Help!! Is there anyone out there???

I’m sure  that you’ve been frustrated when you’ve called a call center for support on some product or service, only to find it’s been offshored, outsourced and  the voice on the other line is clearly reading from a script:

  • Hi, this is “David”, how can I help you today?
  • (You) I’m having issues with USB hard drive, can you help?
  • (“David”) Reboot your computer  …
  • (You) Really?? Reboot?? Why??
  • (“David”) We need to insure that the hogwart isn’t pottered by the wand.
  • (You) huh?

However frustrating that can be, at least you found a real live, breathing person.  What if there isn’t a person at the end of the line, or if there is no support line at all??

That’s the issue facing millions of folks today when attempting to get helpdesk services in this second decade of the 21st century.    See an enlightening NY Times article dated June 6, 2012 on this topic.

The fact is that most free services on the Net do not provide a basic Service Level Agreement (SLA) with their customers.  This includes services provided by large, very successful companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo and Twitter.   These companies provide  largely free services and it’s understandable that they do not want to provide staffed call-centers (or even staffed IM chat centers) for services that they do not derive revenues directly from the consumer.  As the article notes, it simply doesn’t scale to the tens or hundreds of millions of subscribers.

The rub is that we are getting very dependent upon these services.   Think about it, you and members of your family  are most certainly using free services for email (e.g., Google), social networking (e.g., Facebook), Cloud storage (e.g., Dropbox), Cloud apps (e.g., Google Docs).  I know people so dependent on Facebook alone, they probably need an intervention!   Couple that with an array of ways that your account can “break”, addressing an issue can be extremely frustrating, time consuming and possibly unresolvable.

Now, all’s not totally lost, most of the better sites provide documentation, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and other forms of self-help to help subscribers resolve typical issues that can occur.  Also, most have a user community to allow your subscriber peers to help you with your issue (and if you’re lucky, they have members of the Engineering team actively participating).  However, it’s not sufficient for all issues.

So, what to do??

  • First and foremost, save the email that the service sent to you when you signed up.  I keep an email folder just for this purpose.  Many times when you have an issue, like not being able to access your account, the service will require a copy of this email to insure that you indeed are the account’s owner.  If you’ve not been doing this, do a search on your email inbox for them, then squirrel away any that you find.
  • Make sure that you have copies of any important data that you have on these services.  For example, if you post pictures on Facebook, be sure you have an archive with these pictures locally (and of course, that archive should be backed up).  The same with Cloud storage (sync with computer) and email (using IMAP, sync with computer).
  • Manage your login/password information properly.   Make sure that your passwords are robust and follow good practice (see my post on this topic).  Also, be sure that you have this information stored in a very safe place (like an encrypted file).  Why is this important? You’ve not been on LinkedIn for a while, but you forget your password.  Most sites will allow you to reset your password, but they will send the link to reset it to your email address of record.  If that address is inactive because you’ve changed service providers, you’re dead in the water.   If you knew when you disabled the old account, which services used the old address, you’d have been able to update them properly.  BTW: When I moved from Comcast to Verizon, Comcast forwarded my old email address to my new one.  However, I had to ask when I cancelled my service, else the old email address would have been gone.  This little action has saved me several times.
  • Don’t use a free service for your primary or identification email addresses (see my post on email options for more information) .   Email and the associated address is crucial to your identity on the Net.  Be sure that you can get this back if something happens.
  • If you’re using a service that offers a paid alternative and that service is important to you, consider paying, but only after you understand what support services they offer paid-subscribers.   In many cases, for a nominal yearly fee, they will provide some form of enhanced support  and as an added incentive, they  will provide the service without ads!

The old axiom is that “You get what you paid for”, which when discussing something for free usually meant … nothing useful.  Today on the Net, there is wide-range of very useful and feature-rich services that are free of monetary charge.  Just be aware what the real costs and limitations are.  Balance that with the importance of that service and be sure that you are OK with the tradeoffs.

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