpaid) minute lunch. THE ABSOLUTE MINIMUM REQUIRED BY LAW. Yep, along with those crappy-ass monitors, Cablevision never fails to go the extra mile for us techs!!!

Let’s not forget personal time. Again management shows their generosity by allowing us a whopping 8 minutes of personal time. So, you've got an upset stomach today and have to use the bathroom frequently or take too long doing so? Or take a couple of quick cigarette breaks? Don't worry, you’ll hear about it and it will affect you at raise time. Once, I was sick and took a while in the bathroom. A supervisor actually sent a lead to find me. They weren't concerned about my health, they were concerned I was away from my desk for 10 minutes.

But management is most concerned with Call Time,hold time and wrap time. Those are the most important numbers when it comes to your evaluation. Management’s Call time goal is 9 minutes and 30 seconds. Although I’ve heard from a lying sack of shit manager that this stat does not affect your rating, I’ll believe that when a flock of pigeons fly out of my ass.

Management is very short sighted about Call time. As a competent responsible tech, I’d rather answer all the customer’s questions, and spend the extra time to avoid them calling back. As an example, a customer wants to setup his email for himself and his wife. A tech drinking the management kool-aid would setup the customer’s email in Outlook Express and then tell the customer to do the same thing he did and setup his wife’s email himself. Of course this customer will call back after being unable to figure out what to do. Although the tech met management’s goal for his call time, he created an extra call for the customer. Even worse are the techs (encouraged by some supervisors), that just tell the customer to use Webmail. OOL is a POP shop, it is not IMAP. Email is designed to be temporarily held on the OOL servers, there is no backup, no disaster recovery and you know how I feel about the BISC. DO NOT USE WEBMAIL AS YOUR PRIMARY EMAIL ACCESS!!!

Techs are setup to fail when it comes to the other stats, hold time and wrap time. These goals (30 seconds each) were instituted long before OV. They may have been reasonable when you only had OOL calls but they are unrealistic for OV calls. First of all, we have the issue of the lack of available leads or floor walkers covered previously . The longer it takes to get your questions answered, the longer your hold time is. And OV calls often require you to put the customer on hold and verify the problem by calling other numbers. This may also require a walk to the Comm Desk to use some of the special phones there (Simplifying things, if a customer is in a 973 area code and is having problems calling 973 numbers you can use one of the 973 area code phones at the Comm Desk. If you are doing your job correctly, there is no way in hell you can keep your hold under 30 seconds.

Wrap time is one of the most problematic of all the stats. Management expects us to be able to detail everything about a call as we are talking to the customer. This is why when you say something to a tech, he pauses, you hear typing in the background and then he may ask you another question or ask you to clarify or repeat your statement. But there are a number of issues that cannot be resolved on the phone, they might have to be escalated. In that case, you get all the info from the customer and then after they hang up, you have to document all the customers details into the ticket you are escalating. Or you might have to fill out a web form with about 20 different pieces of info. In a competent company you might think all these tools are linked and can talk to each other, but we are speaking about Cablevision.. Everything is cut and paste. One big problem with techs needing to match the Wrap time is that they skimp on the details in the ticket or even just blow off escalating it. Even worse are the techs that don't bother to save a ticket. No ticket means no wrap time! So if you ever call in and the tech tells you there is no record that you called before this may be the reason why. Having a short wrap time encourages techs to be brief on their documentation and that will hinder the next tech if you call in again, he will have to start from scratch with you.

But the statistic that weighs the most on a tech's performance has nothing to do with being technical or even the success of a tech with your problem. It is concerned only with how the customer is spoken to. Next to their precious ASA, this is what Management pays the most attention. That's right, they don't care if the tech helps you, they just care that the tech speaks the proper phrases. It's called BPA and I'll cover it another day.

With these "goals", management is thinking they are running an efficient call center but if you look deeper at true customer service you see that results do not match the numbers. Management is simply shooting themselves in the foot.

But why should they want to reduce calls? Fewer calls mean less staff means less responsibility which means a smaller bonus. It is in management's best interest (and thus the tech's) to have a customer call in 3 times over 3 days for <10 minutes each at different times of the day instead of having 1 30 minute call. Less call time, less wrap time and less hold time. It's the Cablevision way, everyone wins but the customer......

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Being vindictive

I have been accused of being vindictive, of hating Cablevision and writing this blog in order to damage TSG. This could not be further from the truth. I like the people I work with, I would never do something that would make our jobs more difficult. The supervisors, well you know how I feel about some and the others are just trying to get along in a crappy system. I don't hate management, I hope they can take some of my constructive criticism and improve the lot of myself and my fellow techs. Why I am doing this is posted on the description of my blog: ... to give you an insight into the workings of the call center as well as help you get inside the mind of the guy who is helping you.. If some of my posts are, ahhh, passionate, well, that's how I was feeling at the time.

If I were vindictive I sure could make things hell for management. Note that I have not posted any names, phone numbers, or email addresses. In fact if any names are mentioned in the comments, they are removed. If I were out for blood, I'd post the reachable from the outside phone numbers of TSG management and supervisors, you could go right to the top with your complaints. Got network problems? Here's the number to the VP of RFDN. Got email issues? Here, call the VP of the Bisc. But I would never do that, I want to fix the current system, not destroy it.

As an aside: to all my peeps and moles, keep up the email and thanks for the support! BUT let's have some ground rules. I have no idea if management is even aware of this blog, I've not heard a whisper about it from a supervisor or above. But in case they are, and are looking for the people involved, do the following. These are all common sense but keep them in mind.

  • Do not email from work.
  • Do not post comments on the blog from work
  • Do not email from your personal acct. You never know if they are scanning outgoing mail for anyone emailing the hushmail address.

Thanks for all your help and remember, keep the comments clean!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Optimum Voice

What drives the big interest in Optimum Voice? Greed. Cablevision is greedy for offering a service they are unable to reliably provide and customers are greedy because they think they can get a service for 1/3 the price.

It's not just greed, it's also stupidity. The same morons that buy Roluxes off the street in NYC are the same morons that replace their primary telephone line with OV. Why does a Rolex cost so much more than the Rolux you buy on the street? It is the years of experience Rolex has in making watches as well as the quality of the parts.

You should look at telephone service the same way. Why do you morons think you will get the same reliablity and the same quality of service from OV as you got from POTS (plain old telephone service, aka Verizon). POTS has been perfecting their infrastructure for 120 years and have had a culture of the "Five Nines". That means an uptime of 99.999%. That's 5 minutes of downtime a year.

Cablevision has been working on their voice infrastructure for maybe 6 years and has a culture of incompetence. How many of you that have OV have been down for only 5 minutes in the past year? With POTS , you still have phone service if your lights go out, fat chance of that with OV. And you don't just have to worry about power outages. As stated earlier, the boobs at RFDN love to experiment with the UBRs, if that fucks the customer, WHO CARES? Outside Plant (OSP) performs maintenances and takes nodes offline all the time, if that fucks the customer, WHO CARES? Reliability and redundancy are not concepts Cablevision is familiar with. Verizon does maintenance all the time, they are also now installing fiber to the home (FIOS). Does that interrupt your service? Nope.

Since it is $35/month, people are signing up with OV in droves. Don't these idiots do any research? Why do they believe the bullshit the sales department feeds them? Do they buy cars based on the salesman's pitch? They probably spend 100x more energy investigating their next TV purchase than they did looking into the pros and cons of switching to VoIP. Look, if it works for you, and you have no complaints, that's great, good for you. But if you are having problems and after two tries Cablevision cannot fix it, THEN GO BACK TO VERIZON!!! Give it up! I can understand your frustration, but you're paying $35/mon and
And that is just residential customers, if you are a business and you sign up for OV then you are the King of Idiots. There are some things you don't skimp on and phone service isn't one of them.

OV is the greatest thing since white bread if used as a second line. But if you use
it as your primary line,