Software Development

When the help desk actually helps

Derek Schauland describes a recent software upgrade that went awry and the positive support experience that changed his attitude about making the call to an external help desk.

Calling external support can be quite a double-edged sword for some IT professionals. Many, myself included, have issues calling other company's help desks due to waiting for an obscene amount of time or playing phone tag for days. Sometimes, we just want to avoid being asked if the computer system has been restarted.

I have been on both sides of the support call, which hasn't really lessened my hesitation to call the help desk. In cases when support is mediocre or worse, the call is quite a drain, likely on both ends; however, when the support you receive meets or exceeds expectations, the experience is very encouraging.

I still think it's best to call only after exhausting all the possibilities that you can think of on your own, but don't count out the help desk if you're at the end of your rope.

I recently had a positive support experience with Microsoft, and since people usually write only about their bad experiences, I thought I should give credit where it's due. For all you customer service and support professionals out there, here's a positive story for a change.

Software upgrade with Murphy looking on

I was working to perform an upgrade of my organization's CRM application and the underlying SQL Server to the latest version. Getting help from a software partner with the actual CRM upgrade went quite well. However, when I tried to get the SQL Server to upgrade from 2000 to 2008, the problems seemed to come in by the bucketful.

The SQL 2008 installer requires that Windows Installer 4.5 and .Net 3.5 SP1 are installed. No problem -- I figured I could download the needed updates if they weren't on the CD and proceed. The installer for .Net 3.5 SP1 failed. The downtime scheduled for the upgrade was approximately five hours; with the troubleshooting of .Net, the actual completion of troubleshooting took approximately one week.

Note: The weeklong troubleshooting did not require all the users to be out of the application for the entire time. Due to travel schedules and issues downloading files, some remote users had to schedule their PC upgrades the following week. To get things moving again, I upgraded our SQL Server to 2005 while troubleshooting the .Net issue. Actual downtime, though longer than expected, lasted about a day and a half.

.Net failed...and failed...and...

Being a bit stubborn, I tried the .Net install four or five times before calling Microsoft, just in case I missed something. When I did call, there was a chance I would not be able to use my existing support contract for after-hours support and the process to determine that lasted about 15 minutes. Given the current state of my upgrade, any help at all was the way to go, so I waited.

Upon reaching a technician, I was told that after-hours support was callback only and that could take 2-3 hours. As it was after 10 p.m. at this time, I wasn't hopeful but was quite surprised when the callback came 20 minutes later.

The issue was found to be a problem with a component of .Net, and the log files were referred to another team for further investigation.

After escalation, I was to receive a callback in another 2-3 hours. Unfortunately, the call did not come until the following morning. Once I got in touch again with support, the issue moved quickly up the ladder and was shared among teams and support personnel.

Note: Even though the support on this issue was excellent, it obviously was not a speedy fix. Because of the nature of the problem, there were several calls between me and Microsoft Support.

The calls continued, and the trial and error lasted for a few days. After removing and reinstalling .Net all the way back to 2.0 and installing a few single hot fixes, we were able to get the framework updated to .Net 3.5 SP1.

Microsoft support proved on every level that it is a good expenditure to ask for help when needed. I wish I had called earlier when having trouble, given the exceptional service I received.

I would encourage all of you to give any help desk professionals more of an opportunity to assist you. If you are a support professional, keep up the good work and continue to help those who ask.

With this issue, I am quite certain I would not have figured it out without help. With the help of both support and product engineers, we were able to get this solved.

On to SQL 2008

During the process of getting things running again for the users within my organization, I installed SQL Server 2005. After things settle down, I will likely move forward to SQL Server 2008; however, for now I want to do a bit of research and determine all I can about the next upgrade.

A quick thank you

I would like to thank all the Microsoft support personnel and other support personnel who assisted me in getting both the database and the CRM application running.

Just remember that the people who are on the receiving end of the support call are there to help customers get their issues solved, so be patient and follow their advice.

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

20 comments
Crash2100
Crash2100

I will admit, tech support can be quite a blessing when the support technician knows what they're doing, but in this day and age, I think many companies have lost the value of good tech support. My ISP is RoadRunner, and for years it's always driven me insane that I call to report an outage and they tell you to reset the modem, even though I tell them "I already tried that." Then I roll my eyes and do what they say, and then after a couple minutes of their repetitive troubleshooting, they say "oh, there has been an outage in your area, that's why it's not working." Someone needs to come up with a way for the more intelligent people to get their first help from someone who actually knows more about this stuff than they do.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I will be on the side of the cable ISP with this post. I had a problem with my cable modem connecting to the internet once after switching service plans. They had to dispatch a tech to manually change something in the outside wall panel. It was a problem that I could not fix, because of secure access to the cable box outside my window. Therefore, in some cases the help desk is your best option to solve a connection problem.

Thump21
Thump21

I too have had nothing but excellence from Microsoft's tech support --still surprises me! Yet, I have *never* found anything good to come from talking to Symantec's support people --worse than Dell, pure evil!

kmeyer
kmeyer

Two thumbs down.

S,David
S,David

I had a Dell desktop blow the power supply three times while under warranty. Each time I would tell them the power supply was bad, and I would get asked things like, "Is there an orange or green light on the front?", "On the back of the machine are four lights; which ones are on?", "If you remove the battery, does it boot up?", and "Have you tried connection an external monitor?" This kind of nonsense is inexcusable. I had given them the service tag information, and they had looked it up in their system, yet some of the questions applied only to laptops, not desktops. And, it was obvious that the script they were using did not account for a dead power supply. When they asked what lights were on on the back of the system, and I told them none were on, they told me I was mistaken, that there had to be some combination of the four lights on. Support ended up sending a tech on-site, and he was dispatched with a motherboard, not a power supply. It sends my blood pressure up just remembering the whole thing. On the other hand Source, out of Dallas, TX, handles our Meridian Option 11, and they are terrific. They know their hardware and software, they explain things, and they do not presume they know more than the caller. They usually do know more, but they never talk down to a caller. The difference is a help desk that is part of the service, and one that is looked at as a necessary evil.

anne.powel
anne.powel

My work has a "Gold" support contract with Dell, but calling their help line is pretty much just a way to waste and hour or two. I have now resorted to e-mail support where I answer all the questions prior to them asking, and state the problem in at least three or four ways. Somehow this manages to at least get me a 2nd or 3rd level tech response, and usually a tech with the parts I requested in the first e-mail. HP, with whom we also deal on a "Gold" support level, has a short enough initial script that you can get to another level within three or four minutes without jumping through all the hoops you've already done. Motorola and Intermec both have excellent support for the RF units and handhelds we also use. They are quick, they listen, and they give you specific answers, solutions, or fast repair.

tom
tom

But not all good. Support for home systems was NOT impressive. I actually had a friend with a brand new Dell that wouldn't boot out of the box. The had his wife, who had never seen the inside of a computer, open the case and try to find and move a specific jumper. Not static protection or anything. We usually get Gold Support in the smb I work at and we've had very good support with that. I still have to answer the usual questions, but, like it was mentioned before, they can't assume I know what I'm doing.

lcave
lcave

Microsoft help is the best $250 we ever spent. I cannot tell you how much they've helped over the years. Most recently they cleaned up a mess that was made by a vendor. The case was escalated so high that I actually read the techie's book. Microsoft Technet comes with three free calls. As I said, best money I ever spent. If only more help desks were as good.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

You have seen what my experience was like, I am curious to see what you have seen in your experiences calling external support.

Coss71
Coss71

We're an all Dell network, and I've used Dell gold enterprise many times, and 98% of the time it's a great experience. I have had a few go a little sideways. I do agree, Dell home support, I would rather throw the unit away and start over. I do have to admit, ever since they got rid of the India help desk it is a marked improvement. Speaking of which, since Symantec uses India as the Tier 1, I will do everything I can to avoid calling them. It is a complete nightmare. I once threw the phone against the wall, I was so frustrated. But I have had may mixed experiences with outside support. Some very good, some so bad I wanted to scream. I did learn a long time ago, I listen to them to try to establish their level of knowledge, and then try to find a balance. If I know it's a lost cause, I'll start asking for a supervisor within the first 10 minutes. If it's someone that sounds like the actually knows something, I'll work with them. So you have to find the level you can work with the person on the other end of the line.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Oracle RDBMS Support are top-notch pros in my experience. Oracle Applications Support - ugh; especially Developer products, where it took me 6 hours over two days once to get a tech to understand their Pre-compiler was removing parentheses from SQL statements autonomously - a very bad thing when it comes to order of evaluation - despite emailed pre- and post- precompilation listings with line numbers and telling him to compare my source statement line # with post-precompiled line #! When the light bulb finally turned on and the tech said "oh, that's a bug" all I could say was "No SH*T!!!"... MS SQL Server Support varies as to whom you get. Best Support group I have ever worked with was for Coda Financials and it's not even close. Aggie G., if you read this I still remember you! Dell...well, four or five calls regarding my kid's defective laptop for college for just about every hardware failure you can have. Last guy I spoke to was very good, but the previous folks varied from marginally good to worthless. They ended up replacing: motherboard twice, keyboard twice, DVD, hard drive, pretty much the whole laptop which was bought new, not a refurb. I know how to reinstall Vista really well these days... While I'm hammering away, Dell can stop asking me to pay more to talk to a North American-based support tech - I paid for four years of warranty on this thing already... Oh, by the way Dell, since I had to send the laptop off to the depot twice, I bought my kid a netbook to use while hers was in the shop the second time and guess what, it ain't a Dell...

joe
joe

Derek, this is a little off subject, but we are considering another CRM solution so I am wondering what you use?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

kidding surely. We use Sage Saleslogix. When we were choosing a new application we looked at MS CRM and SalesLogix. Microsoft CRM is a much better product now than in v. 2 when we looked at it, but Saleslogix meets our needs and is quite an application. Sure it is huge and has lots of moving parts, but most of them stay working all the time. The application supports remote users really well using a sync via FTP method that allows them to download and apply updates either on a schedule or when time allows. Support is via a Sage Certified partner in the area, and has been improving for us, but still has a ways to go. Overall I like the product but find some of the quirks with the customization and things a bit cumbersome. Hope that helps

RosaNegra
RosaNegra

I recently completed a server migration to new hardware using Acronis for the imaging. Due to some long forgotten tweaks done by someone (local) who rebuilt our previous server, the universal restore to the new machine completed but was not readable afterwards. I was not impressed with the 1st level tech help I rec'd, but once I was referred to a supervisor or next level tech, I was amazed. The person who helped me was considerate, articulate, and determined to find an answer. Through the course of several days & nights (he is located on another continent, almost 12 hrs. diff.)he worked with me through the process of repeating the imaging, restoring to a virtual server on an office desktop, converting it to a new format, then restoring to the new server. One of the nights, I gave up about 2:30am my time, knowing that he planned to get back on sometime after 4am to start the next step. We both lost some sleep, but he stuck with it until all was up and running on the new server. I can't thank him enough and I let the company know in both the survey and in a personal email to his superiors. Thanks Acronis.

Jaqui
Jaqui

it was when I was responding to a support call for a client. 45 minutes, just for the Telco's internet support staff to find the account in the system. [ when the call was made on the phone line for the account in question. ] 25 minutes redoing everything I had already done, so they could schedule a service call to replace a dead dsl modem + router combined unit. all of it with a really, really, bad voice connection. repeating everything you say 5 times until the sound drop lets the missing parts through.

sberends
sberends

Verizon Wireless has great support. I manage our business account and had used another carrier - I will never switch from Verizon! I call Verizon's 800 number and the first person that answers can and DOES do it all. They even ask "anything else?" Call one number, solve any request. Can't get easier than that. They even helped me hand a replacement BB, charged and activated, to the user in just under 3 hours from the time I called. Amazing.

Jaqui
Jaqui

when I have to call outside support for a service, like phone or internet, the support is excellent. In that particular case, the land lines were damaged somewhere in the area, causing the bad connection that made it harder to communicate with the support staff. When I run into software problems and need help, I get great assistance within the understood constraints. Since I only have F.L.O.S.S.* support is volunteer only, and I usually use the projects email list. *F.L.O.S.S. = Free ( as in Freedom ) Libre ( Liberty ) Open Source Software [ for those who may not recognize the term ]

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

Your right, but as a system admin the tech support should no that you have tried everything they are going to say before handing it over to a higher level, it saves time :) but still a good point that i will take on board.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Regardless of knowledge level calling you are calling to get the help of someone else. It is likely that these technicians get calls from everyone, not just systems admins and cannot assume a knowledge level. Usually if I feel that we arent on the same page as of late, I will have a conversation about what I have tried and what I have found with the support tech. This sometimes helps get the case back on the right track. This used to bother me as well, but once I discovered that talking the issue through with the help desk works better than complaining about tone and things and worrying about my ego, calls have been far less awful.

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

Rather stick pins in my eyes than call a helpdesk, they talk to you like you know nothing when really your a network admin they just in't on the same page at all thats my view.

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