Pearls Before Swine


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jan 09, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


I have written about my frustrations with service before, but I wanted to share three more items.


For those of you who have not seen today's (January 9th, 2011) “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip, it mirrors some of my frustration with service groups. This was the first item I wanted to share.


The second item was with my Internet service. For many years I had two different land-based telephone lines coming into my house. One of them was a “residential” account, and one of them was a “business” account. Having worked for the telephone company in my younger days, I even understood the rationale between having two different types of accounts, and charges, for basically the same service. I did not necessarily agree with the rationale, but I understood it. In addition to this, my DSL-based Internet (which had a static IP address associated with it) came into the house on the same circuit as my residential number, but was billed to my business account.


Recently I decided to reduce some of my expenses by eliminating the land-based commercial telephone account. I called up the telephone company (it is a phone company, after all) and got a very nice lady who agreed that the only thing that had to be done was to move the charges for the Internet over to the residential account (an accounting change) and to eliminate the commercial account. She even identified some charges that had been applied incorrectly against my commercial account for 18 months and said that she would have the telephone company refund my money. Even better, she said, she had a sister that worked in the “residential” section and she would call her sister to make sure the sister talked with me and everything would go smoothly. I must admit that warning bells should have been going off when she told me that family relations was a prerequisite for having things go smoothly with the telephone company, but I was still rejoicing over the promised rebate of my money.


Then I left for a business trip. After about a week I noticed that my email had slowed to a trickle and then stopped. It did not take me long to find that my email account at the telephone company had been deleted and all the email sent to that account was bouncing. I called the telephone company again and they immediately saw the error of their ways and re-instated my account. Unfortunately they did not back up my email account before deleting it, and of course they could not restore the deleted email nor the email sent by others that had bounced until the account was restored, but at least I had the same email address as before and email was working again.


When I returned from my business trip I found that my DSL was not working. Another call to the telephone company and another hour or two of my time lost before I realized that my static IP address was still static, but had simply changed from what it had been. Once I put the new static IP number in my routers, everything flowed smoothly again.


I am lucky. My change was relatively simple, and I had 40 years of experience to guide me in finding the solution. I can not even imagine how long it would have taken members of my immediate family (who are not really “technology literate”) to have the problems fixed.


The above story was point two.


The final point came from a discussion with a friend of mine. We were discussing the best ways of illustrating how much buggy software and inefficient service really costs our economy.


In the past I have mentioned that there are over 1.25 billion desktop computers, and if we only waste five dollars a day in our time and energy due to bad products or bad service, then we waste 6.25 billion dollars a day as a world economy.


Realizing that 6.5 billion dollars a day is a hard number to grasp for anyone but the government (and I have some severe doubts of their ability to grasp it), I had also couched the numbers in terms of employees. If problems with our computers wasted only 15 minutes a day, and if you had 300 people working for you, it is like nine people not showing up for work. No sickness reported. No vacation time taken. They just did not show up. Any manager would be really upset, yet this happens every day because people are spending time trying to fix their computer or trying to get someone to help them fix it.


However, after listening to my two illustrations, my friend shook his head and said that I was going about it the wrong way. Using my numbers of 15 minutes a day lost for 1.25 billion people currently using desktops, it means that for a world economy it is like 39,062,500 people had died due to software bugs and poor service. “This”, he said sadly, “is about half the number of people that died in World War II, but unlike the number of World War II dead, this number keeps growing.”


The problem is that we keep paying good money for poor service and products. It is a little like casting Pearls Before Swine.


Carpe Diem!


  • another form of "poor service"

    Consider the situation where you subscribe to some form of help-desk support. Prior to paying your money, you ask if there are details about the environment or platform that you want covered by said support.
    (For example, I want someone that my wife can call instead of me ...) The support sales people say little at all about the caveats leaving one to rely on interpretation of their service agreement.

    I've done this before (sic) and the agreement sounds reasonable to a reasonable person. Ah! The first mistake -- I may be reasonable. They, on the other hand, might have a different idea.

    Support seems fine for all of the several variations of "is it plugged in" that happen to a typical non-tech computer user. When the first really serious issue happens, suddenly "... your configuration is not certified to work with our software ..." or similar becomes the support staff mantra.

    Realistically, support folks in general have a truely tough job with the M-by-N-by-X matrix of hardware and software and integration parts of which their products are only a small number. If "certified to work" was that important, why don't we have system scanners that report all of the various parts and details and check against some sort of go-no-go filter as a standard support pre-sales step.

    At one point, I heard that a certain workstation vendor did a complete product "re-specify" every 45-90 days because of changes in the availability of basic building blocks -- mother boards, adapter cards, rams cards, disk drives etc. Any hardware "certified to work" is only good until the next re-specify as I understand things. Clearly, the support vendors are looking to duck their responsibilities to offer support and keep their call-completion rate high. Sadly, most support customers have little recourse when they fail to get support that they thought they paid for.

    ~~~ 0;-Dan
  • great comic

    That comic strip is hilarious (because it's so painfully true). When I do get good service, I make it a point to let the provider know. Verizon has kept me as a customer for years and years because they consistently give me good service, and Southwest Airlines will always be my first choice for booking flights because of their incredibly friendly staff.
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