Posts tagged ‘tech support’

An Unexpected Roadblock to Some of Our HR Automation

We are trying to use some of the available tools out there to better automate our application and onboarding process for employees.  Though we are not a huge employer (about 350 part-time people) we hire and fire them all every year, so there is a lot of burden for our size on the HR system.

We are running into a frustrating issue.  Most of our employees are older and often have limited computer skills, but we are getting past that.  But we tend to hire couples, and it turns out in the over-50 set that couples often share the same email address.  I can't even imagine having the same email address as my wife and having to filter through all of her business, but there it is.  Unfortunately, in the world of web accounts, must vendors use the email address as the one reliable unique identifier for a person and thus use it for the user name or expect it to be unique.

This is throwing us for a loop.  It is less of a problem in the application system because most of our couples just want to submit a single joint application anyway.  But for onboarding, they  each need their own W-4, I-9, etc.  So they need separate user accounts.

The question then comes down to this for us:  I can require them to get a second email address, but that is likely going to flummox some folks and require my manual intervention to help them.  Do I thus cause more tech support issues for myself than I save from the automation itself?

No point here, just venting on a problem I have not figured out how to fix.  And no fair saying stuff like "gmail is free and easy to sign up for, just make them get another gmail account."  I have managers who do a fabulous job for me that it took me days to teach how to log into and use Gmail.  A better and fairer comment would be "you have 20,000 applicants, make the application process require separate emails and even make it a little technically challenging so you limit your hiring pool to people who are better suited to using modern computer tools."  And yes, that may in fact be our solution.

What Microsoft Windows Has in Common with [Original Cast] Star Trek Movies

Skip every other release.

Here are the original cast Star Trek Movies:

VI:  OK, kind of

V: Bad

IV:  Goofy but enjoyable

III:  Truly terrible

II:  Awesome, to the point that the two Chris Pine et al reboot movies have drawn more heavily on the Wrath of Khan than the original show

I:  Flat, boring

 

Here are the recent Windows releases:

Windows 8:  Sucks

Windows 7:  Excellent

Windows Vista (6?):  God awful

Windows XP :  Very Good

Windows ME:  God awful

Windows 98/2000:  OK

Do you see the pattern?  Windows 7 redeemed the awful Vista in the same way XP redeemed the awful ME.  I can only hope the to-be-released-in-October Windows 8.1 fixes some of the awful mistakes in Windows 8, not the least was the grafting of a butt-ugly touchscreen tablet interface to a PC OS most of us use with mouse and keyboard.  Until then our company is still only buying Windows 7  computers.  Some of my employees buy their own computers -- I provide all the company's tech support and have told them they are on their own if they buy Windows 8 and then can't find the control panel.

Web Site Fixes

I had a surprisingly angry email about some web site issues here, but it did get me off my butt to fix things.

1.  The email address was broken yet again at the link.  I fixed that.

2.  When I bring in blocks of quotes text from other sites, the smart quotes break and end up with things like â€™ instead of a single quote.  This obviously makes the text astronomically hard to read, so I have fixed it in all the archives and will work to make sure it is turned off in the future, though that is a surprisingly rich tech support discussion area on WordPress.

A Paypal Security Hole and Poor Customer Service Judgement that Made it Worse

I have been having problems for a while receiving Paypal payments to my business account.  Today, I received an account notification for someone else's paypal account.  I have received phishing and spoof emails before, but I was pretty sure this one was legit.  I contacted the other person whose account notification I had received (they were horrified at that security breech, by the way), and sure enough, they were honest enough to admit they had been receiving some mystery payments they could not account for, which we quickly determined were mine.  I asked them to check their email addresses on their account, and sure enough, for some reason neither of us could fathom, my email address was listed as a secondary address on their account.  This is the same email that is the primary on my Paypal account, something Paypal claims is impossible.

I asked the other user to not touch it for a minute, and said I wanted to try an experiment.  I called Paypal and got a real person (a slog in and of itself) and described the situation:  I had solid reason to suspect that my email address on my account was on someone else's account as well.  They said that was impossible.  I insisted it might be possible.  Eventually, the customer service agent relented and said they would run a search (I presume they search their data base for my email address and check for multiple hits, an assumption later confirmed by the supervisor).

Well, the customer service agent returned and said "I am happy to tell you your account is fine and no one else has your email address."  She actually said the "happy" thing in a chirpy voice.  I said that now I was REALLY worried, as I had definitive evidence my email is on another account, and if their search programs are not finding the issue, I have no confidence that it is not on more accounts.  After getting nowhere with this, I asked for a supervisor.

I explained all of the above, and the supervisor admitted the first agent did not tell me the whole truth.  She said, "yes, in fact we did find your email on one other account and eliminated it.  The problem was on just that one other account.  We have had this problem a few times and are still trying to figure out why it happens because it should be impossible."  Fine.  But why did the customer service agent feel the need to lie?  I guess technically it was correct for her to report that my email was not on any other account, as they had eliminated the duplications before they took me off hold.  It just seems to be in the institutional nature of organizations to cover their errors and not admit them.

I guess this sort of thing might work with the average computer user who is unsure of his skills and can be convinced that he misunderstands the problem.  And to be fair, all of computer and software customer service seems to work this way, trying to convince users it was their error rather than a bug.  But in my case, knowing for an absolute fact that there was an error, this approach only panicked me more, as I became worried not only with the security hole in their payments system, but with the fact that the company was apparently unaware of the hole and unable to detect it.

The other issue is that I actually think I know how this happened, but neither the agent nor their supervisor took the time to try to get any background information on me that might help them diagnose what is obviously a bug in their system they have been chasing unsuccesfully.  It is a bit like having a mystery epidemic where a disease is spreading via an unknown vector but no one is doing any research into the patients' histories.  Yeah, I know they can't put a priority on every bug fix, but I would assume that for a payments processor a bug that allows money to flow to the wrong person might be of some priority.

Postscript: Not that it matters to any of you, but here is my hypothesis.  I actually had done a transaction with this other user years ago.  This user did not have a paypal account at that time, but one can actually send money via credit card to someone with a Paypal account even if the person sending money does not have an account.  The other user sent me the money with her Visa card from a public terminal, but called me because she could not complete the form because she did not have an email address.  I told her just to plug mine in, and if I got any emails on the transaction I would mail them to her.  Years later, she was more sophisticated and opened up her own Paypal account.  My hypothesis  (really, the only explanation that works) is that at the time she signed up, the Paypal computer went back into its records, found her name from this old transaction, and automatically attached the old email address (mine) from that transaction to the new account as an additional email.  Since this email was not entered via the data entry screen, it bypassed the duplicate email name check which presumably happens at data entry.  It is a back door that allows duplicates in.  I strikes me someone intheir development group might be interested in this hypothesis, since this is one of those bugs it is hard to track down, but no one asked.

A Gross Over-generalization Related to Gender

I try very hard not to fall into the trap of making generalizations related to ethnic or racial groups.  However, I must make a gender-related exception.  There seems to be something about how the average woman's brain is wired that the concept of source switching on a TV set is virtually impossible to comprehend.  I have just had yet another hopeless tech support conversation with a female friend/family member that got "stuck" with cable or DVD material on the TV screen when they wanted to view the other.  Adding to the fun, the female in question was attempting to use a universal remote control which also required mode-shifting to make sure one had the remote set to control the correct component  (another concept apparently particularly difficult for the fairer sex).  Making the tech support challenge harder in this case, the manufacturer of this TV apparently chose not to use the fairly ubiquitous "TV/Video" label for the source-switching functionality, obviating my usual strategy of yelling "TV/video button" over and over into the phone until I get a response.  Fortunately, my second guess of "input" seemed to match a label on the remote.

Yes, I know, all you women will now be rushing from Lawrence Summers' house to mine to set up protests.  I still think that with women dominating on things like relationship management and hygiene standards, and men leading mainly on understanding television source switching and programming remote controls, that women are probably still ahead on points.

Negotiating When Seller's Marginal Cost = Zero

It is an interesting experience negotiating as a buyer when you know two things:

  • Seller has marginal cost approaching zero
  • Seller has lots of competitors who, for my purposes, provide equivalent service

In this case, I was calling Network Solutions to transfer my domain name registrations to GoDaddy, because GoDaddy is substantially cheaper.  Network Solutions sent me a renewal letter to renew at $34.99 a domain.  Yuk!  I began the process of transferring these domains to GoDaddy, who charges in the $8 range.  (By the way, I have been very happy with GoDaddy for my registrations and hosting of simple sites).

Unfortunately, I had a problem with the transfer -- I needed an authorization code for each domain from NetSol and was not sure how to get it, so I had to call their customer service.  Like a good rep, the person asked me why I was leaving, and I said it was because NetSol was too expensive. 

This is where it got interesting.  First, he said that I could stay at Network Solutions and pay just $16 a domain.  I told him forget it, it was still too high.  After some back and forth, and his getting the information I had called for, he finally offered $8 a domain.  That is nearly an 80% discount from the rate they first offered me, and is lower even than the 100 year renewal (LOL) they offer for $9.99 a year.  I turned it down, because it was too late and I was already consolidating my accounts at GoDaddy.

However, if there are those of you out there who are with Network Solutions and want to stay, but want a discount, call their customer service (not tech support) number, click the options for "transfer domains away from Network Solutions".  When you get a guy, tell him you need the authorization number on the domain to transfer it to GoDaddy (this is true).  When he asks you why you are transferring, tell him NetSol is way more expensive than GoDaddy.  And then let him run.  I didn't even ask for a discount.  He just kept throwing them out at lower and lower price levels after I turned each one down.

Spending Christmas Day Doing Tech Support

Merry Christmas, and I hope everyone is having a happy version of whatever holiday they celebrate. 

Around our house, I am always the tech support guy, fixing issues ranging from computers to hitting all the right buttons on the home theater.  Because my wife has a Mac and I and my kids use a PC, just trying to keep everyone playing nice over the home network is hard enough (god, this is starting to sound like a Chaos Manner column).  Usually, this duty is spread pretty evenly through the year, but on Christmas day, our household has an influx of technology that often needs support.

Yesterday was no exception.  First, with the arrival of yet another new mini iPod, this one for my son, a new user partition had to be created on my wife's Mac.  Later in the day I was back on the Mac, helping my son when iTunes inevitable Christmas Day server overload caused him to have a few songs disappear on him during download.  In between, I was on the PC helping my daughter with Zoo Tycoon 2, given to her because Santa knows that she loved the first version. 

Finally, towards the end of the day, I was helping my son with his Star Wars Battlefront game install.  Unfortunately, the install code on the back of the CD box did not work, so with my son panicking when I told him he would have to wait 2 WHOLE DAYS for the the tech support people to come into the office, I swallowed my scruples and went to one of the pirate sites that publish registration codes for games and successfully used one of those to get the game started.  Unfortunately, those sites slam you with pirate-ware, so first I had to fire up my backup computer I use for such grossly unsafe surfing.

Whew.  I can relax now, everything is up and running.  Imagine my relief this morning when my kids wanted to play something low tech - Yahtzee.