When online ‘help’ doesn’t relate to the problem

Have you ever tried to get help from one of the web-companies we seem to be increasingly dealing with – only to discover the response is totally disconnected from the problem?

It seems to be happening more and more lately. Something goes wrong in their automated systems at the server-side end (their doing), leaving you frustrated and unable to resolve an issue. You get hold of the company, only to get a form-style reply back from a service desk operator which assumes you simply don’t know how their system works, or the fault’s at your end.

Artwork by Plognark http://www.plognark.com/ Creative Commons license

I’ve had that a few times with my ISP. I’ve suddenly lost internet connection – boom! Dead! Every time, I’ve got hold of my supplier, and been informed that if the fault is in my home phone wiring, I’ll have to pay some swingeing rate per hour. Then I have to confirm that I’ve done all the troubleshooting routines – cycling the router and computers, and so forth. Finally I’m told that no, there’s nothing wrong at their end. And, every time without exception, the internet’s magically returned some time later, all without my doing anything.

Yup, it appears that my house wiring can develop faults and fix them again, all by itself. The possibility that the fault might be at the supplier end, for example by failed server-switching – and that their help desk doesn’t know what their engineers are doing – isn’t allowed to enter the conversation.

The same thing also happens to internet services. Last year a lot of authors were slammed by a problem with Amazon Kindle’s rather complex ‘marketplace’ system, which left books unavailable in marketplaces they’d been selling into just the day before. Author after author tried to fix it with the available interface, to no avail. But approaches to Amazon merely resulted in a form response outlining how the marketplace system worked.

The message, in short, was that there was nothing wrong; it was the user’s problem. Although it was kind of odd that every user on the planet, suddenly, seemed to be having exactly the same issue, all at once and without doing anything to their own setups. Even more curiously, the whole problem magically disappeared again about 48 hours later, again without a single user actually doing anything themselves. It had to be one of the oddest coincidences ever.

Of course the real issue, to which Amazon finally admitted, was that they’d had a problem with their system. It looked to me like a botched attempt at rolling out a new marketplace model. But who can tell?

Anyway, the point of this example is the disconnect between what was happening for users, and the responses they were getting when trying to get help for it, where the first response is to blame the customer. It seems to be getting all too common in the business.

Have you had such experiences? Let me know in the comments.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019

7 thoughts on “When online ‘help’ doesn’t relate to the problem

  1. GAH!!!!!! -cough- Excuse me while I have a mini fit. I have literally just finished dealing with one of those damn support ‘forms’. The thing that made me see red is that they had the nerve to ask for the exact same information I had put /into/ the original help request form. Either it’s all automated and no one reads the help requests or, no one at their end has any idea of reading comprehension…..

    Good luck. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect just about every interaction we have with large internet companies is initially via bot – artificial stupidity at its finest. I know Facebook is notorious for it, I’m trying to deal with a problem I have with them at the moment and they’re not even answering. Sigh…


      1. Yup. Bots are the first line of tech support everywhere now. Ring anyone, and you spend the first god knows how many minutes making selections from a stupid set of nested options that rarely have anything to do with the problem you’re trying to fix. The worst thing though is that when you finally do get to speak/type at a live person, they don’t even look at the info. you’ve already given them.



  2. You definitely hit on something here. Almost invariably, when I get stuck on a website and need help, I get diverted to FAQs or some such, and none of them relates at all to the problem I have, or there are no ‘hits’ on the keyword I put into the help search.
    Better sites tend to have a ‘chat’ facility where you can interact with a real person (I guess, but maybe that will also get automated!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am fairly sure a lot of ‘chats’ are automated. Then the problem becomes finding the trigger word that leads to useful answers. Quite often I’ll find I have a problem with a system that’s fairly new to me, so I don’t know the specific terminology that applies to what’s happening. And that is where the trouble begins when seeking help…


  3. 1. Why didn’t you use “swingeing” as an obscure word? I can’t remember the last time I read that one!

    2. I haven’t had that issue (yet) with my ISP, but I suspect the psychology not merely of bureaucracy but of the “computer/internet age” is at work. Both have a tendency towards narcissism. It’s an easy syllogism: there’s something wrong; I (company) cannot be wrong; therefore you are wrong.

    3. Capitalism spawns bureaucracies as easily as socialism or any other form of government. (I know capitalism isn’t a form of government…unless an individual capitalist company gets big enough!) And anyone who has worked for a big company knows The Company Is Always Right.

    Conclusion: domination is more important than providing the service you contracted to receive. That’s a psychological issue, not economic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should add ‘swingeing’ to my obscure word list for sure – it’s a good one. Yeah, my ISP absolutely takes the attitude that the customer is at fault. I don’t know how it is in the US, but here in NZ there is a major popular objection to the way corporates farm out their call lines to overseas call centres (not least because it’s seen as taking jobs and money away from Kiwis) – but all the big suppliers here do it anyway, which to me underscores their disdain towards those who actually form their income stream. All, of course, is subjugated to shareholder profit, and I understand that, if overall ‘corporate’ conduct was rendered as that of a person, these big companies would be dangerously psychotic. It gets worse when the management suffer ‘entitlement-itis’ – and I think most of them do.

      All of it, I suspect, is well removed from whatever ideals the company founders will have had, way back when. I think the drift is also by insidious increments to the point of being invisible. You know: 2001: ‘Don’t Be Evil’. 2009: ‘Well, OK, you can Be A Bit Evil On Tuesdays, Thursdays and All Weekend’. 2019: ‘Oh what the hell, let’s be EVIL. Bwahahahahahaha!’

      Liked by 1 person

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