Tech Support vs. Psychic Friends Network [archived]

Ernest Prabhakar (
Tue, 25 Aug 1998 11:21:40 -0700

Okay, why the heck wasn't this archived? Did the person who posted it
not want their name to be hit on PFN? This an outstanding article (I
sent it to all my Tech support people; it's a good attitude check for
them :-), even if fictitious. Besides, its a great anecdote. This is
precisely the sort of thing I want to be able to find by remembering
"Wasn't there something FoRKed about this last summer"

I do wonder what the Psychic friends would tell you if you're flying a
helicopter in downtown Redmond...

-- Ernie P.

[From Nev Dull*. No apocrypha check performed]

>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
>result of this research, we have come to the following conclusions: 1)
>that Microsoft 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 Network
>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."
>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