5 Confessions Of An Apple Tech Support Supervisor

A tech support supervisor, from what we figure to be Apple, has stepped forward to break down some behind-the-scenes workings with his underlings who sometimes make both his and consumer’s lives difficult. For instance, one of the reasons you might be on hold so long is agents using fake work codes to avoid taking calls. Also, we know that metrics rule the call centers, but, in one of the confessions, he talks about how not only is it important to not go over your average handle time, you also can’t go too far under. Just strive to be perfectly average, and you’ll go far…

“I am a tech support supervisor for a very well known computer company. (If you must know, this company is notoriously secretive. I think that’s a big enough clue.) I felt the need to respond to the “7 Confessions Of A Verizon DSL Tech Support Rep” article you ran with some insights of my own.

I also started near the beginning of a new call center that was supporting three different product lines for said computer company. Customer service was stressed over and over and over again. I’ve been with the call center for about 5 months, but I’ve worked in other non-call center positions with the company since 2002. I thought someone needed to shed light on the fact that the seven confessions are not the exception to the rule — they ARE the rule in most cases when it comes to tech support call centers.

This particular call center is all “Tier” (or Level) one support. Within this center, we have Quality Assurance to monitor the agent calls in-house. If necessary, these Tier 1 agents escalate difficult calls to Tier 2 — which can be anywhere in the world. It will almost never be the same person twice.

You’re not going to speak to someone’s actual supervisor
There is a specific, direct queue line to “Supervisor Requests” for our agents. I don’t know why most people think they will actually speak to the support agent’s actual supervisor. We’re too busy answering technical questions for the agents (regardless of the fact that they have many more resources to find these answers than we do), sitting in worthless status meetings, and reporting to corporate and/or operations about the metrics of our agents. These supervisor requests go to specifically trained Tier 2 agents who spend 90% of their time calming down irritated customers. It is a great perk as a supervisor to know that there are specifically trained agents out there to take the “angry customer” calls so I can actually get work done.

Metrics Rule EVERYTHING
We have very specific goals that we have to enforce as supervisors. 99% of our job (and job security) relies on our ability to keep our statistics within specifications. Handle time is 15 minutes or below at our call center as well, but with a hitch — if it is TOO far below 15 minutes, we also need to be able to reason with our supervisor why we know *for sure* that the agent is not just dropping the calls to keep handle time low. It’s a delicate balance, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s the same with after call work — it needs to be below 1.5 minutes.. but if it’s TOO low, then we have to be able to answer the questions that arise from that. Moral of the story? Don’t over-perform, and don’t under-perform and your supervisor will love you — because he/she will not have to answer to his/her supervisor. Quality Assurance AND supervisors are required to monitor calls — supervisors must listen to calls twice per shift (which is nearly impossible). Yes, agents hate this, but wouldn’t if they would just do their jobs.

You’re on hold so long because agents are ducking their work
To make metrics (and schedule adherence) agents do terrible things, like dropping calls, and something we refer to as AUX-hopping. This means that agents switch between various auxiliary codes (break, after call work, etc.) to not have to take as many calls. What does this mean to the customer in the queue waiting? You now have to wait longer because some nineteen year old punk doesn’t feel like taking as many calls as the guy next to him. Now everyone else in all the call centers worldwide for this product have reduced time between calls, and calls in the queue back up even further. It’s irritating for everyone involved.

Customer service skills are more important than tech skills, here’s why
The tech support agent was correct. In management, we believe it is easier to teach anyone technical support than it is to teach common courtesy. Sure, we could hire only applicants with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an Ivy League school, but call centers typically employ college students, retirees, and those with a less-than-stellar academic background. Bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how well educated you are; we’re going to pay you x amount. “But I have a BS in CS from (enter university here)!” That’s fine, you can take the x amount or find another job. Our agents do not use scripts — we give them between two to three weeks of training (depending on the product) and then they take it from there. The bottom line is that “techie” people do not want to work for so little — so we hire people who will and make do with what we have. Even the “techie” agents can be some of the rudest, or most lacking in common sense (ie: don’t scream at the customer).

Our QA department does not seem as bad as Verizon’s. Mostly, they coach agents on ways to show empathy with the customer, how to obtain information without violating privacy policies, etc. Not one agent here has been let go because they did not use the right “buzzword.” I guess that’s the difference between call centers who use a script, and those who don’t.

Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are GOSPEL
This is the number one way that management can evaluate an agent’s performance. While our agents are not required to use a certain phrase, or even mention the customer survey, each customer receives one via email after a case is completed for them. They are rated from “Very Dissatisfied” to “Very Satisfied,” and as a manager — nothing makes my job easier than telling my boss that all my agents have “Very Satisfied” on all their surveys. I know it is not the usual to fill out the survey or ask the agent to talk to a supervisor when you have received excellent service, but in our call center — that’s our bread and butter. Those surveys help to determine who gets promoted, who gets fired, and who gets special perks (best shifts, days off, etc.).

The Verizon agent was also correct in saying that polite customers, even if upset, are more likely to get helped. Those customers are even more likely to get the above-and-beyond service, so please keep that in mind.

-Anonymous”

RELATED: 7 Confessions Of A Verizon DSL Tech Support Rep

(Photo: hanapbuhay)

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  1. fluiddruid says:

    Well, as a former call center supervisor myself… “overperforming” in certain areas usually indicates a problem. Someone who has a 2 or 3 minute handle time on an account with an average of 15 minutes handle time is pretty much guaranteed to be hanging up on people or transferring them needlessly. I’m surprised about being interrogated for low after-call work though. In my center, we were so strapped for employees that anyone who had zero work time was lauded by management. Kudos to Apple for realizing that employees need time to document cases properly.

  2. Jmatthew says:

    Sounds like every call center in the world. Well, every decent call center.

  3. samurailynn says:

    Back when I worked in a call center (although I was doing in house collections, not tech support) I was usually typing my documentation notes while I was still on the phone with the customer. We also had a ton of abbreviations that we were required to use (our data was backed up offsite through a third party company and the more characters we typed, the more it cost the company) so I didn’t actually have to type out full sentences. It was usually something more like “pp 4/25/08 $50″ which meant “promise to pay $50 on 4/25/08″. We were allowed time between calls to document more complex situations, or to run around doing paperwork if there was something out of the ordinary that needed to be done, but we got bonuses if we got certain accounts to pay, so it was worth the agent’s time to keep doing as many calls as possible.

  4. VermilionSparrow says:

    @fluiddruid: At the Verizon DSL call center I worked for, agents got a verbal warning anytime their after-call work time went above 2 minutes TOTAL for the DAY…

  5. homerjay says:

    Those aren’t confessions. Those are policies. Well, except the third one.

    I’ve never had an occasion when talking to apple to demand a supervisor. If things aren’t going well, the rep always seems to know when its time for tier 2 to take over. They’re always pleasant AND VERY easy to understand (thank God they’re not outsourced).

  6. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    This doesn’t sound at all like Apple, 1-800-APL-CARE.

    I was on the phone for almost an hour and never felt rushed. My Apple tech was very patient and competent.

    There are many “secretive” companies out there besides Apple.

  7. puddleglum411 says:

    FWIW, I’ve never had a bad experience with phone-based support from Apple.

  8. youbastid says:

    So wait, he never says anywhere he works for Apple, and says his company is notoriously secretive? The techniques used here sound nothing like anything I’ve encountered with Apple reps. I think you need to be clearer that the Apple thing is pure speculation.

  9. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    I prefer the discussions board to the phone lines. The tech I was talking to insisted I get an iSight to help me with a video card problem.

  10. sleze69 says:

    This is why I loved working the 1-900 line (for people without credit cards) when I did compaq tech support. Fix the problem as fast as possible and get them off the line.

    After I gave them a brief summary of why I was going to go really fast, almost all my customers appreciated it. All calls were capped after $35 if fees so after about 15 minutes I let them know and then I could slow down. Ahh, the good ole days.

  11. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I used to work in a call center. One time my supervisor came over to my cubicle and inquired about my higher than average calls per day. At the time, a new version of the software had been released and there were a few known bugs. And I’ve been getting the same type of support calls all week. So as soon as the caller told me the symptoms of the problem, I gave the solution to fix it. No need to jump through hoops and drill down scripted support questions. “Is your mouse plugged in? What operating system are you using?” Haha.

    I just thought it was dumb that my supervisor assumed I was doing something wrong. He could have just checked my closed tickets, or monitored my calls. Sheesh.

  12. Bladefist says:

    Apple has tech support? I thought it just works

  13. nequam says:

    @The Great Aussie Evil: The discussion boards are one of the best resources. And Apple does a great job of promoting them on their Support pages.

  14. davere says:

    I’ve only called Apple a total of about 3 times in many years and I gotta say that I’ve never had to wait on hold to speak to anyone more than a few seconds.

    I’ve also never felt rushed, one time I was on the phone for well over 30 minutes mostly because the agent wanted to make sure that what he wanted me to do worked before letting me go.

  15. mgy says:

    If these sort of things really do describe Apple, it certainly isn’t apparent to the customer. They’ve never been anything but extremely competent and helpful.

  16. Sasquatch says:

    “Just strive to be perfectly average, and you’ll go far…”

    This sounds like it could be the new motto of the United States.

  17. This actually sounds like an outsourced call center for Apple. If it is only tier 1, it is outsourced. Apple Call Centers do not have average handling time goals they must meet, but outsourced call centers average handling time (call time) must be lower than Apple’s internal center. Because of this, the outsourced call centers set talk time goals agents must meet. As far as I know, all tier 2’s work directly for Apple, so if you want someone to care and take time on your issue, you want to be escalated to a tier 2.

  18. VermilionSparrow says:

    @outsiderlookingn: if you want someone to care and take time on your issue, you want to be escalated to a tier 2.

    I’ll second this for any consumer tech support. I don’t understand what the fuss is over not getting a Real Supervisor, because in general, the actual supervisors in these barely-above-minimum-wage cube farms are even less technical than the frontline agent you just talked to. They were hired for their supervisory qualifications, not their technical expertise. Tier 2 support is designed to be more technically knowledgeable and better equipped (with permissions and such) to solve your problems.

  19. weakdome says:

    What? No knifings and group sex?

  20. saltmine says:

    I really think you need to change the heading of this article, Ben. This doesn’t seem like Apple at all, the guy never said it was Apple, and to flat out just say that it’s Apple is beyond bad journalism.

  21. pandroid says:

    When I worked phone sales at a large computer company, we would occasionally get customer service issues back at us. When I escalated to a supervisor, it was actually a supervisor. He was all of three cubes away, but he was actually in charge of our team. Bonus was that he used to be customer service (before that got outsourced) so he was very efficient at getting things fixed for customers. But this was a few years ago, so who knows if that’s still true.

  22. @Bob Caswell: Spam much?

    This also doesn’t sound like my experiences with Apple tech support… No offense, Consumerists, but your headlines have been waaaaay exaggerated today.

  23. FrankTheTank says:

    Are you sure this Apple?
    A “notoriously secretive” computer company?

    I mean, Apple is a good guess, but I wouldn’t put it in the headline as fact…

  24. Rask says:

    That’s about on par with the 2rd party desk I used to work for a long time ago.

    I got a free pass on the metrics because I spoke french and it was necessary since we had some customers in Quebec.

    I had fun there for the year and change that I did the work and before it became script-central.

    And the person that wrote this e-mail is entirely correct, you can teach tech skills, you can’t teach personality or patience. These agents also work for very low wages but I’d do that over being unemployed any day of the week.

    I’ll also never yell at a tech support agent since I’ve been there first hand and know what they have to deal with.

  25. Rask says:

    @Rask: Err, I meant 3rd party support desks.

  26. RINO-Marty says:

    This post makes Apple sound pretty reasonable, no? I’ve called them a few times and have never had to wait more than a minute or two. The techs were knowledgeable and helpful. One time I bought two iMacs that, as I remembered, were supposed to be bunded with the latest OS. When I got them, they contained disks for the OS that was available at the time they were new (they were refurbs). By the time I called Apple, that refurb special was gone and I couldn’t supply any proof that what I remembered was really true.

    The Apple tech took my word for it and sent me the latest OS for free.

    In my experience, most call centers seek absolute minimum call time averages. This is stupid. The goal is to spend the right amount of time with the customer, not the minimum. Apple’s policy of seeking an average of 15 minutes is far superior, if still a little crude, than seeking a minimum. I just hope the 15 minute thing isn’t totally arbitrary.

    BTW, I’ve spent over an hour on the phone with Apple tech support working out remote printer issues and never felt at all rushed.

  27. woot says:

    If this is Apple, they’re talking about outsourced Tier 1 support which is for simple, easy to resolve problems (e.g. problem: the volume control on my iPhone has stopped working and I already tried rebooting it, resolution: send a FedEx box so it can go in for repair, time taken: 5 mins).

    When you need Tier 2, it’s very easy to get transferred and the Tier 2 agents are happy to stay on the phone for as long as it takes. When I once had to break off a call the support rep outlined what else I should do and then gave me her e-mail address and direct phone number so I could call her back if I needed to.

    Apple is simply excellent at customer support, and the empathy they show always makes it a positive experience.

  28. scoopy says:

    @Bladefist: So true. Why in the world would an Apple user need tech help? Maybe they just call to rip on Bill Gates and Windows and Sony, etc.

    @Jmatthew: I love how it’s a “decent” call center because it’s Apple. Only Apple can pull off isht like this following quote: “You now have to wait longer because some nineteen year old punk doesn’t feel like taking as many calls as the guy next to him.” and still have the Mac fanboys call them decent. Sounds just as douchy as every other call center to me.

  29. Amy Alkon000 says:

    I have had Applecare since they’ve had the program. (I’ve had Apples since 1985.) This is, by far, the best tech support of any company I’ve ever dealt with. They’re nice, smart, kind, compassionate, and don’t treat you like an idiot or a criminal, as so many do. (The ultimate worst was HP — for their 450ci portable printer — and a jerk in their tech support named “Walter” [probably not his real name wherever they outsource to find his nasty ass. My boyfriend ended up having to buy me a second printer and bring it with him to me in Paris, where I was working for a month.)

    Also, the thing that really gets to me with other tech support lines (can’t recall if Apple does this, but I don’t think they do) is the scripted “sorry,” said most insincerely by the tech. When I asked the Time-Warner lady with the Calcutta accent (the person she bounced me to claimed that lady was actually in their “Costa-Mesa center”) she said they have to stick to their script. And apologized again. Most insincere-sounding.

    Is it just me, or does the insincere, scripted apology enrage other people, too?

  30. I have called Apple for assistance several times and they have been nothing but nice and helpful. Plus, I get a person I can ACTUALLY understand.

    Long live Apple!

  31. lordcainx says:

    Number 3 is probably common in a lot of call centers, I know it happens a decent amount in the one I watch over. People are always looking for a easy paycheck, but they should learn that it will show up in the reports. Depending on the system of course.

  32. @I Am the Cheese: I agree with you on that – I’ve only had to contact them a couple of times and they are indeed very helpful and courteous.

  33. edosan says:

    This sounds like every call center.

    Hire people for as little money as possible, give them minimal training and get the caller off the phone ASAP.

  34. khiltd says:

    Apple has a lot of different call centers in a lot of different places. Depending on where you get routed, you could get anything from a seasoned engineer who knows the system like the back of his hand to a little kid who doesn’t know how to do anything but reset an iPod. More often than not you’ll get something in between, and the fact of the matter is that that’s really good enough for the vast majority of cases. Does it make any sense to pay a guy six figures just to walk Granny Q. Public through the task of sending an email 400 times a day? Nope.

    Frankly, I hope Apple never starts paying for qualified support personnel because their gross incompetence is what drives angry, demanding professionals to independent consultants like me ;)

  35. JohnnyWadd says:

    Am I the only person on Consumerist who had a terrible experience with Apple tech support? I was on hold for an over an hour, the support guy was rude and did not did not help me. I finally solved my problem by message boards. I have never called Apple tech support again.

  36. overbysara says:

    this doesn’t ring with ANY of my experiences with apple, at all.

    I think this headline should be altered, since we don’t ACTUALLY know that he was with apple.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    It’s funny how PC users – supposedly madly in luv w/ their Vista – are compelled to participate in every Apple story on Consumerist.
    Sort of like the ugly kid that swears (swears!!) to not like that girl in class that ignores him, when it’s painfully obvious he’s her obsessed stalker.

  38. lasciate says:

    The ‘confessor’ uses a handful of terms that are the same as what Apple uses, but there’s just enough misinformation in what he says (and very little real confession) that my guess is that if he ever did Apple tech support, it was at an outsourced center for a very brief period of time.

  39. redheadedstepchild says:

    it’s APl. Almost for sure. I used to work for them in customer support services. NOT TECH SUPPORT. But the language and handling time match up. I will say though, that anybody in the supe cue could make my phone ring, pop an IM on my desktop, and make things not happy for me.

  40. redheadedstepchild says:

    @khiltd: You mean the one in Austin, or the one in Cork?

  41. woot says:

    Maybe after reading this thread, non-Apple users will stop calling us “fanboys” like there was some hallucinogenic drug we were all made to take, and realize that Apple is just plain great at customer service and that’s what engenders an incredibly positive vibe from people who have real-world experience with them.

    My iPhone and Apple TV do more with each update and Apple delivers those for free. But the best one ever was when my iMac magically went from Wireless-G to Wireless-N (they had to charge $1.99 for that because of accounting rules), but it was yet another great example of Apple looking after its customers really, really well. I had no expectation that they had planned for that all along and was blown away that they had.

    So, haters, take a hike.

  42. HeartBurnKid says:

    @eslaydog: Every call center’s going to have a few bad apples (pardon the pun). I work in a reservation center for a big hotel chain that’s consistently lauded for its customer service, and you’d be surprised at the things I’ve seen from certain agents. Of course, I usually don’t see said agents around here for long. That’s the mark of a decent call center; they weed out the bad guys and show them the door as quickly as they can.

  43. ClankBoomSteam says:

    When I called Apple about my iPod problems (constant hardware and software issues and total data loss on two separate devices that I took immaculate care of), I was greeted with a CSR who barely listened to my complaints and gave the same, scripted responses to my question, over and over. When I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and/or higher tier of CSRs, he told me that he was it, and that there was no one above him. When I called him on his obviously-scripted responses that really didn’t address my questions, he insisted that no, he was not giving me inappropriate responses, nor was he answering me with rote replies.

    I explained to him that I was fed up, and that Apple needed to give me a reason to remain a customer (since there are so many competing media devices available), at which point he basically suggested that there was nothing he could do, and that perhaps I SHOULD consider someone else’s products. At that point I lost my cool, laughing at this “representative” of Apple’s total disinterest in keeping a (repeat) customer, and telling him I was getting rid of my iPods and buying something from one of Apple’s competitors. This went in one ear and out the other, and he wrapped up our conversation by saying “thank you for choosing Apple”.

    I decided to keep the iPods though, choosing to learn how to troubleshoot the problems I’ve had with them myself. Turns out the several times a Mac Genius wiped the entire hard drive and returned one of my iPods to factory settings, he could have instead retrieved all the data I lost all those times. Genius, my ass.

    I am planning on buying a new media device though — just not from Apple.

    Oh, and as a final denouement to my sob story, I wrote to Steve Jobs about all this, explaining my situation and detailing my reasons for seriously considering abandoning Apple as a company. Jobs’ office didn’t even show me the courtesy of sending a form letter response. No reply whatsoever.

    In other words, Apple’s attitude towards its customers is no different than any other mega-corporation’s. Sorry, Apple lovers.

  44. FishtownYo says:

    Wow, this is nucking futs!

  45. midwestkel says:

    @woot: Do you know the difference between wireless G and N? Wireless G was high transfer speed where wireless N is longer distance on that. So basically you just said that Apple crippled your wireless card then charged you $1.99 to enable that software…

  46. brutalentropy says:

    While people are saying they have never had an experience like this when calling Apple, I find it highly likely that this anonymous person works for a third party company that contracts with Apple for technical support.

    In 2005, I spent about 7 months doing technical support for Apple desktop products while working for a company called Calltech (now called Teleperformance, well known in the Columbus, OH area as a shitty employer). The things described in the post above fit this company perfectly. They did support for Apple portables, desktops, and iPods.

    Just saying, it could be Apple, albeit indirectly.

  47. aphexbr says:

    OK, I’ve read that whole thing and I’m yet to read something that doesn’t apply to every call centre anywhere in the world.

    Call centre workers are often some of the least motivated, most overworked people around. This goes double for anyone with real technical knowledge, who if they’re working 1st line support facing the general public, probably only took the job to get a foot in Apple’s door or because it was the only thing they could find.

    The metrics thing is absolutely true – people are monitored constantly, breaks are timed to the second and systems set up to try and route as much work to the agent as possible. Because of this, people try their best to game the system and get themselves some breathing space. 95% of the people who answer the phones will be working from an intranet help program or script, though there are a few people who know their stuff.

    The “customer services” > tech skills is exactly how most call centres run things, and quite deliberately. For some reason, they think that having someone who’s clueless but treats you nicely will make you happier than a guy who can fix your problems immediately without saying “please” and “sir” every 30 seconds. So, people get demotivated and since the pay’s usually good by CS standards but poor by technician standards, they attract far more of the first than the second.

    Why all this? Because most businesses view customer support as a cost that must be minimised at all costs. Unless you’re selling something to the customer, they don’t view you as an asset. In the biggest call centre I worked in, the average staff turnaround time (from hiring to quitting) was 11 weeks. But, the management usually don’t care as long as the metrics add up.

    Yeah, I’m a bitter ex-call centre tech (no longer, thank God).

  48. brutalentropy says:

    It’s possible that this is Apple, albeit indirectly. I used to provide technical support for Apple desktop products, while working for a company called Calltech (now known as Teleperformance, a piss poor employer in the Columbus OH area)

    This actually sounds spot on for that company. I am pretty sure they still have a contract with Apple, although it’s not serviced out of Columbus anymore. Teleperformance has call centers all over the country.

  49. Tibeerius says:

    @aphexbr: At the company I am a CSR for, the emphasis on “buzzwords” increased as the product quality was declining as they went with cheaper and cheaper OEMs for the products they sell. I think they think the buzzwords will make the customer forget they were sold buggy junk that cannot be repaired because the parts are all on backorder.

    When I started 10 years ago, turnover was heavy but nothing like it is now…1/4 of my training class is still with the company, now it’s common for only one or two reps (sometimes none) from a training class of 10 or more still being here six months after going on the phones. Of course, we got two months of training before we went live while the current hires are often on the phones less than three weeks after their first day of training.

  50. seekerbeta says:

    I thought i would post my experience. i am a Supervisor for HP, and heres some tips.

    1. You catch more bees with honey than vinegar
    2. We are usually SO busy with Stupid Lvl 1 agent questions. we are usually angry to take supervisor calls
    3. there is ALWAYS a direct line. they cant give it to you. but its there..
    4. Small Home Office equipment is In India and other locations, large commercial stuff is located in North America.

  51. rcpmac says:

    i have used apple tech support a few times. Always have been satisfied. Here’s a big secret though, got an old g3 or g4 with an issue? The genius bar at any apple store will give you free tech support. They are excellent. No I don’t work for apple.

  52. TheJollyGreenGiant says:

    As someone who takes those “let me speak to your supervisor” requests at a call center, I must agree…

    the kinder you are the better service you will receive.
    You do not have to be upset AND rude.

    I’ve taken on the robot mindset for such disrespectful customers. “I am Bender. Insert Girder.” If I didn’t do that I would probably be on anti-depressants right now. However for those customers that are patient, kind, and understanding I feel the need to go above and beyond to keep them that way.

  53. Anonymous says:

    This is definitely accurate for Apple if not actually about Apple, but know one thing. They DO outsource t2 support. I am a t2 agent at an outsourced center.

    If t1 is obviously stupid and just will not send you to t2, demand a product specialist. You’ll either get us or customer relations, who will send you to us as they do, by and large, work for apple.

    However, you should also remember that there are assholes in t2 as well, and they have the option to ruin your applecare experience for the remainder of your ownership of a given product with only a few keystrokes. Consequently, I want to re-iterate a running theme in the posts from applecare employees; don’t be a prick, and you’ll get better service.

  54. Elizabeth Hooper says:

    I worked at a call center for comcast that worked for people in Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, & Florida, and we were GOOD. Granted, we mostly dealt with sales people and not actual customers, but we did not do any of these terrible things on the list!