Fun_People Archive
20 Aug
Microsoft Technical Support vs. The Psychic Friends Network

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 98 13:19:06 -0700
To: Fun_People
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Subject: Microsoft Technical Support vs. The Psychic Friends Network

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649
Forwarded-by: Dan Franklin <dfranklin@BBN.COM>
Forwarded-by: Vernon Miller
[Forward removed...]

In the course of a recent Microsoft Access programming project, we had
three difficult technical problems where we decided to call a support
hotline for advice. This article compares the two support numbers we
tried: Microsoft Technical Support and the Psychic Friends Network. As a
resultof this research, we have come to the following conclusions : 1 )
thatMicrosoft Technical Support and the Psychic Friends Network are
about equal in their ability to provide technical assistance for
Microsoft products over the phone ; 2 ) that the Psychic Friends Net
work has a distinct edge over Microsoft in the areas of courtesy,
response time, and cost of support; but 3) that Microsoft has a
generally better refund policy if they fail to solve your problem.

In the paragraphs that follow, we will detail the support calls we made
and the responses we received from each pport provider. We will follow
this with a discussion of the features provided by each support provider
so that readers can do their own rankings of the two services.

Our research began when we called Microsoft regarding a bug that we had
detected when executing queries which pulled data from a Sybase Server
into Microsoft Access. If we used the same Access database to query two
databases on the same server, we found that all of the queries aimed at
the second database that we queried were sent to the first database that
we had queried. This problem existed no matter which database we queried
first.  Dan called Microsoft's Technical Solutions Line, gave them $55,
and was connected with an official Microsoft Access technical support
person. As Dan began to explain the problem, the support person
interrupted him, and told him that since it was clear that it was not
just a problem with Access but with the two programs together, Microsoft
would not try to help us.  They did,however, have a consultant referral
service with which he would be  glad to connect us. Dan then asked if we
could have our $55 refunded, since Microsoft was not going to try to
answer to our question. The tech support person responded by forwarding
Dan to the person in charge of giving refunds. The person officially in
charge of giving refunds took Dan's credit card info again, after which
Dan asked about the referral service.  It was too late, however - the
refund folks could not reconnect Dan with the tech support guy he'd been
talking with, nor could he put Dan in touch with the referral service
hotline. End of Call One.

Our second call came when Dan was creating some line graphs in Microsoft
Access. Microsoft Access actually uses a program called Microsoft Graph
to create its graphs, and this program has a "feature" that makes the
automatic axis scale always start the scale at zero. If all of your data
are between 9,800 and 10,000 and you get a scale of 0 to 10,000, your
data will appear as a flat line at the top of your graph-not a very
interesting chart. Since Dan was writing Visual Basic code to create the
graphs, he wanted to be able to use Visual Basic code to change the
graph scaling, but he could not find anything in the help files that
would tell him how to do this. After working with Microsoft Graph for a
while, Dan concluded that it probably didn't have the capability that he
needed, but he decided to call Microsoft just to make sure. Dan
described his problem to the technical support person, whom we'll call
Microsoft Bob. Microsoft Bob said he'd never gotten a call about
Microsoft Graph before. He then left Dan on hold while he went to ask
another support person how to use Microsoft Graph.  Microsoft Bob came
back with the suggestion that Dan use the online help. Dan, however, had
already used the online help, and didn't feel that this was an
appropriate answer for a $55 support call.  Microsoft Bob didn't give
up, though. He consulted the help files and learned to change the graph
scale by hand and then began looking for a way to do this via code.
After Microsoft Bob had spent about an hour on the phone with Dan
learning how to use Microsoft Graph, Dan asked for a refund since he had
no more time to spend on the problem. Microsoft Bob refused the refund,
however.  He said he wouldn't give up, and told Dan that he would call
back the next week.

Microsoft Bob did call back the following week to admit failure. He
could not help us. However, he couldn't give us a refund either.
Microsoft Bob's supervisor confirmed Microsoft Bob's position. While
Microsoft Technical Support hadn't solved our problem, they felt that a
refund was inappropriate since Microsoft Technical Support had spent a
lot of time not solving our problem. Dan persisted, however, explaining
that if Microsoft Bob actually knew the program, he would have been able
to give Dan a response much sooner. The supervisor made no guarantees,
but he instructed Dan to check his credit card bill at the end of the
month. The supervisor explained that if Dan saw that the charge was
still there at the end of the month,then he would know that he hadn't
gotten a refund. End of Call Two.

Our third call to Microsoft involved using the standard file save dialog
from within Microsoft Access to get a file name and directory string
from a user in order to save an exported file. The documentation didn't
make it clear how to do this using Visual Basic code within Microsoft
Access, and Dan decided to call Microsoft to ask if and how a programmer
could do this.  The technical support person he reached told him he was
asking about a pretty heavy programming task.  He cheerily informed Dan
that he'd called the wrong number and advised Dan to call help for
Visual Basic, not Access ($195 instead of $55 ). This technical support
person was extraordinarily helpful in getting Dan his refund. End of
Call Three.

Stymied by our responses from Microsoft, we decided to try another
service provider, the Psychic Friends Network. There are several
noticeable differences between Microsoft and the Psychic Friends
Network.  Microsoft charges a flat rate per "solution," which is a
single problem and can be handled in multiple phone calls. As described
above, Microsoft may or may not issue a refund of their fee if they fail
to provide a solution for your problem. The Psychic Friends Network
charges a per minute fee. They do not offer a refund if they cannot
solve your problem. However, unlike Microsoft, they will not charge you
extra if they provide more than one solution per call.

We decided to test the Psychic Friends Network by asking them the same
questions that we had asked Microsoft Technical Support. We called them
and were quickly connected with Ray, who was very courteous and helpful.
Like Microsoft Bob, Ray quickly informed us that he wasn't fully up to
date on the programs that we were working with, but he was willing to
help us anyway. We started off with our first problem : making a
connection from Microsoft Access to two different Sybase Servers. Ray
worked hard on this problem for us. He sensed that there was a problem
with something connecting, that something wasn't being fulfilled either
in a sexual, spiritual or emotional way. Ray also identified that there
was some sort of physical failure going on that was causing the
problem." Do you mean that there's some sort of bug?" we asked. Ray
denied that he knew about any sort of bug in the software. "Are you sure
there's not a bug?" we asked. Ray insisted that he did not know of any
bug in the software, although he left open the possibility that there
could be some bug in the software that he did not know about. All in
all, Ray did not do much to distinguish himself from Microsoft Technical
Support. He wasn't able to solve our problem for us, and he wasn't able
to confirm or deny that a bug in Microsoft Access was causing the
problem. We then asked Ray our question about using Visual Basic to set
the axes of a chart. Ray thought hard about this one. Once again he had
the sense that something just wasn't connecting, that there was some
sort of physical failure that was causing our problem. "Could it be that
it's your computer that's the problem?" he asked. "Is this something
that happens just on your computer, or have you had the same problem
when you've tried to do the same thing on other computers?"  We assured
Ray that we had the same problem on other computers, then asked again,
"This physical failure that you're talking about, do you mean that
there's some sort of bug?" Once again he assured us that there wasn't a
bug, but that he didn't know how to solve our problem. "I sense there's
some sort of sickness here, and you're just going to have to sweat it
out.  If you'd like, you can call back tomorrow.  We have a couple of
guys here, Steve and Paul, and they 're much better with computer stuff
than I am."  To conclude our research, we asked Ray about our problem
with the standard file dialog box."  It's the same thing as the last
one," he told us.  "There's some sort of sickness here, and you're just
going to have to sweat it out. There is a solution,though,and you're
just going to have to work at it until you get it."

Co n c l u s i o n s

In terms of technical expertise, we found that a Microsoft technician
using Knowledge Base was about as helpful as a Psychic Friends reader
using Tarot Cards. All in all, however, the Psychic Friends Net work
proved to be a much friendlier organization than Microsoft Technical
Support.  While neither group was actually able to answer any of our
technical questions, the Psychic Friends Network was much faster than
Microsoft and much more courteous. Which organization is more affordable
is open to question.  If Microsoft does refund all three "solutions"
fees, then they will be the far more affordable solution provider,
having charged us no money for having given us no assistance. However,
if Microsoft does not refund the fees for our call regarding Microsoft
Graph, then they will have charged us more than 120% of what the Psychic
Friends charged, but without providing the same fast and courteous
service that Psychic Friends provided.

Microsoft Tech Support (800) 939-5700
The Psychic Friends Network (900)-407-6611

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