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Phone-Based Automated Technical Support
Many companies are now offering automated technical support over the phone as an alternative to speaking to a technical support representative. I have encountered many of these that are offered as options on a company's voice mail system as alternatives to speaking to a technician, and I have even run into a company (I forget which) that would not even give you the option of speaking to a person unless you tried the automated system at least once first (which is rather annoying, to say the least). This is all being done as a cost-cutting measure, but that doesn't mean that these tools are not useful.
Usually these systems are similar to the voice mail systems we all run into when calling for technical support, only instead of being plunked into an on-hold queue, you get to listen to pre-recorded information on common problems. Some of these are very helpful with solving standard configuration issues. For example, if you are having difficulties with the jumpers on a storage device or expansion card, you may be able to get the instructions you need from a pre-recorded message. There's really no reason to have to speak to a technician for standard information of this sort.
Most of these systems are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their chief disadvantages are that they force you to wade through layers of voice menus, and that their feedback is limited strictly to audio. Fax-back systems are similar but result in faxed information in reply, which can be more useful.
Next: Fax-back Servers