Close Encounter with a Customer Carebot

Close Encounter with a Customer Carebot

Summary: "Hello? Rachel? Yes I'd like you to use a Phillips head screwdriver, open up the laptop and..."


"Hello? Rachel? Yes I'd like you to use a Phillips head screwdriver, open up the laptop and..."

The last time we spoke of my experiences with Dell technical support, it was a positive one. Unfortunately, large computer companies can't always hit a home run with their support calls. My wife had a problem with her laptop last week and decided to call in to support and got a bit of a run-around. I can't make this stuff up. I now refer you to a special report from my spousal unit, Rachel.

Customer Carebots, a Special Report by Jason's wife, Rachel

I have a new "Sniglet" ZDNet folks, a Carebot. An Carebot is a customer service representative, usually for a large company. Many Carebots work in call centers located in far-away lands, such as India. While fluent in English, they are not usually versed in "American" and therefore have a pronounced accent. Despite this obvious accent they are instructed to use a Western name, while reading from a tightly controlled script and acting as automatons.

I had a recent encounter with a Carebot, I'll call him Dominick, since that's what he told me to call him. To me, Dominicks tend to be loud, live in the NY/NJ area and have a "Jersey Shore" accent. Dominick the Carebot sounded more like a waiter at an elegant Indian restaurant.

Now, just to be clear, we Perlows love Indian culture. We're also big fans of Indian food, which you may know if you also read Jason's personal blog, Off the Broiler.

We know that most Indians are not actually Carebots. But the fact is that there's a lot of telephone based customer service jobs being outsourced to India. To be fluent in another language and get a job as a customer service tech, I'm sure they have to be very bright indeed. I learned all about them by watching films such as Outsourced and the episode about Bangalore call centers on the documentary series, "30 Days"

However, they also follow their scripts to the letter, are given little to no autonomy if they do have personal familiarity with the products they service, but rarely do they have this actual familiarity. So, back to my encounter with Dominick the Carebot. I called into Dell Customer Service because my laptop decided to stop functioning. I just wouldn't boot. And, since I have access to a systems integration expert, I knew it wasn't just the screen (Jason plugged it into his docking station and it wouldn't boot there either).

Jason also feels that most computers costing under $1000 are essentially toasters. They occasionally stop working and are usually not worth repairing, just replace them. But this was relatively new, and we thought buying the accident protection would be a good idea since I'm generally considered a bit of a klutz. There was no visible physical damage, but there was a good possibility it had been dropped in-between uses (wink).

So, first thing I said to Dominick, after the initial pleasantries of logging into the system, was the above, that it wouldn't boot, probably dropped, we have accidental damage protection, which includes full replacement coverage. Should have been a 5-10 minute call for him to establish that this falls under our super duper $300+ warranty and set up the service call.

But no. I had to go through all the hoops of plugging in the AC adapter, unplugging, putting the battery in and out, turning it on and off holding the function key, etc. Onwards and upwards and many holds later, he says to me, "now we will check the memory chips. Do you have a Phillips head screwdriver?"

At that, I finally had enough! A Phillips head screwdriver??!! He wants me to open the case! WTF?! (This is the moment when a term much more awful than "Carebot" sprang to mind.)

"Are you serious? Do you expect me to open this laptop?!" "Yes, I will talk you through removing the memory chips so that we can establish if it is the mother board that is the problem. If so we will send you out a new motherboard."

"And who the heck is supposed to install this new motherboard? Let alone that I am not technically savvy and uncomfortable with the idea of opening up the laptop in the first place!" (Please ignore the systems architect in the next room, Dorothy. What if I was a 70 year old grandma who just wanted to see the pics of her grandkids on Facebook?)

"That is a good question, could you please hold for 3 minutes while I go find out?" (The holds were always for 3 or 5 minutes, I guess they've taken to saying this because holds are rarely "just a moment.")

When Dominick returned, all of a sudden it was straight to confirmation of my mailing address because they were going to send me out a box for sending in my laptop for repair or replacement. I had been on the phone for nearly 40 minutes, jumping through all the hoops as outlined in Dominick's customer service script, for what should have gone like this:

"Now that we have established that the laptop will not boot, and I see you are one of our premier customers who paid more than one-third the value of your laptop for full accident protection coverage, let's get your laptop fixed right away, just like we promised."

But, it took me finally losing my patience for them to get with the program.

Darned Carebots!

Topics: Enterprise Software, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Software


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • My frustrating ordeal

    Back in the old days (Pre DSL) I had a dell desktop that came with a modem installed. The modem "crapped out". I know this because I do IT work for a living; I'm not a hard core techie but I do know some things. After 45 minutes of walking through various things, including reseating the modem, I was told that it was in fact broken. Because I made the mistake early on in the phone call of saying we had recently had a thunderstorm I was told that Dell wouldn't replace the modem.

    At this point I blew a gasket - normally I am very calm and patient - but when I blow, I blow. I explained that we had just wasted 45 minutes of my time (and his) over a $5 modem. I strongly suggested that they send me a new modem. after conferring with his boss I got the new modem.

    Absolutely drives you crazy dealing with "customer support"!!!
  • And that's what we get for outsourcing American Jobs

    Bring jobs back to America.

    Put an end to the off-shore outsourcing tax loophole.
    Penalize corporations to deincentivize the practice.

    Tariff, levy duties on imports and appropriate those tariffs to be redirected to entrepreneurial manufacturers to offset the cost of creating new business incubators and 'thus' 'new jobs' in America.

    Eliminate NAFTA, CAFTA, Free Trade treaties and break ties with WTO. Free Trade is not FREE (e.g., record trade deficit with China).

    Why is the Trade Deficit bad for America? Because the flow of $ from a Wal-Mart sale ultimately flow back to the manufacturer in China (and stay to recirculate and trickle down their economy, not ours).

    Goods made in America and bought return dollars back to the corporation and pay for the good paying American jobs that in turn allow that worker to have spending and savings power and America maintains it self-sufficiency without dependency on imports.

    America needs to return to self-sufficiency.
    (Jason remember the 50's, 60's when you grew up? Oh sorry, you are too young to remember.)

    God Bless America.

    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    • Fair Tax?


      Have you looked into the Fair Tax? You might appreciate their efforts.
      • A fair tax usually means that...

        I pay less and you pay more.
        • Have you done your research?

          Please check out the web site before criticizing the proposal; that's only fair, right?
    • You need to study some economics

      The benefits of trade are not in question. Maybe you need to look elsewhere for solutions to your problems, such as the political system, educational system, health care system etc.

      If you had politicians who cared beyond financing their next re-election, an educational system that produced a really well trained work force and a health care system that provided good and affordable health care, thinks might look a bit different.
      • Nonsense. It's all about years of corrupt pork barrel spending...

        and worst of all bad decision making that enhances a minority to the exclusion of the welfare of the majority.

        Don't talk to me about economics. There is some heavy duty lobbying at work to make an elite few wealthier at the expense of the middle class.

        Worse, there is no cap on campaign spending limits now, which will only worsen the lobbying and graft that permeate and influence government.

        NAFTA was one of the worst pieces of legislation this country has come up with. Ross Perot was right that there would be a huge 'sucking' sound as jobs evacuate our country.

        He was right. We have to get back under the hood and give our country a good old fashion back to basics 'tune-up'. "It's like making sausage, see?"

        You have no idea what you are talking about, whipper snapper.
        • Nonsense. It is about fat, lazy Americans and their sense of entitlement

          There would be extremely low unemployment in
          American if Americans lived within their means
          and took care of themselves. If Americans
          didn't feel automatically entitled to
          overprices homes, stupidly huge vehicles, and
          extremely unhealthy pre-packaged food, they
          would have more money to spend, healthcare
          would be cheaper, and there would be more stay
          at home parents. All would combine to reducing
          unemployment. These same fat, lazy and stupid
          Americans could wake up and force a turnover in
          the government. American citizens have gotten
          everything they asked for, but they are too
          stupid to realize it.

          Yes, I am an American. I live in New York
          State, which supposedly is driving people away
          with taxes, but I own a pretty nice house, just
          bought a new car, buy nearly every gadget I
          want, have no credit card debt, and have a
          sizable savings account all on well under 6-
          figures a year. How? I spend wisely, and
          understand the difference between want and
          need, and plan for everything. It's really not
          that hard.
          • You don't address the effects of Free Trade, NAFTA and offhoring of jobs

            This has had a profound effects on the loss of jobs in America, businesses closing down.

            Your anectodal 'life is good' mantra is meaningless and worse you are insulting.
          • You go that right!

            Linux User 147560
          • Question..

            Americans are so stupid.. and you're American.... hmmmm

            What does spending money that you earn through a job have anything to do with outsourcing.. People aren't losing their jobs because they are spending their money. They are losing their jobs because companies can find cheaper LOWER quality work elsewhere and get away with it. The quality is here in America and the quality costs money.

            This is the entire point of the Article. Companies are just putting warm bodies behind a script and calling it tech support. Companies are selling to us "tech support" but with underqualified individuals.

            There are plenty of hardworking, very intelligent Americans that are out of work or very underemployed in this country. Its not some selfish sense of entitlement, its reality.

            The face of corporations have changed in this country. They no longer take care of their employee's. They look at employee's as a liability vs an asset. Why did they change this? Because someone sold the executives that they can make a lot more money personally if they outsource everything and just 'get by'.

            Americans are not stupid, or lazy. There are NO jobs American's won't do. And if you believe that propoganda well, maybe you're just one of the ones you refer to. Stupid Americans.. they do exist.. but they are not the reason for high unemployment numbers.
          • I could

            I could show any American with at least a 20h/wk minimum wage job with less than 3 kids how to live within their income level.

            I could also get a (legal) job for anybody willing to work in the greater Portland, OR area.

            I've been turned down numerous times once people find out whats involved. Yes you might have to do without cable tv, or take your second car off the insurance and cut weekly pizza and fast food out of your diet and brown bag it to work. (GOD FORBID)!

            Most Americans have developed a mentality of entitlement. Hell even I have a hard time following my own system, I like fast food... and I like decent food better when someone makes it for me. But that doesn't mean it's difficult. Pay for your food, pay for your roof, and EVERYTHING ELSE IS LUXURY (even health care, if you don't go to the doctor for that cough your not gonna die, worried about cancer or heart disease? Quit eating fast food, eat your vegetables and get a high deductible insurance) And quit expecting your government to pay for it. If the government pays for it YOU are paying for it. Oh, but the taxes come mostly from rich people and businesses. YOU pay a businesses taxes. And most of those "rich" people are the people your lived within their means.

            Americans are not lazy, even in this economic down turn we still have the highest valued economy, but lazy Americans are lazy and there are enough of them that they're really Fing things up.
          • How much would you work for?

            > There are NO jobs American's won't do.

            How much pay would you want to pick lettuce?
          • So by your logic

            the fact that all of these companies have outsourced their manufacturing jobs or call centers to other countries makes no difference? It's just that according to you Americans are fat, lazy slackers with an overblown sense of entitlement... wow, just wow... so I guess once Americans start eating right and lose weight the jobs will just come back?
          • Fat, Lazy Americans?

            So, you're saying that the poor airplane mechanic that had to take a job at wal*mart for minimum wage because his job was outsourced to the Phillipines is just a victim of his own laziness? It has nothing to do with his former employer closing down an entire facility to get cheap overseas labor, or the fact that by selling cheap Chinese imports, wal*mart has driven all other competitors out of business and is now the only major employer in town? Think again. How do you "live within your means" on $8.75 an hour? It's corporate greed that is killing America, not stupid Americans.
          • You have now firmly established...

            ...that while you may be capable of balancing your personal checkbook, you fall somewhere between potato and imbecile in terms of your understanding of economics. In the future I would strongly suggest you educate yourself on a subject before attempting to lecture others, thereby providing proof to all and sundry that complete fools are capable to navigating the web and typing into form boxes.
            Dr. John
          • I think the real problem is...

            that you both seem to think that there is only one "problem".

            You are both right. Why do you have to be so bi-polar about it. Why can't you agree that both of you have valid points?

            Studying economics is great, but what about "long term effects on economies"?

            Maybe if American labor wasn't so overpriced and demanding, there would be more jobs here. If you put yourself in the place of the business owner, then you would certainly want to reduce your spending to increase profit also right?

            American consumers obviously drive this market by wanting everything to be cheap and bountiful. If Americans were willing to pay more for quality goods and services, maybe companies wouldn't have the need to look for cheaper labor.

            If companies took better care of their employees, they would be more loyal and take more pride in their work and actually give a product worth paying more money for.

            If consumers would make choices about where they spend their money based on "All American" companies, then the other companies would lose revenues and maybe change their ways.

            If the government made it more expensive for American based companies to get outsourced labor, then it could level the playing field a little. Then we start the whole government v private arguement.

            Maybe we should all try to fix ALL of these little problems instead of relying on somebody else to do it for us or waiting for a magic bullet. You right wing / left wingers never get anything done because you don't really care about the problem so much as you want to be the one that is right.
          • I do the same but thank God I live in America

            where I can CHOOSE to be fat lazy and or over spend and lose everything or I can be smart eat healthy and NEVER have a credit card payment. There are a lot of SMART people who do that and there are just as many DA's out there that think just because YOU have something means I should too...and they over extend themselves to get it. Now have a bunch of JA Liberals in charge WHO THINK THE SAME FREAKIN have it then the guy next to you should have isn't that fair? Um no I don't because I know how to manage my money.
        • here's an idea...

          outsource the US government off shore...
    • Really?

      Are you saying that the ordeal was because the support was provided offshore and not because of rigid tier 1 policies imposed by the manufacturer?

      There didn't seem to be a language barrier.