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The Saga of AT&T Technical Support: Circa 1994

As I was creating my last post, filed under Rants 'n Raves, I kept having flashbacks to something that I had written during a similar situation many years ago. It took a lot of searching, and put a lot of rpm's on the cluster of hard drives used for the archive, but eventually I found it. It took a while to get it into readable format again since it was written using Winword on a Windows 3.11 machine. (For those of you that are historically challenged, Win 3.11 was the predecessor to Windows 95, which, as we all know, was the predecessor to Windows 98.)

So now, from deep in the byte mines of my archive of 1994, is my experience with AT&T Technical Support when they were still a computer company. Enjoy!

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The Saga of AT&T Technical Support


How to waste an afternoon and have fun doing it!

Date: May 3, 1994

AT&T, technical support, absurd, PC6310, broken, company confidential, Purgatory

The Saga:
Today I decided it was about time to repair that old AT&T PC6310; you know, the one under the bench with the bad power supply. It may be old (circa 1984) and it may only be a '286 box, but I have an extra EtherNet card and I can always use another network connection. Anyway, I had ripped it apart several months ago and ascertained that the power supply wasn't working. Now, how hard can it be for a person with 24 years of experience in the field of electronics, physics, and computer science (including 17 at AT&T Bell Laboratories) to spec out, and replace a modular power supply? Well, if all I had to do was contact a big green, slimy creature (holder of all knowledge) on the planet Mars and arrange for overnight transportation, it would have been a breeze! Unfortunately, I found it necessary to contact the wonderful down-to-earth people at AT&T Technical Support.

While I must say that all of the people that I found it necessary to talk to were quite pleasant and friendly, somehow I was left with the feeling that AT&T hasn't a clue as to what it means to provide technical support.

First on my quest for knowledge was a perusal of the Yellow Pages for the "AT&T Dealer nearest you". I guess I should move to Mars. Of the various places and people that I talked to, nobody seemed to remember what a model 6310 was, let alone how to fix it. Most of the local service shops are "tube pullers". (This is an old phrase reminiscent of the days when you pulled all of the tubes in your broken TV set and took them to the local drug store where they always had a tube tester.) They remove your power supply module and have it exchanged for a repaired one. Feeling, of course that I owed myself something more than this, I marched on.

Next, I called a published AT&T customer service number. I waited on hold a scant 20 minutes (sans music) before hearing a human voice say "May I help you?". Ah! Nirvana, I thought. Purgatory, I discovered. The only information that they could give me at this number, was another number to call for information about my particular piece of equipment. Not being easily discouraged, I once again dialed into the unknown. Now here my luck started to change. After waiting only 18 minutes on hold with a musical accompaniment, I was told that the part number of the desired component was "AT&T/NCR part number 4053713290 for an LA 21A.N.71999/M".(How could I have been so naive?) I then asked the most foolish question of all ... "How much?" Well now, you see that probably was my fault! I wrongly assumed that after investing over 30 minutes on customer support, and actually getting a part number, that they would be able to tell me how much it was going to cost. Wrong! To get that kind of high level information, you have to be routed to another representative. (I believe it was at this point that I first heard the phrase "I'm sorry sir, but that's all we're trained for." ..... no further comment required.)

Well, more determined than ever to get to the bottom of this great corporate mystery, I pleaded to be routed to the next plateau of customer involvement, where, after waiting a mere 8 minutes, (no music, just occasional static in the ear) I was politely told that "AT&T/NCR part number 4053713290 for an LA 21A.N.71999/M will cost you $644.40 plus shipping." Now, I wasn't born yesterday you know, because if I had been I wouldn't be screwing around with a 10 year old '286 box with a broken power supply. So, I know that $644.40 for a replacement part for a machine that I can buy in the junk bin for $100 just doesn't make great financial sense. Besides, I have several catalogs advertising replacement power supplies for around $85 - $150. At this point, thinking that maybe the customer support person simply confused my PC6310 with a No. 5 ESS unit, I foolishly asked if she was sure that the part number was the correct one for the requested PC6310. She couldn't verify that because "I'm sorry sir, but that's all we're trained for.".

At this point, any normal person would be attempting to salvage the line cord before discarding the dead carcass, but, not giving up, I inquired as to the availability of technical information so that I might attempt to resuscitate the thing myself. (after all, I used to design these things). If you haven't already guessed, I was told to call yet another Technical Support 800 number. So, I did!

Again, this was probably my fault. I thought that if I called a technical support number requesting technical information, I would get same. Not to be! I was advised that by leaving my name, number, and a brief request, they would pass it on to one of the qualified technical support people in my area. With a bead of sweat hanging from the tip of my nose and a shutter in my voice, I related my experience with the "tube pullers" in my area and requested an alternate source of gratification to which I promptly received "I'm sorry sir, but that's all we're trained for.". With nowhere else to turn, I requested the call back.

The turn-around time here was rather good, only 2 hours; better than SCO (but that's another story). My awaited call finally came and with the machine's guts opened to the world, ready for any technical volley required, I answered the phone. I, at length,explained my dilemma and my now urgent need to resolve this problem. The gentleman from New Jersey politely explained to me that he was new with the company and not really familiar with the piece of hardware in question, but that he had the technical service books and related information at his disposal and could therefore aid me in my repair of this unit.

Ah! At last! Nirvana, I thought!

My first request was simple and seemed like a logical place to begin our new service relationship: could he please fax me a schematic, or at least a parts layout so that I might repair my *$#@*! power supply?

His response was equally simple: No! He could not give out that kind of technical information because it was company confidential. He could however, give me an 800 number that I could call to get the location of the nearest field service center. There, they could install a replacement power supply for me!

Purgatory, again!

The Resolve:
I called Northstar Matrix Service in Minneapolis. They answered on the first ring, the receptionist knew what I was talking about, she said $65.00. She transferred me to a technical person. He answered on the first ring. He assured me they could repair it in 5 days or less for $65.00.

Ah! At last! Nirvana!

Permalink 09/04/08 01:17:23 am, by Bill Rosser Email , 1333 words, Categories: Rant 'n Raves ,