Close Encounter with a Customer Carebot

"Hello? Rachel? Yes I'd like you to use a Phillips head screwdriver, open up the laptop and..."
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer on

"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 asOutsourced 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!

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