Tag Archives: computer tech

Why computer store techs are rude

It’s not your imagination. In the main, except for the Apple world, they really are rude. They don’t listen well. They bombard you with technical lingo that you will not understand. They don’t do it the way you asked them. And if you ask too many questions, they get increasingly testy.

Ever wonder why it’s that way? Why can’t computer stores hire competent technical people who also have people skills?

I used to sell computers. I sold PCs about five miles from the Microsoft main campus, many years ago when a 386 machine was hot stuff. I was a combatant in the trenches of the IBM/Microsoft wars. Back then, your local independent computer store had sales people and technicians, and where possible, we kept most of the techs away from the customers. It was better that way. Nowadays, however, more likely everyone in the store is a tech on some level, so you could end up dealing with anyone.

The first major thing to absorb about the computer support world is the pace of change. Imagine trying to be an electrical engineer, or an attorney or a doctor, and your knowledge set has to turn over every three years. Only the basic methodology and accumulated ‘gut feeling’ problemsolving skills remain with one; the rest becomes unimportant in three years and obsolete in about six. Not that many people can keep pace with that level of change, and most of them are socially dysfunctional because a lot of them have some personality syndrome that enables them to focus on fixing or puzzling out something for hours.

So you aren’t always dealing with highly adjusted social butterflies, and it’s uncommon to find a great tech who is also a people person. Computer store owners are small businesspeople, who pay people for a reason. The Aspie who cuts you off short and gives curt, opaque answers to reasonable questions is probably a reliable worker who generates income for the company and doesn’t steal the inventory, and the owner reasons that odds are against getting a better replacement. Plus, the owner is probably of the same personality type, and doesn’t see a great deal of value in worrying about people’s feelings. If they get it to work, or their policy protects them against having to do something, far as they’re concerned, case closed.

What is evident to me: the longer people work in the business of making computers work, the more jaded they tend to become about the public. They’ve heard all the lamentations before, and they deal with a lot of ignorance from the public. Much of the public doesn’t even see a difference between a software problem (usually created by the user, foolishly installing a wide variety of garbage and rarely bothering to invest in virus protection or backup) and a hardware issue (which is fixed, by and large, by swapping stuff out until the problem goes away); it just thinks, “So why don’t you just FIX it?” If it were that simple, they would. It often is not. However, good customer service requires one to take each customer at face value and offer a bit of education.

The service people don’t do that, because their general perception of the public is that it is too clueless to understand what they say (when in reality the problem is the service person’s poor communication skills). Why bother if people won’t understand? goes the reasoning. Another reason, more understandable, is that often it boils down to having to tell the user that s/he is an idiot. “But I LIKE my WeatherBug!” whined so many of my clients, when I told them that this noxious piece of spyware needed to go. “I never use the shutdown button,” smirked so many clients. “I just flip the switch on the surge.” Their expressions said: I’m so cute, such a rebel. No, you’re a fool, and you probably caused your own problem. “But my machine came with McCAFFee! I can’t have a virus!” Yet they never subscribed to virus definition updates, and even McAfee is better than nothing. All those discussion paths lead to the point where one must refrain from telling the paying customer that he or she did something stupid. There are only so many tactful ways to say that, and tact is not many techs’ strong suit.

What is more, most of the public won’t take advice. Shut down your machine using the shutdown mechanism in the operating system (Windows, for many). Keep a virus scanner up to date. Don’t just let everything install itself, and uninstall stuff you just don’t need. Defrag the thing now and then. Figure out a means of backing up anything you care about. One tells them all of the above, and as a staff colleague back in the dorms once said about getting residents interested in activities, “Their lips say ‘yes, yes’ but their eyes say ‘FOAD, FOAD, FOAD.'” The techs tried, and tried and tried, to convince people of the value of these forms of maintenance. After the five hundredth person listened politely, smirked a silent ‘in your dreams I’ll bother with that crap,’ and kept right on doing it the wrong way, they got tired of bothering.

So that’s what we’re up against. Socially awkward, often personality-dysfunctional people whose good advice was mostly blown off, who don’t have much respect for the public (partly deserved by said public), and who just hope to get out of the conversation as fast as possible. They are happiest when benching the machine without anyone saying, “My Internet Windows won’t download my Works documents off my hard drive, and Explorer doesn’t get my mail, and my machine is slow even though I’ve only had it for six years, and I can’t program my data off my CD. Can you just fix it?”

That’s no excuse for not listening well, and it’s no excuse for being rude. If you suck at dealing with the public, the boss should make sure you never have to. But if the boss also sucks at it, he doesn’t even realize that’s a problem.

And there you go.

Memories of my days as a computer shaman

Back before I became a hired pen literary professional, I used to be a computer shaman. My business was moderately successful, and it was good social therapy. I got to thinking about this after watching a video on Cracked, which I suggest you take a gander at as well:

Five Reasons the Guy Fixing Your Computer Hates You

Mostly I didn’t hate my clients. I liked most of them. I liked helping elderly ladies on Social Security get connected so that they could see pictures of their grandbabies, research their osteoporosis and keep in touch with their friend Adna in Wisconsin. I liked being able to reach into the middle of their mess and get rid of the thing they’d installed (very unwisely) that was causing their Windows installation to throw up. Most of them were polite and courteous to me. It was evident that most of them were philosophically pretty different from me, in terms of socio-political-spiritual outlook, and none of them seemed to care.

I went to houses of guys I was pretty sure were retired underworld figures. I went to sheds in east Pasco where huge dogs threw themselves to the ends of heavy chains in forlorn hope of attacking me. I went to mansions. I went to two-bedroom apartments containing three families. I went to farms and I went to garages. I went to the homes of old mercenaries (the real kind), old doctors, and old just about everyone. In the end, the business was a casualty of the $500 PC. It just no longer made sense for anyone to pay me $50/hr to fix a problem that if it took much time, it was easier to upgrade their abacus to something modern.

Here’s the stuff I didn’t like…


Everyone adores giving directions, but I couldn’t tell people that I was using map software and would just print myself a map. The minute I asked for the street address, everyone launched into lengthy, arcane directions, full of information I did not need and landmarks that did not matter. I learned to just shut up and let the storm blow past. One way I knew I was about done in the business was when I became candid about it. After five minutes of meaningless directions, someone would ask (because I hadn’t responded), “Are you writing all this down?” I’d answer, “no, because none of it will help me find you. I have your address, the color of the house, whether the numbers are on it, and a printed map. But everyone loves giving directions and there’s nothing I can do to stop them, so I’m not interrupting you. But no, sir, I’m not actually absorbing any of it, to be honest.”


Now, I’m not a fan of dogs. All I want is for them not to come near me. That means they will not put salivas on me, leap on me, startle me by bumping my leg under the desk, or anything else that increases my tension. Chief use of my briefcase? As a shield when dogs would charge at me. And almost without fail, the syrupy, whiny explanation:  “Oh, he just wants to loooooooove you!” Maybe he does, ma’am, but I already have a lover. How I wish you’d just control your animal. Of course, most clients with dogs could not process the concept of someone who could not do his best work with a dog in his face. And it’s the dog’s house, so it’s not like I have any standing to object. I just had to endure.


Oh, how often I saw it. I’d come in to a PC with a relatively fresh Windows installation. Mrs. Miller: “Well, my hard drive wasn’t downloading to my e-mail, and I couldn’t get my disk working, and my Windows web browser wouldn’t connect to my Microsoft Works, and my printer wouldn’t print the blue ink anymore. Now, I am a total computer dufus. My great-nephew is a computer god, he works at Hanford, he programs Excel, he knows everything about computers. He told me I needed to just wipe everything off, reformat and start again, so he did some stuff. Now I can’t find my e-mail at all and the Internet is broken. All my book chapters are gone and there is no Works at all. How much do you charge to put it back the way it was?” I was thinking: ma’am, if your great-nephew were here I’d take out the VGA card and cram it into his posterior. Why do these little hotshots do this, and then not help Auntie preserve or reinstall her data? It was hopeless and I could do little to change it.

Political types.

I provided services to two quite prominent local politicians, plus some other folks many people had heard of. Some were great. One political activist was about the biggest jerk I ever did service for. First time at his door: “So, are you a [party name]?” I looked at him with calm, suppressed indignation. “Sir, right now I’m a businessperson, and my priority is to resolve your printer problem.” On another visit, he started the “I’m not sure if you know who I am…”, clearly jonesing for free services–assumption being that I owed him for his political activism. I always believed that business was business and politics was politics, and that I should not introduce mine and they should not introduce theirs. Some simply couldn’t refrain, sitting next to me, dropping hints designed to suss out my political perspective.

The perception that a generalist could easily fix all things.

Hardware, software, connectivity. To them it was all ‘the computer.’ “Can you just fix it or not?” Some people would not grasp that, in order to see on a single visit if their problem was a flaky stick of RAM, I’d have to either carry every kind of RAM with me at all times, or run and get it and swap it in, then wait a few days to see if the problem repeated. How many hours of time was all that? Was I not to charge for that fetchin’ and gettin’? Was I to cart around a van full of stuff (constantly changing with the times) just waiting for this or that to be someone’s problem? If it were that simple, and that easy, sir, I would “just fix it.”


Not McAfee, as in MAC a fee, but mc CAFF ee. So many times. “I think I have a virus, my friend says I sent her one, but I don’t see how. This came with McCAFFee.” Did she ever note that it was a three-month trial version? No. Did she ever pay them to keep the virus definitions current at least, even if it was the worst virus protection software out there? She had no idea she needed to. “But I should be safe. I do a full scan every Sunday night!” You scan your computer with an obsolete virus detector. And you don’t understand why something newer than that just sent itself to everyone in your Outhouse Express e-mail directory. It was horrible. All could have been solved with a free one online.

People unwilling to learn.

I was a generous computer shaman, with my time and energy. Most people were doing some very stupid things that caused most of their problems. And when I’d tell them what the problem was, they’d smile that stupid little smile that says, Oh, you’re so cute, with your ideas of good computer use. Do you really think, young man, that I am going to abandon my habit of shutting off my computer by shutting off my surge protector? Well, the answer was frankly no, I didn’t think they would. But I had to try to at least tell them the problems it caused. They never learned. “But I like my WeatherBug!” It was spyware. They didn’t care.

Some of it, I admit, kept me in business. I told myself over and over: Shut up, idiot, and be glad they don’t do it right. That means they have to pay you. Fair enough. But not all the situations were solvable, and if things don’t go right, people tend to think the computer shaman didn’t do a good job. In other words, if they can still break their Internet connection, that must be my fault because I didn’t make it strong enough.

In the end, the frustration became too much, and I was making more money writing and editing. So I just focused on that.