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ISP's Slapping Techs For Lending A Hand 331

Posted by timothy
from the hostile-workplace-environment dept.
Mike writes "Broadband Reports is running a story about how several large ISP's have reprimanded, even fired techs who offer support in BBR's forums in their free time. BellSouth is the latest ISP to forbid any official tech support representation. Instead of sculpting PR guidelines for techs to follow, they're scaring them into submission."
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ISP's Slapping Techs For Lending A Hand

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  • Truly horrible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ekrout (139379)
    With war and hatred so predominant these days, it's hard to believe that during the Holiday season, people are actually discouraging kindness.
    • by Mattsson (105422) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:31PM (#4833406) Homepage Journal
      Those bastards where helping the customers!
      Of course they should be fired.
      Can't have serviceminded employees. That would be good for company reputation.
      • Re:Truly horrible (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Oculus Habent (562837) <oculus...habent@@@gmail...com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:13PM (#4833651) Journal
        It would be bad for the company reputation. Imagine, your support is so worthless that the few good technicians have to give advice to people while not at work because they can't on the job?

        This is essentially what it's saying to the people in charge. Whether it's true or not is what they should be worried about.

        It also a liability issue. What if a less-than-stellar tech goes online and starts spewing bad information - then people are angry at your company, and you've done nothing wrong.

        As a former Prodigy Internet tech (it was acquired by Bell South...) I recall this was an issue for our call center. Tech support is practically a scripted job and while it attracts a variety of intelligent people, it gets plenty of random ones, too. We had plenty of people who would spin wild tales for people as to why they couldn't connect, and believe them themselves.
        • Re:Truly horrible (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kcbrown (7426)
          It would be bad for the company reputation. Imagine, your support is so worthless that the few good technicians have to give advice to people while not at work because they can't on the job?

          If your support is that worthless, then forbidding your employees from helping others in their spare time won't help. The only way to fix that problem is to fix your official support.

          It also a liability issue. What if a less-than-stellar tech goes online and starts spewing bad information - then people are angry at your company, and you've done nothing wrong.

          What makes you think this isn't going to happen while the tech is on the job? If a tech does that then they deserve to be reprimanded. While reprimanding an employee for what they say while not on the job treads dangerously on First Amendment rights, employers can probably get away with it these days.

          Regardless, techs should be reprimanded for doing things that are bad for the company, not things that merely could be.

          "Liability" has become the ubiquitous excuse for far too many of the evils in the world today.

          • Re:Truly horrible (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2002 @04:40PM (#4834099)
            I work in support for a large internet equipment manufacturer, and here is my take:

            When on the job, I can represent myself as a technical support representative from my company, and when I am not on the job I cannot make that claim. Its that simple.

            I can still offer support, assistance and advice, but there is no way I'd support anything outside of my work structure and still represent myself as doing official work (i.e. claiming I'm a support rep).

            I don't do this for my company's sake, I do it for mine -- its called CYA... coverying your ass.
        • Re:Truly horrible (Score:4, Insightful)

          by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda@e t o y o c .com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @05:21PM (#4834279) Homepage Journal
          Not to nickpick. but your arguments are inconsistent.

          The quality of tech support was not in question, it is a matter of when an employee clocks out at the end of the day and acts as a private citizen X does the company get to govern his/her actions.

          No one was saying these individuals were trying to act as agents of the company. All liability arguments are moot. This is simply a matter of control.

    • Re:Truly horrible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shalome (566988) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:37PM (#4833431) Homepage
      Kindness is one thing, good business practice is another.

      For example: a licensed tech provides off-time support in a relatively unofficial capacity, which causes the user to do something that royally screws his connection/hardware/software/downloaded pr0n/etc. User calls official tech support and demands retribution, seeing as how one of the company's techs told user to do something that "broke his stuff."

      I've been in this situation before, and it ain't pretty for anyone involved, no matter how good the tech's intentions were.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm all for kindness and helping others. But I also understand the corporate position of "no unofficial tech support by official tech supporters."
      • Re:Truly horrible (Score:5, Informative)

        by The Madpostal Worker (122489) <abarros@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:46PM (#4833480)
        Employees volunteering time falls under a very gray(well actually not that gray) area of the Fair Flabor Standards Act(FLSA). The general consensus is that empolyees cannot volunteer time to their employer: almost always this falls under the definition of Hours Worked. The ISP is most likely worried that some point down the road their Tech (who was originally doing this of their own free will) will demand compensation ( and the requisite overtime) for their "voluneered" hours.

        You know if I was the employer, I would do the same thing.

        The Department of Labor Elaws [dol.gov] has some easy to understand interpretations of various FLSA previsions.
        • They could just pay them salary and not have that problem. Microsoft tech guys are always in the newsgroups and I know many who particiapte in their own time.
          • Re:Truly horrible (Score:5, Informative)

            by The Madpostal Worker (122489) <abarros@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @05:55PM (#4834409)
            Again a possilbe gray area. Generally a salaried employee is still eligible for overtime unless they fit the "White Collar Exemption"(Here are more common overtime exemptions [dol.gov]).

            The two best fits in the whitecollar exemption are(from http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs17 .htm [dol.gov]:

            "Administrative Exemption

            Applicable to employees who perform office or non-manual work which is directly related to the management policies or general business operations of their employer or their employer's customers, or perform such functions in the administration of an educational establishment; who regularly exercise discretion and judgment in their work; who either assist a proprietor or executive, perform specialized or technical work, or execute special assignments; who receive a salary which meets the requirements of the exemption; and who do not devote more than 20% of their time to work other than that described above (40% in retail and service establishments).

            Professional Exemption

            Applicable to employees who perform work requiring advanced knowledge and education, work in an artistic field which is original and creative, work as a teacher, or work as a computer system analyst, programmer, software engineer, or similarly skilled worker in the computer software field; who regularly exercise discretion and judgment; who perform work which is intellectual and varied in character, the accomplishment of which cannot be standardized as to time; who receive a salary which meets the requirements of the exemption (except doctors, lawyers, teachers and certain computer occupations); and who do not devote more than 20% of their time to work other than that described above."

            Now IANAL, but there is a great deal of room for interpretation in there. A front-line (or even higher up) tech support person most likely doesn't meet the adminsitrative exemption (beacuse they won't be seetting management policy) and possibly the professional exemption

            The FLSA is a big complex mess designed to stop employers from screwing employees. Sometimes in the process they limit worker's choices too. People run into this same issue in other areas too. Volunteer firefights in many counties have to resign from their volunteering position if they take a within the Fire/Rescue department of that county (even if there is no overlap between jobs). The problem is that in general many "volunteered" hours to companies aren't voluntary.
    • Re:Truly horrible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NerdSlayer (300907) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:44PM (#4833471) Homepage
      With war and hatred so predominant these days, it's hard to believe that during the Holiday season, people are actually discouraging kindness.

      Okay, let's take a step back for a minute. First of all, this is DSL, not saving the whales. The terrorists haven't won just because these guys can't post.

      The truth is, running a company is hard. Wouldn't you rather have your job for the "Holiday season" that some free webboard tech support?

      Part of the problem here is that it can be dangerous to have your employees posting as a representative of your company without any standard of what can or cannot be communicated safely.

      It appears from this article that that some companies are setting up a policy that forbids this sort action by their employees. In a large company, this can be necessary. How well do the managers know their employees? Are they just spouting off about how much they hate their employers? Are managers going to scour the web for these people's posts?

      It's true, it would be nice if this were allowed to continue, but I certainly understand why for liability's sake most companies don't want to be involved. This certainly doesn't warrant front page slashdot news. I know we all hate corporations, but often times companies get big because their the best at what they do, or at least good at making money while doing it.

      Some day you kids will go off to college, and then, you might even have to get a job at a corporation, too.

      Jesus, people. This isn't microsoft sacrificing babies in the parking lot every morning.
      • Re:Truly horrible (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Squideye (37826)
        Couldn't there be some kind of forum review by the workers' supervisors? Couldn't there be "licenses" or some kind of authorization for people to post on forums as "forum people"?

        I worked as Tech Support for a while, and people from my division actually rotated duties including E-mail, phones, and newsgroup. It was a very good way to keep in touch with our user base. But unless there was official policy about how support was done, things got chaotic from time to time.

        So we had guidelines for forum work. Is that so hard to figure out? Techs shouldn't be giving out "rogue advice" so to speak, they should keep in touch with their employers, but they also shouldn't be absolutely, expressly forbidden from helping people out when they get the chance!
  • by ekrout (139379) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:10PM (#4833299) Journal
    In related news, Linus Torvalds, head honcho of the Linux kernel hackers, recently fired a half-dozen developers for going above and beyond normal code writing. Linus found them in multiple IRC channels offering computing support in their free time, which was a clear violation of the Linux team's No Assistance or Help (NAH) policy that was adopted in the mid-1990s.
  • by dcstimm (556797) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:11PM (#4833305) Homepage
    I worked for a dial up ISP, I did techsupport, I would aways go way out for the customer and I would help fix all the problems they were having with out service. ALot of times I got offers to go to their house and fix their computer, but I always told them I couldnt. But I also Build and fixed computers on the side and I recommended this ISP to alot of people. So one time on the phone I was talking to someone I build a computer for and I guess the manager heard me talking about the computer I built for them over the phone, and word got to the owner and I was fired. They also got mad at me for telling people they needed a new HARDWARE based modem. I had alot of calls that people complained about disconnections and slow connection rates. SO I would recommened them to buy a USR hardware based modem, for some reason the ISP I worked for didnt like this so I would always get in trouble. Im glad I dont work for that company any more, they were more into making a profit then helping their customers.

    Oh well..
    • they don't want the customers to use bandwidth, it lowers margins.
    • This is sad, because it's exactly what i did, though i didn't do it on any company time. It's a good recommendation. I used to have random disconnects with a software modem, normally while playing games and such. The cpu just couldn't feed the modem with the information and disconnected me. So i bought a hardware modem fromo USR and never had a problem since. I also did this for other people and it fixed their problems. I don't think it's much of a problem any more with newer computers, but it was a problem on my p166. I just keep moving my USR from new computer to new computer :) and i keep it around in case my cable goes out (good ol comcast)... I too would be glad to not work for that ISP anymore.

      Kyle
    • by swb (14022) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:42PM (#4833463)
      Maybe management didn't want you mixing your side business with your day job.

      Generally speaking, most places dislike their employees generating business from their customers or doing business on their time.
      • by octalgirl (580949) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @07:23PM (#4834759) Journal
        If that's true then mangement doesn't understand the business very well. I can't think of any tech people I know that don't do things on the side, whether for $$ or not, on behalf of their company or not. Even if it's just for family. Does a doctor just walk by an injured person on the street? Does a teacher sit silent when someone nearby asks a question they know the answer too? When you are skilled in an area, it's just human nature to present that side of yourself in your day-to-day life. A good manager would understand that and incorporate it into their business model. (And I also wonder if said management that goes so far as to fire tech ppl for helping has never asked for personal/home computing help from some of their hired tech people?)
    • this is the "radio shack" syndrome... companies run by idiots that know nothing about their own business.. and WANTING employees that also know nothing about what they sell or support.

      it's very typical, and what we need to do is call the kettle black.. we all need to start publically humiliating CEO's, CFO's and espically CTO's at companies that do this kind of crap... call up and leave messages to these "leader" as to how stupid they are, be sure to spread the word about any company that does this, you'd be really suprised how a little of warning via word of mouth is more effective than $2,000,000.00 in advertising.

      Basically.... WARN everyone you know about companies like what you worked for. fill them in, and let them know that XYZ isp is not what you want to use...

      Hell I know cable guys that reccomend to people "can you get DSL?? I'd switch to that first and avoid cablemodem service unless you have no other choice. hell I also know cable guys that reccomend to their friends and relatives to get a dish instead of cable service in their town.

      the way to flush these "morons with money" (tm) is to spread the word to everyone you know... it will put them out of business.
    • by shepd (155729) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [gro.todhsals]> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:24PM (#4833722) Homepage Journal
      >I had alot of calls that people complained about disconnections and slow connection rates. SO I would recommened them to buy a USR hardware based modem

      Not that this is a bad idea or anything, but after living in the country, I can tell you the majority of those calls are, in fact, the ISP's/Telco's fault. Most all dial-up boxes are purposely misconfigured by the ISP to ensure they drop the connection at the sound of a pin drop. I've been told so by the person at said ISP who has had an opportunity to view the config of these boxes.

      Oh well. It's cheaper to drop dial-up customers than to keep them, for a lot of ISPs. I wish I could find an ISP that costs twice as much but actually puts some effort in. :-(
      • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3@@@phroggy...com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @07:00PM (#4834678) Homepage
        And having worked at four different ISPs, I can tell you this is nonsense. Sure, if the ISP's admins don't know what they're doing, something may be misconfigured, but at most larger ISPs, the admins are quite competent. You would be amazed at what kinds of things can disrupt a dialup connection. Did you know that many people get different connection rates depending on the weather? Some people can't connect at all after a storm, even though their voice phone service seems to work fine. Copper POTS lines were never intended to carry data.

        I've seen connections improve by replacing the phone jack in the wall. Moisture builds up and the contacts become corroded. It's not some lame excuse tech support made up to get you off the phone - it might not be the answer to your problem, but it's a known issue that can't be ruled out yet.

        How do you explain it when a thousand other customers can all connect just fine, and you're the only one having problems, but you're connecting to the exact same equipment as everyone else is? Is that the ISP's fault?

        You can dial your friend's ISP and get better speeds, so you assume your ISP is to blame. Take your computer to a friend's house, and plug into his phone line. Your connection speed vastly improves. Whose fault is it now?

        And then there's 56k. First of all, did you know it's impossible to make a 56k connection if there's more than one conversion between analog and digital anywhere on the connection? Your analog line is converted to a digital signal at your phone company's central office - that's one conversion. If it converts back to analog at the other end, 56k is impossible.

        Secondly, there are four protocols for 56k: X2, k56flex, v.90, and v.92. v.92 is pretty new and not widely supported, so I'm not familiar with it, and it's basically just an improvement over v.90. The other three, however, are all quite different. Now, everybody supports v.90, but that wasn't the case a few years ago. USR supports X2, Diamond and Lucent support k56flex. When v.90 came out, all the modem manufacturers released firmware updates to make X2 or k56flex modems support v.90 as well. However, early implementations of v.90 were astoundingly buggy. ISPs were applying firmware patches to their terminal servers as well. Picture this: X2 modems connect to the ISP at 56k. k56flex modems connect to the ISP at 33.6 (they drop down to v.34), because the ISP doesn't support v.90. The ISP updates to support v.90. The customers update to support v.90. X2 modems try to connect with v.90 and fail half the time. Enter an init string to make them use X2 instead, and they work fine again. k56flex users can now connect with v.90, and maybe they have better success. The ISP does another update, and now all those X2 modems can connect properly with v.90, so that's great - but now some k56flex modems can't connect at all anymore. Enter an init string to force them to drop down to v.34 (and the particular init string required to do this is different for each manufacturer, and they're usually cryptic, like "+MS=11,1"). Now they can get online, and go download a firmware update, and now v.90 works again (after changing the init string to re-enable v.90). A new firmware patch for the terminal servers is released, and the ISP tests it - it fixes a lot of problems. They roll it out, and it works great, until a modem manufacturer releases a firmware update that isn't compatible with the ISP's new firmware. So, the ISP splits their modem pool, and gives different dialup numbers to people with different brands of modems.

        I don't do dialup support anymore, so I can't say how much of this is still an issue. I would imagine most of these kinds of incompatibilities have been resolved, now that v.90 has had a few years to mature. Still, don't assume the ISP is always responsible for your problems.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:12PM (#4833308)
    The ISPs don't want the potential liability of having their employees giving out anything other than the "company line," whether in an official capacity or not. I can't really say as I blame them. What if ISPTechA is posting on BBR and the advice he gives leads someone to wreck their hard drive? What if ISPTechB makes an offhanded comment about how ISPTechA sucks goat nards?

    You've probably seen plenty of usenet posts with long .sigs about how "the opinions of this post are that of the author and not the employer." Some companies handle it that way, and some are a bit more draconian by forbidding non-official contact across the board. But it all boils down to liability.
    • The company I work for has a warning out regarding "Official company position". All my posts have no refrence to my place of employment. (OK maybe a generic refrence - I do hardware, not software) Once in a while if I see genuine wrong information on Slashdot (very rare), I may post a link to the official company website showing the disputed fact instead of giving "My opinion IMHO". I never provide an opinion on the company or it's direct competitors. It keeps me out of trouble and many times allows insight in the industry not colored by company position. From the article the company had no problem regarding generic tech support postings only. Just don't get into anything regarding if the company is fair, doing well, biased, cheating, etc. That will raise red flags whether the info is true or not. Don't do water cooler talk outside your company. EVER!
  • The Samaritan Effect (Score:5, Informative)

    by pgrote (68235) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:13PM (#4833310) Homepage
    I have had SBC DSL since they offered it. I was an early adopter and paid for it heavily with downtime and mysterious router issues. Add to that I actually signed up for static IP addresses and bandwidth guarantees and I feel into the black hole when it came to support.

    The techs working undercover on Broadband Reports helped me out and since then, two years, I haven't had a single issue.

    This raises the interesting prospect of if they weren't available I would have cancelled and taken my business elsewhere. Where I am located there are multiple companies and solutions available, so I am lucky.

    99.9% of the techs on the boards do it for their own gratification. I call it the Samaritan Effect. It's what online support used to be back in the days of the BBS and message networks. Personal handholding on issues that others could learn from.

    Each time a tech takes the time to answer a question, solve a problem or offer advice it lightens the load on the overworked phone staff.

    The techs enjoy it because they find, gasp, satisfaction that they are making a difference in their jobs. Most of those folks are not customer facing getting their orders from ticket systems, etc. It provides them a chance to make a difference.

    Yes, there are negative implications on doing this, but for the most part it works. Providers should read the Cluetrain Manifesto [searls.com] for more exposure to what they should be doing.
    • by sco08y (615665)
      It's like that with a lot of new technology. Early adopters are self-interested altruists: they realize that if they help the pioneering companies out that they will be help to establish their favorite technology. Established technology is worth more than technology noone's ever heard of, so they are indirectly investing in themselves.

      If you look at the history of companies like Apple, for example, you see this effect can be quite pronounced. If we Mac-heads had let Apple die, our investment in skills and hardware would all be worthless now!
  • by unterderbrucke (628741) <unterderbrucke@yahoo.com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:14PM (#4833323)
    Companies just want customers to go through the traditionial support lines in order to provide statistics about problems. If everyone uses BBR's forums, then the company doesn't have statistics about problems with it's modems, then it doesn't know to issues patches or not.

    Seems common sense to me...
    • If that were the case, then the companies should free their employees to provide all the assistance they can right there at work, where those statistics are gathered. Instead, what we have are scripted procedures for helping that really don't help at all. I've had to lie to techs several times when they ask me to reboot my computer while trying to resolve an issue of why I am getting busy signals or no answer from their dialup pool, just to get them past one of the many "stupid points" in their script. In at least one case I know I was dealing with a tech who knew damned well I didn't reboot, but because the call may have been recorded, he couldn't really say it. But he obviously knew Linux and dropped a few buzzwords that hinted to me what he was really thinking, which would probably have gone over his PHB's head as chit-chat (often allowed when tests being done take some time). But the real problem ultimately is that under company rules, getting tech support from the company usually sucks. There are some notable exceptions.

      • If the tech had to be that sneaky about it to avoid getting caught helping you, you should complain to upper management. Write a letter to the president of the company, or to the callcenter director maybe (not to the tech's supervisor or that supervisor's manager, it has to go higher than that). Let them know that you really appreciate what that tech wanted to do, and they were able to solve your problem, and if they hadn't been able to solve your problem, you would have taken your business elsewhere - but you think management's draconian policies about what the tech is and is not allowed to help you with are apalling, and you will not recommend their company to any of the clients you consult for unless you get some assurance that the environment will change. You were able to get help by being sneaky, but you can't expect other people to be sneaky like that, and you can't risk your reputation by recommending their company if things continue like this.
  • by JakiChan (141719) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:15PM (#4833326)
    You know, when when I first read some of the semi-near future cyberpunk stuff (like SnowCrash and Gibson's "bridge trilogy"), I thought the way the future was being portrayed was simply taking things to an absurd level with excessive litigation and examples of corporate bad-citizenship. Now everywhere I turn it seems like the predictions are spot on and the bleak realities that we read as fiction are slowly becoming truth. As much as I like SciFi that paints the future as full of Shiney Happy People, I think the reality is that we'll all end up living on a bridge or in subway tunnels someday...
    • There were at least as many "Good" corporations (the Mafia, the corporation that made the mech-enhanced guard dogs...) as "Bad" ones (Rife, The Pearly Gates) in Snow Crash. And remember in Snow Crash the world is still transitioning from the death of Nation States. If you read The Diamond Age, it's a depiction of how it eventually ends up, and yoÅÕï8t to find out what happens to Y.T.

      Tim
  • is...? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarvinMouse (323641) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:15PM (#4833327) Homepage Journal
    Free time during work time or when they go home?

    The employees should be allowed to do pretty much anything they want when they go home. (apart from selling non-disclosure agreement secrets.) This is kinda like firing a doctor for curing someone without charging them. Seems kinda silly to me.

    But then again, the tech market is in a slump, and they may need the money.

    If this is during work though, it's somewhat understandable (note: I am not condoning it (IANCI).). Some offices prefer you work for them during work hours, and not work for free online.

    As well, if these techies are giving out details that they aren't allowed to (due to some agreement or another). Then again, it is understablable (IANCI). Businesses have their "intellectual property" that they'd prefer to sell then give away.

    Seem odd though for a company to do this and risk the bad press.
  • New? to who? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Papa Legba (192550) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:16PM (#4833332)
    Must have been a slow news day. I love it when people report on an ongoing trend as if it is "New" all of a sudden. What is their next news flash? That moisture, when it falls from the sky in the form of rain, tends to get things wet?

    I worked for a dial-up ISP for several years. In 1999 they closed our forums so that the techs could not answer questions that way. The only way after that to get tech support was to call us or to send an E-mail. No public forums allowed. At the time it was justified by saying that we were only following an industry trend.

    What this article should have pointed out is that the shutting of access to a help forum has more to do with the disinegration of the item being supported. You only restrict access if their is a problem. This is a bigger indicator that the broadband networks are overloaded and are starting to self destruct more than it is a new indicator of customer service. Look for some major system failures in the next year (like anyone with any industry knowledge didn't already know that).

  • by tmark (230091) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:18PM (#4833342)
    Is the key and operative term used in the article. It makes perfect sense for these companies to want to have some control over what will get said by THEIR employees and hence as THEIR _Official_ representatives. There are lots of techs out there who are quick to say/write/post things that are offensive/incorrect - policy guidelines notwithstanding, and there's no good way for these companies to retract/correct them. How many times have _you_ dealt with a surly/incompetent/incoherent tech that reflects very poorly on their company ? Could you imagine the company having a policy that, say, only fluent English speakers are allowed to post, without that company being open to lawsuits ?

    I don't blame these companies a bit for wanting to be able to control what their company says and how their company is portrayed. The article says nothing about the companies prohibiting the techs from posting in an unofficial capacity.
  • Understandable... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nuxx (10153) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:19PM (#4833346) Homepage
    I can sort of understand this. From my skimming of the article, it looks like the employees were offering their time in an official capacity while off hours. This is somewhat of a no-no, because then the employees are presenting themselves as representatives of their employer, during a time which they are not at work. This could potentially cause all sorts of problems for the company, since the employees won't be working within the offical support model framework that the company uses. (eg: Solution for X is Y, etc.)

    This is akin to an employee offering up advice to people on the street corner, off hours, saying that it's the offical position of his employer. It would introduce all sorts of legal headaches if something gets broken, someone gets misinformed, etc.

    I fail to see anything in this article that says that employees cannot offer tech support off hours, it just says that they can't do it and say it's the stance of their employer, as indicated by "As of December 31, BellSouth employees will not be allowed to lend a hand in any official capacity." So what's to keep someone from helping out without saying it's their company's line? Nothing.
  • by nlinecomputers (602059) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:19PM (#4833348)
    Techs who provide support in a non-authorised manner and therefore unsupervised manor should be prohibited from doing this.

    I personally have seen incorrect information posted on BBSs. Yet if the poster IDs him/herself as an employee of company X and that incorrect information causes damage the company could be liable. The article says "So instead of spending twenty minutes drafting clear corporate policy on public forum relations protocol, some companies clamp down on such activities; sometimes brutally." No they took there 20 minutes and elimiated a potential legal loophole. Running a proper BBS forum would take a lot of resources and I can understand why a corportaion would want to clamp down on this.

    This isn't the evil empire. This is CYOA. And considering the amount of stupid and incorrect information that can be found out there I don't blame them on bit!

  • I've spent alot of time participating in TiVo forums. Glad that TiVo is a little more farsighted in this area. There are quite a few TiVo employees on the TiVo boards, and the always are able to provide the best information.


  • The corporate world is all about politics, not technology. The people that know the technical answers cannot know the politics behind the problems.

    It could be very bad for the company if a moonlighter helps with a security issue, say, when the offical company line is to deny its existance.

    People should do what their job descriptions says they should do.
  • All Aboard! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GGardner (97375)
    The Cluetrain [cluetrain.com] is leaving the station!
  • This also reminds me of a semi-large MSN Tech outsource that did the same thing both on and off the clock. The MSN motto for support was "Get that customer off the phone!" Actually helping the customer fix their issue was frowned upon if it took more than 60 seconds. As an employee, the techs were also forbidden to, in any way, say that they represented MSN in a public forum, even while on the clock! I, for one, still rate a company largely on thier customer relations. Too bad there isn't a big ISP that taps that demographic...
    • "The MSN motto for support was "Get that customer off the phone!""

      Hell, that's the motto on 99% of the call floors out there. Even when I worked for an outsource company for Dell (supposedly focused on customer satisfaction... apparently my satisfaction issues with their controllerless modem don't count...), there was much more pressure to "clear the que" than to solve problems. To the point where it's easier with most problems to tell the customer to do an FFR (FDISK, FORMAT, re-install, doo-dah doo-dah) simply because you can get them off the phone while they're formatting.
  • by MacAndrew (463832) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:25PM (#4833377) Homepage
    BellSouth employees will not be allowed to lend a hand in any official capacity

    It is important to be cautious in drawing many conclusions from a single press account. As everyone knows, sometimes the press does a mediocre job.

    The key word is "official" -- the company should and must control its employees' official activities, because they are then acting as representatives of the company. This is standard business law. True, the company would get credit for the good things the reps did in their spare time, but it would also get the blame or, worse, monetary liability.

    So the employees shouldn't do it if told not to. That might be dumb business logic for the company, but who knows, is is their call. Assuming the reps were doing a good jobs and not generating complaints, their committment sounds laudable. I've avoided calling for tech help of any sort for years b/c of frustration with clueless techs (not always, but too often).

    That's the right; but here it *sounds* like the companies here are also being jerks about it and treating their employees reprehensibly. That's a whole 'nother ball of wax, and one for which I am entirely unsympathetic.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think another part of the problem here is that legal business contracts exist (outsourcing) for various types of 'support'. For example, the tech person at an ISP is basically there to assist with ISP related issues. Operating system issues are a HUGE industry and are genereally contracted to other companies, through the vendor of the operating system. That's where the potential liability issue comes into play. Unfortunately for most consumers, the contracts include service level agreements which restrict the amount of time a tech should spend on any given issue, the end result being that techs feel pressured to get through calls as quickly as possible, which affects quality of service actually provided, and gives the consumer the impression that the tech just wants to get off the phone.

      Excuse me for babbling there.
  • If they get fired, won't that release them from any corporate online behavior guidelines? Then they can offer support on the forums as members of the public until the cows come home. And they won't have any obligation not to badmouth the company when it deserves it.
    • This is all good and well, until the bills keep coming through the door but you now dont have a paycheck. As with OSS, at end of the day, no matter how much you want to do things for free you still have to live and maybe support a family and thus need income from somewhere.
  • Eh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cytlid (95255) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:27PM (#4833382)
    I can't imagine this... I've been a technician for about a year and a half. I think I got the job *because* I helped people in my spare time. I know for a fact my employer went to google groups and did a search on my name ... They must have put something really potentially damaging (to the business) in their posts?
  • FYI (Score:3, Informative)

    by cioxx (456323) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:27PM (#4833385) Homepage
    Here's the announcement thread [broadbandreports.com] on the forums.
  • I got fired (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TerryAtWork (598364) <research@aceretail.com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:29PM (#4833393)
    By a tech support company in Toronto the second day on the job. The company itself was chin deep in the Snow White virus. The people there were clueless outside of their tiny domain of expertise.

    I described the letter promoting it to some people working there so they'd know what to avoid, trying to help you see, and this girl went to management and they fired me.

    When the word got back to the agency that sent me there THEY fired me. Twice in one day, a personal best.

    I'm not making this up.

  • "Because you're tired of companies who care."
  • Two-part solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoshuaDFranklin (147726) <[joshuadfranklin ... [at] [yahoo.com]> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:33PM (#4833420) Homepage
    they were fired for violating a non-existent public forum non-disclosure agreement, and for identifying themselves as a Roadrunner employee

    First of all, the employers need to get all their support personnel to sign NDAs. I worked tech support for a small regional ISP [iocc.com] and we were not allowed to tell people what brand of AS we used (this could change), the speed of our uplink, the model of our gateway router, details of our network map, etc. What's wrong with that? (I should mention that we also always recommended hardware-based modems and customers could bring in their PC for connection troubleshooting FOR FREE. This was a great ISP.)

    Second, though, these tech support people should know better than to identify themselves as employees of the ISP. That makes it sound like it's official company policy when it's really just some guy saying "try this... it might help".

  • Not surprising. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JessLeah (625838) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:34PM (#4833424)
    Recently, I had a very interesting conversation on the phone with the Verizon Residential DSL support people. So I call up; I realize (due to factors of age and gender) I don't "sound like a geek" but I am. After a few minutes the tech realized he was conversing with a fellow techie, and we worked together to solve my problem (him using Verizon's proprietary tools and me using RoaringPenguin's pppoe and standard Linux TCP/IP tools). He was quite nice and we even had an ongoing side-discussion about running Linux on the PowerPC architecture while we worked to solve the problem.

    Then it came time to hand off the problem to Verizon's internal tech support team, since it became obvious that it was a systemic problem affecting people in my area (or at least me, but we determined that the problem was clearly on their end, not mine). At this point, my friend tech apologized, and warned me that this report might not go anywhere-- since I was not running Windows on my box. Apparently, internal tech support only honors reports from people running Windows...

    It's just another example of how the legions of PHBs running the telecom field (and the dot-com field, as I can testify from having worked far too long in said field) are trying to regulate everything in the support process. It's all about the Benjamins, and these people believe that by regulating, and restricting, and prohibiting everything-- to the point of "scripting" common tech support dialogs and replacing human operators with "automatic phone support systems", they can make more money.

    They may be right, they may be wrong. In any case, I don't like it...
  • Not New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RWarrior(fobw) (448405) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:37PM (#4833432)
    This is not new, and it is not limited to ISPs.

    Basically any company with a big enough apparatus wants to control its public image, and it can't do that if its rank-and-file representatives are speaking when they're not spoken to.

    Sprint PCS [sprintpcs.com] squelched one such representative who was participating in alt.cellular.sprintpcs. Over the four or five months she hung out in the newsgroup (as a publicly known SPCS employee, but not representing the company in any official capacity), she made a number of customers happy by offering solutions to their problems, or offering ways that they could get Customer Care to take care of their problems without calling the President's office or escalating to a supervisor. Her respect in the newsgroup was very high.

    When she left the newsgroup, here [google.com] is what she said.

    It's telling. Especially telling is the 40+ responses she got.

    Big companies can't deal with the Internet. It's too new, too public, and too uncontrolled. Despite all of our whining about corporate control and ICANN's UDRP and copyright and DMCA, the fact remains that the Internet scares the crap out of large multinationals.

    And that won't change any time soon.

    ...Every day you'll see the dust...

  • by signe (64498) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:38PM (#4833439) Homepage
    While I was working at AOL, I was constantly frustrated by the amount of misinformation that flew around about the company and things that were going on. And we're not even talking about company confidential things. Just stuff that the corporate communications group didn't have the time or inclination to work on. And it was only made worse by the fact that noone at AOL responded to correct or clear up the incorrect information. It was clearly a lack of communication between the industry and the company, and something that could easily be helped by just a little effort on the part of employees who participated in forums like Slashdot and wanted to help.

    I tried to propose an internal volunteer group of people who wanted to do this. They'd be held to standards as to the correctness and appropriateness of the information they were providing to outside sources. And there would be peer review and recourse for people doing the wrong things. The idea was that AOL could significantly improve their image within the community by participating in it. Noone wanted to hear it. I wrote a formal proposal and passed it up the line. I don't think it even got past the director.

    Corporations sit here and ask for your loyalty as employees. They offer bonuses, options, perks, and tons of other things to try to secure it. But they can't imagine that employees might actually want to do things to help the company in their spare time. And more than that, they don't want to release their tight grip on corporate communications and allow employees to help out with the forums they participated in. Until they realize that these things are harming them and find a better way to deal with employees than by saying "Don't talk to anyone unless we approve it first," they'll have the same old image problems.

    The most we can do is continue to attempt to raise consciousness within the corporations we work for. Write proposals for new communications policies for employees. Leave copies of The Cluetrain Mainfesto on the VP's desk. Not much else we can do.

    -Todd

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most technical support staffers already official representatives of the companies they work for? When I did technical support for computer manufacturers, the word 'representative' was in every title I held. So what's different now?

    I think the real problem is that companies are afraid low-paid techs might take out some of their job frustrations in on-line forums, where the eyes of supervisors are usually absent. That, and the fact that by putting their help in writing on a public forum, these companies worry that their employees might reveal embarrassing service issues to a wider audience instead of just one customer at a time. Of course, if these same companies bothered to instill in their employees a sense of professionalism and loyalty, or God forbid maybe even pride in their work, I doubt there would be a problem with this.

    The truth is, you represent any company you work for, regardless of if you're on the clock or not. Executives certainly realize this, but it's easy to blame low customer satisfaction scores on employees just trying to lend a hand to angry customer's they meet in other parts of the on-line community.

    Sad really, just another example of PHB syndrome.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:16PM (#4833671)
      As a former under-paid bellsouth Tech, let me tell you some wonderful stories, and offer any advice i can =)

      First off, BS FastAccess is a great service when it works. But when it doesn't, it can take forever to get taken care of. Personally, i've seen enough horror stories i went with cable modem instead.

      When you call BS tech support, if they don't sound like they know what they're doing, hang up and call again. The support is handled by several contractors (I worked for one). When they're borderline, ask where they're from, if they're in South Carolina or Florida, hang up. You want Tennessee or North Carolina. Trust me, i've read notes from all of the above.

      If all else fails, demand to "speak with the president of bellsouth!" This goes into a special queue, a "presidential" escalation, and you eventually will get at least part of what you want (Free truck roll? definitely. Free home run, maybe. Free replacement equipment... sometimes). Just don't act like you know what you're getting into, and be very, very pissed off. BS has quality standards they promised shareholders they would adhere to or some such, so they have to handle pissy customers very nicely.

      If you demand to a "Supervisor," you won't, but it's a fasttrack into second-level technicians. Keep in mind that the best frontline techs get stuck on the front-line because their average handle times are generally very low (they know exactly what the problem is and snip it in the bud) or very high (they're very thorough and check for secondary or tertiary issues).

      If you have a network, for god's sake, work with us. We need to prove it's the line that's at issue so we can issue tickets up to DSG.

      Dirty little secrets:

      DSG (Digital Services Group), another set of "contractors" that happens to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of BS, is the set of people who actually do the line maintenance and such. They handle the lines for all ISPs.

      If you had real problems getting online at the beginning of the year, it was because DSG fucked up a BBG upgrade. BBG basically DHCPs IPs out to the PPPoE clients. They tweaked some settings and then rolled some existing customers to BBG and ran out of IPs. Those were hellish days to work.

      There's a giant A-B switch someplace, labelled "Atlanta | Miami." If Miami is up, Atlanta is down, and vice-versa. Keep this in mind.

      BS tech support has no procedures for dealing with hosed machines, period. If you're lucky, you'll wind up with someone who knows what they're doing as an "escalation."

      If your account gets "turned off" for non-payment, and you've still got sync (like they ever turn the circuits off...) try the normal username with a password of "hotline". This was supposed to be changing in the future.

      Lots of sensitive customer data is available over the public internet via HTTPs. That 3-digit code can be looked up on a public HTTPS site. Password resets, account cancellation, etc, is on the same site as the customer controls, but with a different login page and set of logins.
  • by jgaynor (205453) <<gro.ronyag> <ta> <noj>> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @02:43PM (#4833465) Homepage
    Besides the legal liability and misrepresentation that a "rogue tech" places on his employer, he also screws the tech support process for the user the next time he/she decides to call in for real help.

    Succesful helpdesks, specifically in the level 1 & 2 enivronments, rely on scripts. These scripts are written so that an escalated ticket (one that level 1 cannot handle) arrives at the next level of tech support with that user environment "clean" - that is, level 2 assumes that level 1 has already made sure the user's environment is in a kind of "virgin" state.

    When a higher level tech jumps in on a problem from level 1 (such as in these forums) they almost always prolong the length of the customer's next call to tech support because of user assumptions and level 1 ignorance of the support history. While some problems may be solved completely within the context of a forum, the majority of users will at some time in the future call tech support again. This raises costs and decreases the availability of support for the rest of the userbase.

    BTW I talk with Optimum Online techs on the BBR forums and Yahoogroups all the time. They are careful not to engage in tech support out in the open, and speak only in an unofficial context. They're extremely helpful and hundreds of users appreciate their unofficial support everyday. If you want a model of how to keep your more advanced users happy while limiting liability and misrepresentation - check out the impromptu support model they've created there.
  • Tech Support (Score:2, Insightful)

    by joelwest (38708)
    As a former 1st tier tech support person I can empathize, however most companies delineate what is 'officially' supported and what is not. Most questions in forums are about things that techs are not 'allowed' to support officially during business hours. I can't say that I agree with the policy, but what Bell South is doing is protecting itself by demarking that which is 'oficial Bell South tech support' from what is users helping each other.

    No, it's not right or fair. Unfortunately, in these days when people cannot recognize that hot coffee can burn and so sue the restaurant, Bell South is protecting itself from that sort of legislation.

    But, no, it isn't right.
  • This reminds me of Mr. Tuttle, from Terry Gilliam's Brazil [slashdot.org].
  • Please note, this is about providing OFFICIAL SUPPORT on remote forums... not about providing support in general.

    And that makes sense.. because OFFICIAL SUPPORT should only go through OFFICIAL CHANNELS that the company is geared to deal with.

    Employees are still free to offer support in forums.. just not in an official capacity.
  • If they really were doing this in an official capacity then it is a potential liability. However the company should recognize that such a willingness to help is an asset if the company simply sits them down and politely tells them not to do it "officially." I would imagine that such a spirit of helpfullness isn't easy to find. It's easy to pay people to be civil, it's not easy to find people willing to provide free help after hours. Firing them was a major strategic mistake if they were first time offenders.
  • by Lobsang (255003) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:02PM (#4833565) Homepage
    Although I despise the current ISP mentality (let the customers burn to hell -- it's worse than getting sued), I partially understand their position.

    The main problem is that some people just do not have the correct "attitude" and a disgruntled employee (rightfully or not) might cause severe damage to the "corporate" image.

    OK, OK. You must be thinking now: "But not helping also damages their reputation!". And I couldn't agree more. I think they should "pre-screen" the employees that can do that, or employ some similar process.

    I speak from past experience. In a previous job, we were in charge of fixing a broken Oracle Database (poor backup schemes and a disk failure -- you get the idea). The development team sent a programmer to "help us out". The management team on the branch office where the problem happened was already demanding answers (who? why? How can we avoid it?). We were kindly explaining everything to calm them down (a new backup policy, redundant hardware and all). Everything was going in the right direction.

    Later on that day, in the middle of a big meeting to discuss the problem (with the aforementioned managers), Mr. Programmer does some quick queries to an yet to be fully restored database and says "Well, I say that this database is completely messed up -- I don't trust this data anymore...".

    Needless to say we had to counter his false and invalid arguments with some facts. Took us some good hours and a lot of paperwork.

    That is the danger of having someone without any tact representing the company or a group in a "delicate" situation.
  • by PuddleBoy (544111) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:04PM (#4833572)
    I worked for an ISP that offered incredible customer service. We would take as much time as it took to make the customer happy. We gave advice on hardware and software not related to the online experience. We even offered to go to their house to fix connectivity problems, as a last resort.

    In return, most of our customers remained loyal customers despite the fact that we charged a little more than most ISPs.

    Unfortunately, this is not a good business model - we were never quite profitable. We ended up getting bought-out by a larger company. Though the current Tech Support is OK, it's nothing like the old days. Now, it's more like "help them, but do it as fast as you can - don't waste time".

    How do you find the balance between great service and cost-containment?
  • our most valuable asset. Oh, by the way, you've proven too valuable so you're fired. Merry Christmas."

    KFG
  • peter principle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:06PM (#4833584) Homepage Journal
    --no idea of europe or asia, etc, but in the US our government and our corporations are infested with peter principle managers. People who have gotten promoted to that position where they can't get promoted any longer, ie, they suck at that level but were probably great one level below. The deal is they don't get put back at the level of their competence.

    funny story kinda. Once I was made city manager of this company. I hated it. I was great and quite happy at my previous position, acting as a project strawboss/hands on worker. Loved it. Was offered the management position, significant more money at salary so I tried it. It was terrible. So many times it was quicker for me-on the clients nickle-to just "do" a problem rather than try to explain to someone how to do it. I thought this was good customer service, granted, it dropped our billable hours slightly and occassionally, but the industry we were in was/is extremely competitive and it helps to retain established customers and keep them happy. The customers loved it, my bosses hated it, sometimes I would cost the company x amount small bucks on a particular job, but to me at least the brownie points seemed like a decent tradeoff. We lost zero customers under my watch and I got all good reviews and feedback. The bosses hated it ordered me to "manage" only which was a useless expenditure on a lot of smaller jobs, it meant standing around doing nothing a lot of the time. I hated it, prefer working to slacking. Anyway, after a couple of months I went in and demanded my old job back, and they did it for me but were amazed, I mean dumbfounded that anyone wouldn't just keep the superior paid position, it was such an alien concept to the "money is god" types. They had never even seen anyone do that. In short I demanded to not be a peter principle victim, or to participate in it.

    Oh ya, the company basically collapsed a coupla years later, none of the bosses got along with each other, they kept losing customers, etc. I was right, they were wrong, but they were the owners. Ho hum I found other work same field easily.

    How this applies to bell south and these other ISP's is-this is *probably* what's happening. Internal politics and back stabbing and greed lead to too many rank foul bosses in levels of decision making where they have no ability, no skill and cause problems. I mean, for real, harassing employees for trying to help customers on their own time and for free? ISP's don't charge for tech support as far as I know, seems to me these employees were saving the company money, and also creating more satisfied customers. And this is wrong?

    There were many reasons the grand telephone monopoly was broken, customer complaints were right up there, and the baby bells are apparently infected with the same retarded mindset and lack of intelligence. Too many bosses in positions of incompetence.

    Hope the fired techs start their own businesses (community WISPSs perhaps?), bell south doesn't deserve quality employees. Let them hire and keep on the clock drones and robots, lead by drones and robots, then let them go broke and collapse and be sold off for pennies on the dollar, let someone else give it a try. the techs actually got a good headsup of who they work for, now they can start looking for better quality humans to work for.
    • Re:peter principle (Score:4, Interesting)

      by interstellar_donkey (200782) <pathighgate@NOspAm.hotmail.com> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @05:45PM (#4834371) Homepage Journal
      And you've just demonstrated exactly what is wrong with the internal structure of most ISP support departments.

      I spent a year tour working for a major ISP, and what bothered me was that when I started in the trenches, there was a feeling that 'yes, we want to help the customers. We want to make them happy. We want to do a good job.'

      But after a short time it was discovered that customer satisfacation is not what makes the company happy, and it does not help you if you actually do want to move up.

      The management structure is such that so many people sit in a position they are incompitant to handle. In a large company, managers are unable to handle dynamic concepts such as 'quality', 'customer satisfaction', or 'customer retention', so they fall back on easily measurable numbers such as call times as their only way to judge perforance.

      And it is quickly learned that a manger who incourages his/her people to take the time to fix the problem right the first time and making sure that the customer is happy does not make the poor boob above him happy. Who cares if the customers are happy, don't cancel their service, or refers the service to others, or at the very least is able to resolve the problem with 1 30 minute call instead of 5 10 minute calls? The person above him/her can't seem to handle that leap of logic.

      And what does the company do when suddenly the customers are unhappy and start cancling the service? They take some of their best techs and put them in a 'retention team', and offer all sorts of benifits to the customer--such as a few months free--if they change their mind.

      To the customer, the impression the ISP sends is 'We will treat you like shit, unless you decide you want to get rid of us.'

      That this is not the way to do business should be obivous to anyone. It happens more often then not, however, because the people calling the shots find it's a heck of a lot easier to look at the bottom line in small, quantifiable statistics then to take the trouble to look at the bigger picture.

      In my case my guess is that it came down something like this: 'Our research indicates that the biggest customer complaint is long hold times. The top of the company has told me that I have to fix this. So I will do whatever I can to make my people keep call times low. I am succesful, and my bosses are happy. 6 months later the biggest customer complaint is poor customer service. I can just blame the techs on this and yell at them to be nicer to the customer. The top brass trusts me on this; after all, I am a good manager (I reduced call times!)'. But by this time, the company decides to promote me to a higher position.

      I left that company, making a promise to myself to never work for a large corperation again. I havn't, and I couldn't be happier.

  • My ISP is Pipex (I'm in the UK) and from time to time even their Managing Director takes part in the forums on ADSLGuide.co.uk [adslguide.org.uk].

    I like to see this sort of interaction from an ISP, and it's one of the reasons I'm with them.

    .....oh, alright then, I'm with them because they're cheap ;)

    But it's nice to see a large ISP with a healthy attitude towards their customers.
  • by Renraku (518261)
    I got fired from Bellsouth almost a year ago for helping people. They didn't like my review, either. I was then unemployed for six months, all the time being bitched at by my parents for being 'stupid enough to say something bad about Bellsouth when I'm using their ISP'.
  • Surprise surprise!
    Big providers don't care about their customers.

    Techs are always being fired for being too helpful.
    Their biggest "offense" is undermining the PHBs and
    the process that prevents them from _properly_ doing their jobs.
  • Apparently Qwest monitors DSLR for reviews, but on numerous occansions they had bitched at us for bad tech support reviews.

    When I was on DSL, I and my friend closely monitored DSLR and tried to lend a helping hand.

    I've also had sups encourage my activities on DSLR.

    wow...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I support Internet customers, both business and residential, for a large cable company. Like some of my coworkers, I read DSL reports regularly. People often post problems there, sometimes after they haven't been able to get them fixed through normal channels. Sometimes I post a helpful response, just on my own time.

      Recently, everyone in my department was asked to sign a broad non-disclosure agreement. It covered just about everything we might say about this company I'm not naming. (It's the one who's mission is to "carry out Paul Allen's Wired World vision".)

      I balked a bit at signing it, and asked my supervisor (who is pretty cool, having been one of us until very recently) what this was all about. He told me Corporate was concerned about things posted to DSL reports, and mentioned one example in particular.

      The post in question was not inaccurate--it was the company's own conclusions. The post sumarized an analysis of a (still) ongoing problem affecting lag time for high use customers.

      Since the crackdown on what we can say, many regular posters to DSL reports who work for the company have slowed way down on posting, or changed accounts, or even dropped off. I don't think that helps customers.

      Posting anonymously so I don't have to worry about discussing this with someone from HR.
  • Non-disclosure (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xsadar (627057) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @03:22PM (#4833703)
    6 years ago when I worked tech support for Packard Bell, I'm sure I would have been fired for something like that. They had a secrecy ranking for all the information available to us that ranged from 1 (no secrecy) to 5 (absolute secrecy). The secrets that they had were bugs that they didn't want their customers to know about. I could only tell them these "secrets" if a customer needed to know in an official conversation, and at ranking 5, I wasn't allowed to tell anyone for any reason. If I had even told a customer about a problem they had that was ranked 2 in my own time, I would have been violating my non-disclosure agreement, even if the customer needed to know in order to fix the problem.
  • by jkcity (577735) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @04:16PM (#4833981) Homepage
    I am nto familiar with that isp but my isp ntl world in the uk charges 50p a minute for support costs, its pains me to have to ring them to ask why cable modem ain't working, but I suspect they do make a profit from it.
  • by VB (82433) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @04:20PM (#4833999) Homepage

    I used to be like this: going out of my way to help people in my free time fix their mouse; reconnect to their ISP; trouble-shoot that broken coffee holder...

    I don't do this any more, but that's not really relevant to the point I'd like to make. We live in a day where our government (yes, you Aussies and Euros, too; can't actually see what's happening in Asia but different story) is continuually seeking additional control over our personal lives. Most 1st world governments are largely financed by the people in some form of taxation, but controlled more by corporations within (or even outside) them. Think about that for a second.

    So, we get something like 75 - 80 years to live; the first 25 we're busy getting educated, partying and otherwise not doing much productive, and then venture into a 20-year career helping some company with our expertise and best years, all the while making yet a little more money from our boss and paying yet a little more in taxes to our government to help subsidize it's financing for the corporations to use it to control its minions... Seeing a trend here?

    I love good samaritanism, generosity and philanthropy just as much as the next dude, but there are other ways to spend our spare time. You don't have much left anyway, so go pick up a guitar, write some poetry, ride your mountain bike off a cliff, or throw frisbees at your mutt, but don't spend your limited leisure time on line helping other people try to figure out what your money-grubbing employer can't make work for them.

    And, if you really need to, then go log in and break a digit, or two; just don't say you're representing your employer. They can sue you for helping them out! How cool is that?

    just thinking aloud, here...
  • by lanner (107308) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @04:44PM (#4834115)

    Have any of you actually gone to DSL reports and gotten help from message boards? You post a problem and you get 200 answers about "it's your CDROM drivers" and, "your MTU window size is too small!".

    Most of these techs may be enthusiastic about their jobs and helping people, but they are also not very technically inclined to help the customers. How many of them are actually qualified to do anything on the ISPs systems? Does that tech know about ATM VPI/VCI addressing, am I supposed to be using 0/32 or something else? The difference between AAL3 and AAL5? What about PPP components and how laying PPP over Ethernet is such a bad idea? Can they tell you why they use PAP instead of CHAP authentication? Do they know half a DINK about RADIUS? Ask them what the frequency ranges are for CAP and DMT. Do they even know how IPv4 addressing works? Hell, ask them how many pairs DSL runs on and you may be surprised at the answers that you get. They couldn't lay out a static route on a Cisco if their jobs depended on it -- which is why they don't get exec, or even login access.

    At first I was disappointed when I turned to DSL reports to see what their message boards looked like. Then I realized that it was a good thing. DSL Reports is a idiot magnet, keeping all of those screaming kids and adults away from... ME.

    I am still against the big ISPs, telcos, and cable Internet providers. This was a good move but done in classic big-stupid teclo tradition. They are to blame for the fact that these customers need technical support in the first place. Your network operator is stupid from top to bottom.

  • by 512k (125874) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @04:56PM (#4834157)
    go out of your way to help people. It will invariably turn and bite you in the ass. I used to work at Kinkos..and they reprimanded me for being too good..the reason being, if the customers started expecting the level of support that I gave them..they'd expect it all the time, and when I wasn't there, there wasn't a computer litterate person availible to help them and they'd get pissed..(more so than they would if they assumed that nobody knew enough to fix their problems)..but ending my rant, and getting back to the subject of liability, I can see the companies position..if the customers hard drive fails, while they're changing their IP address (even though the two events are completely unrelated) the customer may call up and blame the ISP for destroying their computer. Unless you (the employee) are doing everything acording to policy, you're going to be held responsible (they won't care if it's not your fault)
  • by CausticWindow (632215) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @05:19PM (#4834265)
    I've read most of the posts attached to this article and I must admit to feeling a bit sad when reading the posts defending this kind of behaviour. These posts all use words like 'corporation', 'disclosure', 'liability', 'licensed', 'business practice'. I will never accept any of these explanations no matter how many "legalese" words you throw in. Common sense must prevail. It should be noted that I have first hand experience with this as I work part-time with support, and that helping customers on our free time is pretty much the standard. I could even get paid for it, if I bothered to keep track of the time. But since it's five minutes here and five minutes there, I don't.
  • by vandelais (164490) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @05:28PM (#4834309)
    Sorry if I get modded down, but people should at least hear this, even if they don't agree.

    In addition to the liability issues that would be redundant to bring up, there is the issue of identification.

    You don't see people who work for Schwab or Fidelity offer "good sumeritan" advice online for financial services. These guys should know better even if they haven't signed a non-disclosure agreement.
    Do you think your doctor's insurer for malpractice would like it if a doctor began diagnosing people outside the scope of his work environment?

    These types of people can do what they do anonymously quite easily over the net, but yet they choose to identify themselves as currently associated. A pseudonym or anonymous claim of credibility as "formerly employed" or "technical consultant to" would be sufficient identification to those who would be consumers of his assistance.

    I've seen it both ways, though. When I did tech support for an OEM (outsourced, though), one guy I know got led out of the building and fired immediately for posting opinions and disclosures on legitimate problems with certain system configurations and the unlawful actions the OEM was doing to stall and prevent customer returns on the defective product until the engineers came up with the solution. This info (even though unlawful) was considered to be proprietary and a breach of trade secrets according to the outsourced vendor. He got fired without due process and was unable to fight back because he was under the age of 18 at that time.

    My bet is that there is more behind the scenes going on than this story reports and that because reporters are lazy, they got the sensational side of this in their back pocket and just let 'er rip.

  • by ThatDamnMurphyGuy (109869) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @06:08PM (#4834458) Homepage
    DSL Reports' SBC/Ameritech telco forums has a few techs helping in the forums in an OFFICIAL capacity.

    I've suffered through SBC's DNS servers being setup incorrectly, a bad router, and a line problem, NONE of which I would have gotten solved without the help of the OFFICIAL tech support by SBC in those forums.

    I literaly spent 5 days in phone queues and Tier 1 hell to try and confirm and get fixed reverse DNS problems with NO luck. IT was only after the official tech in the forums looked into the issues or made calls that I got things fixed.

    It is clear the forums/usenet support is more efficient than phone suppport in most case IMHO.
  • by joejoejoejoe (231600) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @08:49PM (#4835070) Homepage Journal
    I work for an Internet company. I _never_ link myself to that company. I'm sure many others could say the same.

    The main reasons for me: Job secruity and a Professional projection of myself and my company.

    When I get home, I drink beer, sniff glue, etc. If I were to post to the boards I would probably offer some good help. Then the beer starts to kick in (and the glue, oh boy!) I bet my own level of control and professionalism would begin to disappear. (and if I were in my physical work building they would know)

    How many times have you seen post where some "tech guy" or such says, well you know what?: Customers are Idiots, Aholes, etc? I have seen this. How many times have you gone to work the next day and said to yourself, 'shit I really should not have sent that email last night...' because you were half in the bag when you sent it.

    It reminds me of the guy who posted on the Ciruit City thing, saying "we don't need customer's like that" (the ones who return a lot of goods). While he may have posted a fact about the company he still sounded like a jerk b/c the companies public position probably is that "the customer is always right". Now the real position is out in the open, for good or bad.

    Companies want to present themselves in a professional way. People acting as rogue representative of a company after hours is a bad thing.

    But don't get me totally wrong, it took me a while to get to this point (beer, glue, etc) and if I go out for a beer I wear work logos and all (shirts, hats, etc).

    If you have so much energy to devote to helping others do it at work. Teach the other techs a thing or two, improve the 'system' don't operate out side of it.

    All that being said, if you still want to help out on your own time, don't claim to be an employee of 'the company' and don't reveal the 'secrets' when you do so.
  • by spleck (312109) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @09:18PM (#4835161)
    I used to work for ClientLogic, who along with Compaq and TAG (The Answer Group), handled all of the tech support for Bellsouth FastAccess (DSL). The DNS entry for BBR/DSL Reports had been removed so that we couldn't get to their site (unless we used the IP address...). We were told we weren't allowed to post anything related to Bellsouth FastAccess on BBR at all.

    Of course we were also told to lie to our customers and tell them that we worked for BellSouth. We were told not to schedule installer/techs earlier than 3-4 days unless the customer was angry, then we could send one out in 24 hrs. We also had the usual stuff like not recommending any brands over others.

    Promotions were dependent not on whether we went above and beyond, but if we could get the customer off the phone in a certain amount of time. Our target was 16 minutes total handle time including our opening spiel and verification (1-2 minutes) and ACW (after call work, 1 min) of entering notes about the call. If you averaged about 16 minutes you were meeting the requirement, but you should be about 12 minutes to be "good". Anyone remember OfficeSpace's "flair"?

    Half the tech support calls I took were people complaining because the previous agent told them to download new drivers from the website using dialup since they were calling because their DSL was out.

    We were supposed to be there to help people, but our "metrics" were about how fast we handled the call and whether we mentioned the "Connection Manager" which didn't actually manage your connection, it was basically spyware and slowly evolved into being able to backup/restore your internet settings... but not drivers etc where we really needed it, and it didn't make a connection to FastAccess like all the customers thought.
  • by Archfeld (6757) <treboreel@live.com> on Sunday December 08, 2002 @01:12AM (#4835918) Journal
    What if these guys are identifying themselves as employees and they get out of line, or give advice that causes damage ? Granted the chances of that happening are slim, but that is how a corporate lawyer thinks. Another possibilty is a former employee with a score to settle posing as a support person....
    It is really sad that it comes to this, when in reality I've gotten help from covad tech's on DSLREPORTS before, and several times I've gotten help with advanced router functions from some really sharp people there...

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