back to article Microsoft phone support contractors told to hang up after 15 minutes

Welcome again to On-Call, in its regular Friday slot where we bring you readers' stories of stuff that goes on in the workplace. Yesterday's tale of four fellows paid elephant bucks to do nothing for three months prompted a submission from reader “Ivan” who says his first job in tech support was for “a call centre company that …

  1. redpawn

    Great Story

    Hope this Friday was as good. Cheers!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only managed a few hours

    But I have been sat in a room with about 20 highly paid individuals watching a movie while the techies worked out why the mainframe in our DR suite would not find its storage.

    Got to me one of the most costly video rentals ever (which also dates this story...)

    Never been paid to do nothing for longer - if I did I would probably start getting into trouble...

    1. lorisarvendu

      Want to increase your personal call stats?

      Well then, do what a work colleague of mine used to. Back in about '93 I worked on a 49p a minute IT support line. We had a call monitoring system and you would be taken to task if you spent too long on calls (you know, like trying to actually help the customer, duh) and therefore took too few. A guy who sat opposite me would regularly disconnect his headset while listening to a punter, watch his phone LED until the call was dropped (i.e. the punter got sick of saying "hello? Hello?..." and hung up) and then reconnect. Punter just assumed the call had got disconnected, rang back and got another operator. Company got a bit more money and my work colleague's call stats went up, and his average time on calls was nice and low. Everyone wins eh?

      Needless to say he was never found out and possibly still does it to this day. Twat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

        erm, if its a pay per minute call what difference does it make how many he takes as long as the total time on the call is the same or greater?

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

          Minimum call duration.

          Dropped call after 20 seconds = 60 seconds of moolah.

          1. lorisarvendu

            Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

            "Minimum call duration.

            Dropped call after 20 seconds = 60 seconds of moolah."

            Correct. 49p a minute. Minimum 1 minute. Plus most of our calls could have been answered within a couple of minutes. So these punters paid the first 49p for the privilege of getting no help at all.

            Even sadder was the day the phone bills came in. We got several calls of this ilk:

            Us: "Good morning....blah blah...49p a minute, how can I help you?"

            Caller: "Hello? What's this number on my phone bill? Why have i been charged £6?"

            Us: "This is the XXX Help Line, sir/madam. Have you recently bought one of our computers?"

            What would invariably follow would be another couple of minutes of complaints about why the call cost so much, and hadn't they paid enough for the computer, and anyway it should be free. Eventually they would hang up grudgingly, after accepting that perhaps their son/daughter/wife/husband had called (and not realising they had just cost themselves another couple of quid).

            We knew that they would be back in 3 months time, when their next phone bill arrived.

        2. x 7

          Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

          "erm, if its a pay per minute call what difference does it make how many he takes as long as the total time on the call is the same or greater?"

          In a contract call centre one of the KPIs will be the proportion of incoming calls answered: the higher the proportion, the higher the number of happy customers. In theory.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

        Lorisarvendu... Yeah. I left a company like that, though not IT it depended on IT for it's products, so still in line with the topic.

        I'd be the sucker who actually felt sorry and spend longer than the 3 and a half mins to fix the absolute car crash (hint) on the customers policy and paperwork that the last worker had just left or worse just hit in random data to meet the call time limit and get their bonus.

        I finally gave up when I recived customer accounts that had passed unpassable characters in the fields and the computers just gave up. I don't have that much time to drive down to their mainfraime and learn programming to fix it. Because a call to our support would just get "but that's not possible" excuse and told me to get on with it.

      3. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

        Don't blame him. I think that's a brilliant solution to unreasonable demands by the company.

      4. x 7

        Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

        "A guy who sat opposite me would regularly disconnect his headset while listening to a punter, watch his phone LED until the call was dropped (i.e. the punter got sick of saying "hello? Hello?..." and hung up) and then reconnect"

        I sacked a few people for that. Motivation soon went up

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge

          Re: Want to increase your personal call stats? @x 7

          "I sacked a few people for that. Motivation soon went up"

          Right. Beatings will continue until morale improves.

          1. MonkeyCee

            Re: Want to increase your personal call stats? @x 7

            Erm, I think you misunderstood what x 7 did.

            There is a metric (call time). If you find a way to improve this metric in a bullshit fashion that violates pretty much all other metrics, and you go ahead and do it, you should be fired. Publicly. With a clear warning to the others.

            I usually just ask my bosses which parts are more important. I'd often have reviews where I'd get slated for having too high an average call time, and having a "first time resolved" resolution an order of magnitude higher than the normal was about the only thing that covered me for that. Oh, and asking for the list of tings that i'm allowed to hang up on people for :)

            1. x 7

              Re: Want to increase your personal call stats? @x 7

              "Erm, I think you misunderstood what x 7 did.

              There is a metric (call time). If you find a way to improve this metric in a bullshit fashion that violates pretty much all other metrics, and you go ahead and do it, you should be fired. Publicly. With a clear warning to the others."

              precisely accurate description of what happened

            2. kb

              Re: Want to increase your personal call stats? @x 7

              But look at what you just wrote " I'd often have reviews where I'd get slated for having too high an average call time" which shows those others were JUSTIFIED for doing what they did because the bosses obviously gave not a single shit about anything actually getting resolved, just the call time.

              And I'm sorry but any place that bases support on call time? Its a fricking trainwreck doomed to failure, why? Because you CANNOT magically know how long its gonna take to fix an issue, especially by phone. hell lets look at the example one of the earlier posters gave as an "easy" one "I can't get word to print"...well is it a network printer? That could mean you need to do some sometimes quite involved network troubleshooting. is it a "plug and play" USB printer? Might have to deal with windows issues, device manager issues, or driver issues...bzzt, times up you are in trouble.

              See how fricking DUMB using call time as a metric is?

          2. x 7

            Re: Want to increase your personal call stats? @x 7

            I sacked people who were taking the piss by dumping customers calls, muting customer calls, placing customer calls on hold, or cutting customers off unreasonably. They were being paid to do a job, and they weren't doing the job - and at the same time were destroying our reputation with customers. Kicking out the bad apples was essential.

            One of the worst was an immigrant/refugee chap who thought falling asleep mid-call was perfectly acceptable. I gave him a bollocking the third time I caught him asleep, and he walked out on the spot. Good riddance. I later saw him on BBC TV Question Time complaining about racial discrimination at work........I really wish the lazy fecker had tried to sue us for that.

      5. swampdog

        Re: Want to increase your personal call stats?

        You don't want to name them? I will. UPS. Made us shave our beards off, just to answer the phone. Oh, our latest high-heel girl would be where we were.

        I can't recall how many minutes they insisted we take per call but they kept shaving it. 2 mins 50, 2 mins 40, and if you couldn't keep up, you "failed".

        The "good" UPS staff kept people happy, promising instant call-back etc. Bollocks.

        I once got a call about the Mongol Rally. Could we ship stuff? I didn't know. My phone on hold. Alarm bells ringing. My line manager doesn't know the answer. My phone is still on "hold". End result is "yes, take the order" & me given a bollocking for keeping me phone offline for too long.

        UPS do not cover Mongolia. I knew that. Cunts. I left before that one came on top.

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Only managed a few hours

      My previous job on an ISP support job was horrendous for its call queues, we were a very small team of 3 operators. After midday callers would usually have been waiting a while and when they got through would obviously be annoyed at the waiting time (One decided to say OMG I have been trying to get through for months, then shouting it out trying to pretend someone else was there, she then put me on hold for 10 minutes, although very tempted to end the call I hung on). At the end of the calls the callers were surprised that we were trying our best and not trying to get rid of them (As far as we were concerned if a customer could not connect they would leave us, so fobbing everyone off just to get through the call queue quicker would just result in more people leaving us).

      Also being a small team if someone was cut off on the phone there was a 1 in 3 chance you would get them back anyway.

  3. wolfetone Silver badge

    Can you top Ivan's tale?

    Nope. We've reached Peak On-Call.

  4. Sorry, you cannot reuse an old handle.


    to balance those 15 minute calls when the average call duration is of 1.5 minute there must have been a bunch lasting negative 13 minutes...

    jokes aside and having worked in tech support for a over a decade I don't believe one minute that they were usually solving calls in less than two minutes...

    1. VinceH

      Re: rubbish

      I'm glad I'm not the only one confuzzled by the maths of this - the numbers just don't add up.

      Or multiply for that matter.

      The claim is that this guy's team were each handling around 250 calls per day. If that's a seven hour day, that's just over one and a half minutes per call. Even if they were working 24/7, that's still less than 6 minutes per call.

      If limiting the calls to fifteen minutes was a problem, that suggests the calls were each longer than fifteen minutes prior to that directive - but 250 calls at at least 15 minutes each equates to them working well over 60 hours per day.

      Take the 'each' out and things might be more plausible. 250 calls between the 15 people in the team over a seven hour day equates to about 25 minutes per call.

    2. hplasm

      Re: rubbish

      *ring ring*

      "Hello, Microsoft Tech Support- how may I help you today?"

      "My computer has just upgraded itself to Windows 10 and ..."


    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: rubbish

      Believe it. Here's how it works:

      Tech reads from script. If answer match, give that solution then end call.

      If the answers do not match, escalate the issue and take the next call.

      1. ckdizz

        Re: rubbish @ecofeco

        No. I worked for a cable company in faults, and we used scripts up to that point. We would be doing great if we got 60 calls each done in an 8 hour shift. On one occasion a contractor severed the fibre cable serving a major city, and even on that day, when literally all calls were answered with, "A contractor has severed the main cable serving the city. We can't do anything right now and they're working on fixing it", we didn't individually take more than 90 calls in a shift.

    4. Stevie

      Re: rubbish

      "to balance those 15 minute calls when the average call duration is of 1.5 minute there must have been a bunch lasting negative 13 minutes..."

      Only numerically speaking, Mr Scientist.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: rubbish

        Could Quantum Calls be the explanation?

        If the call duration has positive modulus but is actually complex-valued, computing the sum, squaring, then averaging might still yield the missing 15 minutes!

        Or maybe we need Nixon...

  5. Mark 85 Silver badge

    So this explains why MS outsourced the call centers to those nice folks from the sub-continent who call you and spend lots of time getting rid of the viruses on our PC's?

  6. Lee D

    Nowhere near the same scale, but I work IT for schools.

    In my previous workplace, I would regularly spend an entire day or possibly just the afternoon, out on a field "scoring" the local inter-school cross-country run or possibly a swimming gala, using an Excel scoresheet I'd knocked up earlier.

    Why it took an IT guy, I don't know, but the head and bursar insisted on it. And, no, I never messed a score up and even successfully defended myself against the local stroppy school who "were sure they should have more points" (obviously, working for one of the competing schools, I was always under suspicion!) because I could keep up and still store all the original data.

    But it was often a day or an afternoon, ten minutes down the road, sitting on a veranda or in a pavilion (if it was wet), tapping in a couple of numbers every half-hour or so (and we had USB stopwatches which just plugged in and pushed their data) and letting the spreadsheet do the heavy-lifting, then about two minutes of stress as it came to prize-giving lists, then sending an email to all the schools with the stats and going off home early.

    Throughout the spring and autumn of a good year, it probably added up to a couple of week's paid field-sitting.

  7. Updraft102

    "I still have horrible memories of talking a dyslexic user through typing the command del shdcvow.dll."

    I can see where that would be an issue. Especially since the .dll in question is named shdocvw.dll...

    1. gregthecanuck

      Oh man, what scars do we both bear having recognized the incorrect file name?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        8.3 naming scheme!

        MS-DOS scars everyone!

  8. TonyJ Silver badge

    The best I can do...

    ...was about 5 or 6 years ago.

    I'd been doing a relatively short-term contract for a company on a "competitive tender".

    We were initially engaged to design and proof-of-concept a solution. It was all very hush-hush as the incumbent supplier didn't know they were being terminated at the half way mark. So we had no identifiable badges etc.

    Anyway we felt that the PoC had gone really well and the noises from the client were the right ones.

    The problem was they wanted to take their time to decide.

    So...because they had no skills in-house (hence my being there), I was asked if I would let them pay me to not work. They had no issues with me picking up a bit of short-term stuff here and there but not take anything longer term.

    So for about 12 weeks, I was paid effectively twice. Once by them not to work and again by another company for doing a weekly rolling contract.

    Happy days. :)

  9. Anonymous Coward

    My employer had a 'hang up' policy for cheap-skates.

    I used to do the IT for a holiday company who used range of 0800 contact numbers for their premium to bucket&spade holidays; call handlers would get a 'whisper' to identify the nature of the call.

    For the bargain bucket&spade holidays, call-handlers would hang-up if the punter started trying to negotiate down on the price. There was only a £10 margin to start with, so no point in wasting an agents time.

  10. Graham Newton

    Being paid to march

    I was working for a company where the office was being shut down and there wasn't much work. So we found stuff to entertain ourselves. One of our colleagues had been a member of the Soviet armed forces and taught us all to march Red Army style.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Being paid to march

      Aren't you thinking of the Prussian Stechschritt?

  11. Triggerfish

    Contract change

    Worked a week on a two week subcontract, nice pay, worked hard for it though my employers who I was working for seemed happy. The beggining of week two, the companies big cheese comes up and decides that actually he has changed his mind and he would like it all this way now. That's a new contract my employers say. But I have already paid you says the cheese. No that's the old contract they say, this is a new contract. Then one of them turns to me and says in front of the cheese, this is obvioulsy going to take some time to sort out, go home, paid my second week in full, watched TV.

    Also worked for one guy on a project trying to sort out various manufacturing problems which were a nightmare, decided to take an extra two weeks after factory shutdown and have a month off for sanity. MD paid me a grand in to convince me to return. Same guy also paid me and GF on retainer when we went travelling for 3 months after finishing there. Never called us once.

    There was so much more spare cash around before the bankers screwed it all.

  12. Elmer Phud

    Hmm. . .

    For a while did internal IT support Helldesk for a very large phone company.

    We mainly supported managers.

    15 minutes?


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm out of my league

    Closest experience I had was the wind-down period when our production facility was shutting down. I was among the "critical personnel" so was given a huge raise to stay on during the transition period, but there was plenty of idle time. Spent about a week designing and building a small one-off customer electronic controller to run some special effects for a haunted house attraction (they're a non-profit, so at least some good came from it).

    Best idle day was when the crew showed up to take out our outside Nitrogen tank. Involved a big crane and a really big crane. It was a lovely spring day, so I just stood outside and watched the process for most of the morning.

  14. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Was given notice of redudancy

    And the whole office spent 4 weeks of the 3 months notice playing Boxworld before they gave us 2 months garden leave.

  15. 2Nick3

    15 minutes?

    I worked at an internal helpdesk for a large IT company, and it would often take 15 minutes for the user to be able to convey their ID so I could get a ticket open for them. There were times I was given social security numbers, drivers license numbers, gym membership numbers, and once was even offered "my hot sister's phone number." All of which were interesting, but none of which allowed me to create a ticket.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: 15 minutes?

      Most common response: "My what? Were can I find that?"

      Me: "On your paystub or other HR related forms."

      Them: "I don't have those near me."

      Me: "How long have you worked for the company?"

      Them: "Several years."

      Me, to myself: oh fuck me. (because this means I now have to TRY and find their ID which usually involves opening 3 SEPARATE databases and manually cross referencing them, one of which was NOT properly indexed for even a simple search.)

      My other favorite was company A buys out company B and changes everyone's ID. Above steps every single call.

  16. Danny 2 Silver badge

    One down

    I have read every tale of woe here, and though I am always amused I can always beat them from my own history of incompetence. I could write a short novel of comedic failures. The time I fixed a six month BT lease-line problem. The time I drove over my bag full of replacement video cards, and had to install them anyway. The obligatory rm -rf anecdote. The time I replaced a blind man's VDU without understanding why, only to stick my hand out excepting him to shake it.

    In retrospect, most of my career was comedic. I once had a MS vice-president as my first line tech support though. You know you've made it when you have a millionaire at your beck and call.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft phone support contractors told to hang up after 15 minutes

    That's ten minutes more than they gave me when I used to work in technical support. five minutes and there're off the phone.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge

    This is not unusual

    “It can take up to 15 minutes just to pry out the details of the fault from the user let alone identify and fix the issue,”

    If that quick! I've worked a couple of big corps who had this rule even for tier 2 and 3 support, but not for long. There is no way in hell you can solve anyone's problem at tier 2 or 3 in 15 minutes. 30 minutes is doing good. An hour is common. Any problem too complicated for tier 1 means the client/user/customer really has a major problem.

    The reason tier 1 has time limits is because those tech usually know just enough to be dangerous and very often do not follow the rules, so they will attempt to fix problems they should never touch or say really stupid things to the user. But the time limit needs to be longer than 15 minutes.

    Bullshit processes like that mean I leave very quickly. You are set up for failure from the start.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: This is not unusual

      "The reason tier 1 has time limits is because those tech usually know just enough to be dangerous and very often do not follow the rules, so they will attempt to fix problems they should never touch or say really stupid things to the user. But the time limit needs to be longer than 15 minutes."

      It's the "fix problems they should never touch" which is a really big problem. They won't kick things upstairs when they should. You can easily spend 30 minutes battling tier1 in order to get through to tier2-3 and get the problem solved in 5 minutes (particularly when it's a config problem not at your end)

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: This is not unusual

        Too true AB, but I don't hate them. Their work conditions and job training usually sucks. If I got good user info from them I was happy.

  19. Nifty Silver badge

    When I were a lad working in a firmware shop, if the power went off (as it regularly did in that part of the North of England) us coders were sent to the stores to configure PCB boards per printed setup instructions by setting the DIP switches - in near darkness.

  20. Dadmin
    Thumb Up

    Can you beat my 6+ hour support call?!

    No horror stories here, but I've had a few nice easy, high-pay, low-work, gigs; previous gig the manager only came in one day around the xmas holiday; so we all "worked" from home, every day. I usually came in once a month to get the catered lunch and say howdy to the nice people. I put slack into all my projects; get the order for a script, tell them it will take a month, write script in head at that meeting, kick back for 29 days, and write script after lunch on the delivery day! HA!

    One time I got the "elephant rate" for doing some light coding for two weeks, which I already completed in shell. I just kicked back for 9 days and used 1 day to rewrite that thing in Perl. Nice! And who doesn't remember the good old days when you kick off an installation and watch the spinning wheels for a good half hour? Ahh, those pre-automation-is-everywhere days.

    Anyway, on to my not-quite-good-enough-for-the-main-submission story;

    Around 1994 or so I got hired to do a phone support gig at Sun. You know 1-800-USA-4SUN, and I was a real admin who had seen many data centers, so I went right to the back of the house in tier III doing OS installs and disk hardware setups, but now only over the phone! What a treat! So, everything is going great, then I get a call from some courthouse in Georgia and the secretary and her boss, neither of which are computer literate are trying to setup a brand new Sparcstation 10(or similar). Well, have you ever done a suninstall from the command line and had to use ed, not vi, to edit the /etc/vfstab file for your new boot disk? Now, try explaining that, AND the ed commands, to some lady over the phone who has an awful drawl, and has to be hand-walked through every single edit? Did I mention this was with ed and no vi? Holy crap that took all day to complete, and this was not the first time something like this happened. The good part is that our manager got right into it and solved the problem by making the support calls end after a few hours and make the customer go and purchase the "Professional Service" package, where a nice (real) admin comes out and sets up your boxen. 6 hours! Whew, I still get a fright about that day. I never ever again did any phone support.

    1. Stevie

      Re: Can you beat my 6+ hour support call?!

      I used to have to support a mainframe database using VOPTPCE - Voice Over Phone Line To Production Controller's Earholes.

      Worked great when the PCs were all years experienced.

      Then they hired this bloke who only spoke a few words of English, whose native language was Swahili. He would quietly put the phone on his desk and walk away when things got too hard for him - like when someone was spelling a line of Unisys ECL phonetically to him.

      He did it to me one time after I climbed out of a Jacuzzi at my racquetball club to answer the phone. I was dripping wet in an unheated windbreak-foyer with only a towel and a wet pair of trunks between me and February in New York. I put down the phone and went back to my date.

      Three hours later I got a frantic call from the next PC shift. They were pissed. I was pissed. Their boss got involved. And his boss. The online day was impacted.

      All would have loved to make it my fault, but the incoming PC had found the phone making that "hang up you twat" noise and no sign of the bloke he was supposed to be relieving.

      So they fired the other guy instead of me.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Can you beat my 6+ hour support call?!

      Easy. Three days.

      VP. Middle of nowhere. Satellite connection only. Virus. Slow remote connection. Slow PC. Everything that could be wrong with the OS was wrong.

      2 days to clean, another day to update.

      Almost an hour to write the final tech notes. AFTER the regular daily notes.

      To be honest, I only worked strict 9 hour days with an hour off for lunch. Overtime was not allowed. So, 18 hours then?

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Can you beat my 6+ hour support call?!

        Gah! Maths! 24 hours at 8 hours each day.

  21. x 7

    answering the calls on the Barney line would have been easy:

    "Oh you have a Barney dinosaur? You say its fucked? Yes they all do that. Have another for free. Oh you've already had two replacements, well have another."

    80% failure rate on them at Time Computers, we gave up selling them after around 3 months. Real useless unreliable crap. Not like Microsoft at all........

    Strange that the other Microsoft toys (there was going to be a whole range) never got released........

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Strange that the other Microsoft toys never got released........

      But what about that FischerPrice Cot Toy equivalent? I think it used to be called Metro or something...

  22. Shane McCarrick

    I strongly suspect I worked for the same company for a while.........

    I was on a different side of the house (on a Dell contract)- however, it sounds horribly familiar.

    Eventually my job got outsourced to India- and I took a job in the civil service- selling my soul from devil- to another. Life sure is a bitch. In my case- I had to work out 2 months notice- during which time I had very little to do- as they were terrified what mayhem I might leave in my wake. What a relief it was to get the hell out of there.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had three months to do nothing once

    As a consultant getting paid three figures per hour! I'd done the six months planned but two weeks before it was over the company's point man on the project figured out he could make 2.5x more becoming a consultant like me and quit without notice, so they hurriedly signed me up for another six months. The junior guys were able to pick up the slack pretty quickly with my help, and after three months the exec overseeing it all told me he didn't want me involved with anything unless he asked me personally because his team needed to learn to survive on their own.

    The next three months I basically was paid to surf the web all day, though I did update and tidy project documentation when I'd run out of new stuff to look at on the web (this was back in the late 90s, when that was still sorta possible to do) since some of the docs were already getting out of date as the junior guys were too busy to keep them updated. The exec never asked for my help once; he'd walk by my desk sometimes and say hi, and probably grimaced to himself as he did about signing me up six months instead of three!

  24. Bucky 2

    My experience with Tier 1 support is that they have the FAQ section of the company's web site open on their computer. If the answer isn't there, they can't help. They're there to act as gate keepers to keep the sub-literate masses from wasting the time of upper-tier employees with valuable problem-solving skills.

    The emotional down-side of working that kind of job is severe. I try to be as kind to them as possible. Occasionally you'll get someone who is dramatically horrible of course, but mostly they're just ordinary people working a crappy job.

  25. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Not just the IT world

    Some companies try to shortchange their clients, or even themselves. That's just the way it is.

    Two stories.

    My late father was in quality control for a coat manufacturer, supplying M&S as their sole client.

    The failure rate was about average and QC intercepted those - but the company decided that to save money they would send stuff through that didn't meet the M&S standard and dad had rejected. They really seemed to have believed that no one would notice. Of course it came back. But more to the point - M&S got pissed off with the high reject rate and dumped the contract. Business closed down.

    I took a job in the Summer after uni at Great Universal Stores, as a filing clerk. We had to file away, in alphabetic order, little vouchers people had sent in. But these had to go into little plastic envelopes <1cm thick that had been tightly as possible The company insisted that these were packed so tightly that it was at the limit of physical possibility, to save storage space, and the cost of the envelopes, so the chance of getting a thin slip of paper into the right order was close to zero.And they cut into our fingers as we tried. It was immediately obvious from the state of the files than no one did even try after the first few days. And that also told me that none of us would be there in three months time ( and of course I never intended to be), because the files had strips of relative order, then became random, then ordered again.......

    But one day they needed one of these slips. Of course it couldn't be found. I learned from chatting to one of the managers that retrieving these bits of paper was pretty much impossible, so if there was a dispute they just had to surrender. I still don't know which was the worst wast e of money; paying us to (not) file the slips, or making the system unworkable in the first place.

    For my part I gave up even going into the files. I took the piss, and waited to be fired. My favourite thing was to grab a clipboard and wander round the building looking busy and concerned.

    And when I did get fired it wasn't because of that. No one had even seemed to notice or care. When I went it was a few weeks later as part of the latest mass culling. There were about six of us started when I started and the same about six of us booted out when I was booted out. I assume another bunch were shipped in that afternoon.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Not just the IT world

      I see this EVERYWHERE these days. It's not just the Peter Principle, but also people who know the right people and are given jobs and authority WAY beyond their abilities.

      Needless to say, I am one jaded SOB when I hear companies want "talented" people. "Bullshit" is always my first thought. Then I see the processes that are company policy and "bullshit" is my second thought.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I finished my PhD ...

    ... simply because I was required to attend an office for nearly 4 months where there was nothing to do (not even internet access) but they were happy for you to use the PC and look busy.

    Without this, I guess I'd never have got the thing written up. Thanks, Novell!

  27. goldcd

    As a student I got a summer job doing data entry

    Well that's over-selling it somewhat. For some reason they weren't allowed to import/export data from system A to system B. You had to read it from one screen and type it into the other. To this day I can't come up with a reason for this to have actually have been a requirement...Data protection was mentioned but... But it paid well ~£7 an hour back in the late 90s.

    Then they got behind, so you could do another half shift for time and a half... and then the weekends for double-time..

    A couple of hours into the job we'd macroed one screen to the other and then by the end of week one created the most awesome copy/paste scripts I've ever seen. So, how did we get behind you might think?

    Well there was "another team" somewhere who were doing the same job, seemingly by "typing".

    Our team lead was praised for his accuracy, but then questions were raised about our throughput

    A fool might have shared the macros, but our lead was a wiser man.

    We dutifully each fired off ~100 imports on the hour, and then sat back. We even frigged it to randomize the number so it wouldn't be spotted (a previously useless two finger-typist in our motley crew, seemingly had a good grip on stats). However, they never noticed 5 of us didn't make a typo in 2 months..

    So how did we spend the rest of the hour? We mingled with the call centre we'd been placed in the corner of.

    They had a much better scam.

    What they were trying to support used to go down regularly. It went down, they got a few hundred people complaining "it was down". They could tell them it was down - but that was about it. Could they resolve the issue. No, of course they couldn't. They could say "yes we know, it should be back in a bit" - but here's the nub, that didn't count as resolving a customer issue and looked crap on their stats they got a bonus on.

    However, if a customer swore at them twice - well they were allowed to hang up. Of course it would be unfair to penalize them for a sweary customer, so a default successful resolution.

    So. When stuff went down, their whiteboard was wiped and the leaderboard of "quickest time to legally (calls were recorded) goad the customer into double-swearing" came into play.

    It was awesome to watch.

    Now you'd think their employer might question the fact that the highest customer call satisfaction occurred during system outages...

  28. Montreal Sean

    Back in 1999...

    I was hired by Unisys Canada, to receive, unpack and image desktop PCs for an aerospace company.

    I had a large desk set up in an access controlled area and a nice LAN connection, as well as a connection to the outside world.

    Computers would arrive 50 at a time and would keep me busy for a week imaging.

    That would be followed by two or three weeks of sitting around listening to music and browsing the web.

    The contract continued like that for almost a year before it ended.

    Salary was quite nice, and I was hired on full time as a break-fix field tech at the end of the year.

    Good times!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Half life has been run on many many office lans

    ...we used to play most Friday afternoons when the bosses were in 'meetings'.

    If you walked around the fairly small office (200 people, 1 floor), amongst the excel and word sheets you occasionally see someone playing half life. A few in accounting, a few in IT, a few in comms...

    It was a government quango so its not like we had to make any money anyway, just make sure a website never went down. And given the boring industry nature of it, no-one would notice if it did anyway...

    1. lorisarvendu

      Re: Half life has been run on many many office lans

      He he! Reminds me of when Duke Nukem 3D came out, and whole groups of us used to play it on multiplayer in between taking calls. At one point the Team Leader decided it wasn't appropriate, so walked up an down the aisles with a clipboard, ensuring each techie deleted the Duke3D folder.

      This was 1996 and he obviously didn't understand what a Novell Network actually was. It was amusingly reminiscent of that scene in Aliens where Apone collects ammo from every marine, but as he moves on they reload behind his back. As our Team Leader moved on to the next tech, we simply copied Duke3D back across the LAN from the previous guy.

  30. OchaiThenoo

    Working from home

    Worked for a US software company working from home in the UK. The company was bought over and the new company wanted to keep me on until all the IP had been moved over. This took a full year which involved me doing about a week's work during that time.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very similar

    Long long ago working for another big name software company. After a merger, the company decided the keep the "mergee" tech support infrastructure in place, but they wanted to keep the existing support around as a backup. They didn't actually take our phones away, but after the first month they mostly stopped ringing. Even better we were actually offered double salary to stick around, so I spent 2 months goofing off at double salary plus severance. Best redundancy experience ever.

  32. pbanks

    I had a tremendous gig back in the mid-80s working on Wang computers for an American Legal company in the City of London.

    Of course, back in the day, international time differences seemed to be more important than today. As a consequence, I was employed to "sit around" in London from 9am - 5pm, until the West Coast partnership "woke up". From 6pm - Midnight I was paid 1.5X AND provided with a meal AND a taxi all the way back to West London (even then around the £25 mark).

    Anyone remembering the Wang systems will fondly recount the "Adventure" game that was included with all their systems. I was able to map out and play the game to the end during my six-month indenture with that particular company.

  33. Somone Unimportant

    It's the same with those scam support callers from the sub-continent and such areas

    I seem to be able to keep them on the phone for no more than 15 minutes before they summarily end the call.

    Next time one of them calls me I'll tell them that I was unhappy with how they hung upon me after 15 minutes as it's not my fault that it took my Windows system more than 15 minutes to boot up. After all, they are calling from Microsoft Windows, so they should know that anyway, right?

  34. Danny 14

    field work in the lake district.

    I worked for Delltech school support in the lakes. Whilst people in the more urban areas were getting 10 jobs a day i got 1 if i was lucky. Due to the geography of the lakes i was exempt from the normal metrics too.

    Cue motorbike and scenery all on works time. Good gig till they farmed the jobs out to unisys.

    They were clueless about anything north of Manchester and couldn't understand why getting from Barrow to Carlisle was a 2.5 hour journey. Metrics meant i was always hottoof the pile (patterdale in January is 20 mph at the most, assuming the school was even open) but they didnt care and had no idea. I left and they loat the contract as they couldn't recruit anyone in.

  35. SoloSK71

    hmmm ... Convergys? I remember being told to do that on multiple contracts back in the day, hp, Microsoft, cable companies, lots of others ... seems to be a common theme in the new 'helpless desks'

  36. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Someone had a copy of Half-Life.

    Ehrm, does Dabbsy know?

  37. boardslider

    Diffrnt times....

    I spent some time in the late 90's working on a subbed out M$ support centre in Dublin and nothing in the article rang true. It was normal to spend 40 mins or more helping a customer get boot disks to recognise the cd drive, let alone talking them through recovering the back up registry. The only true crime was leaving them on hold too long (I once got played back a call where 'can I put you on hold' was followed by 10 mins of silence).

    That time was some of the best fun I ever had in the industry, perhaps because I was parachuted in as a newly minted MCSE when most of the encumbents were still on their first MCPs or because I knew I wouldn't be there forever, or maybe it was the Guinness........

  38. Florida1920

    Dell tech support survivor

    In 2000 a contractor hired me to do Dell consumer tech support at a big call center. ME had just come out and some customers had 98SE and coupons for a free upgrade. Which often didn't go well. We were supposed to maintain an 18-minute average. If a call went past that, even if you were on the right track, a 'roamer' came creeping around to harass you. The roamers were usually people who couldn't do decent call work, but rather than fire them they turned them into major annoyances. There were a few nights where I thought a rep was going to get medieval with a roamer who wouldn't stay away. Then one day, the calls stopped coming. I had a 65-mile one-way commute -- fortunately I didn't relocate! -- and after showing up several times only to be told to wait to punch in, I gave it up. But I learned a lot about PCs, and built my own the next time I needed one. Dude, I never got a Dell after that!

  39. Spanker

    Back in 2002 following the worldcom bankruptcy I found myself one of three left in a vastly shrunken team supporting the Arbor billing system.

    Budget was pared to the bone, nothing for new work, barely enough but to support operations. No new work meant no new bugs but we were kept on just in case. My American boss and her sidekick went home. We were left alone.

    So from late 2003 through mid 2006, when we started work on the new system, we did NOTHING. I gave up asking for something to do after 6 months.

    I added new skills, traded stocks, learnt French, pubbed, slept, read a stack of worthy books and generally wore out my trouser seat.

    The two other guys went stir crazy. Eventually the company relented and offered ONE redundancy. Cue a bizarre situation where each fought to claim the one package by arguing at length how the other guy was far better at his job and please sack me.

    Finally we got the green light on the new system and the madness ended. I got a new assignment and the other chap got his redundancy as well.

    The only trouble was my new boss had watched me do nothing but was powerless to do anything, not for want of trying though. Took a while to get her back on the right foot !

  40. Valerion

    Ah the memories

    I used to do phone support for a venerable ISP/Online Service back in the 90s. We had a 6-minute deadline and got hassled by supervisors if we went over. Eventually I became a supervisor and was able to do the hassling myself. Oh the power (at 18 years of age!).

    The best trick was, when it was quite (which was rarely), if you flicked your phone into "I'm busy, don't give me any calls" mode (used for when typing up notes following a call) and then back to available you'd end up at the back of the available agents queue. So with no waiting calls, just do that every few minutes and hours would pass with no need to speak to a customer.

  41. lorisarvendu

    Memories of the Help Line

    We used to collect some of the gems. I still have the Word Doc. This is one of my favourites:

    Customer: <sound of coins being hastily fed into payphone> "How much? I'm in a phonebox! Can you phone me back?"

    Us: "No, sorry."

    Customer: "Oh shi-" <beep beep>

    Us: (one minute later) "Hello PC Helpline. Calls are being charged at 49p a minute..."

    Customer: "Are you sure you can't phone me back!"

    Us: "No, I can't. Sorry."

    Customer: "Oh shi- <beep beep>

  42. Fritzo2162

    Old stories?

    The anecdotes in the article talk about products that are almost 20 years old. Not sure how any of that is relevant today.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accurate account. Ex X badge holder.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AHT from the front lines

    AHT = Average Handle Time - How long to field a support call , from answering call in Queue to ending call and closing case. I worked Inbound support for a very large PC manufacturer (rhymes with Smell, Hell, and Yell) on the consumer platforms in the days that vendor offered "Free Lifetime support" - would have been about 11 years ago now. We were expected to have a AHT of 22 minutes as we were a "Repeat Call Reduction" queue - we would catch the calls who dialed in multiple times over a short period - many times just because they didn't like the accent of the tech on the first 3 attempts..

    The real numbers worked out like this - at the time, Windows XP was the dominant platform, and by constantly tweaking my methods, I could walk a customer through an entire OS reinstall, including drivers and bundled craplications, to return the System to "As it shipped from the factory" state in 18 minutes (over two phone calls to allow for the time to actually blow in the OS). Given mandatory greeting and other trivia, the reality meant that if you dared call support about your malware infection or AOL login woes (by far our #1 call driver) or really anything else, you had about 30 seconds to convince me that I could fix your system reliably without a re-image. After that, I hope you have your data backed up (not covered by support) and "now lets go find the Blue CD that shipped with your computer..."

    Sadly, I was a top rated tech...and everyones computer worked "Just Like New" when I was done...

  45. Cobug

    BS on the 250 calls per person per day. I worked in a retail call centre where the average call length was 3 minutes. On my most busy day I think I could just about hit 130 calls in an 8 hour shift. No way in hell anyone got 250 a day much less if they're spending 15 minutes per call... That's four calls per hour so averaging 30ish calls assuming they break for lunch.

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