Wellington Scoop

The unhelpfulness of help desks

by Michael Barnett
I experienced more than my fair share of angst last week. Not that my day to day living is causing me grief – life on the home front is fine, daughter Amy is doing great things, my daily exercise routine at the Freyberg Pool followed by coffee and a chat with the staff at Bernie’s Café all help to keep me on an even keel. No, what got me in a tiz was frustration with the world of corporates, bureaucracies and their infernal online help desks.

Earlier, I wrote about Trustpower and a deal that went sour. After months of despair and help from Gareth of Vodafone, who took a personal interest in my case, my TV is working, landline is connected and Sue and I are making and receiving calls again. Even that was not without a hitch. When Sue rang to get a code for accessing messages, the help desk operator kept telling her we were registered with Spark. Seeing she was getting nowhere, I contacted Gareth and that problem was quickly resolved.

What really got me going was an interaction with Microsoft. It started when I noticed three emails I had compiled were sitting in my out box. Then I noticed I had not received any since the previous day. This seemed odd, so I called Vodafone, my new internet provider for assistance. After going through the interminable voice messages welcoming me to Vodafone, this message will be recorded for training purposes, so we can help you please tell me etc. etc. Five minutes later I was greeted by a real person located abroad I assumed, possibly the Philippines, to whom I explained my problem, only to be told that I would have to contact my email provider for help. Maybe this should have been obvious, but the obvious is not always apparent when one is starting to stress out.

My next step was to Google Microsoft help desk and up popped justanswer.com promising 1-on-1 help with my device. On entering the site an online chat service appeared and the following interchange took place between myself and an assistant identified as Pearl:

Pearl – Welcome! How can I help with your software question?

Me – My emails are not going out and I don’t seem to be receiving any

Pearl – Who is your email provider (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.)?

Me – Gmail

Pearl – How do you usually access Gmail? On a phone or tablet, or through a web browser?

Me – On my Macbook laptop computer

Pearl – What troubleshooting have you tried?

Me – None, I am not very good at that

Pearl – Anything else you want the Email Expert to know before I connect you?

Me – That’s about it everything else is working

OK. Got it. I’m sending you to a secure page on JustAnswer so you can place the $5 fully-refundable deposit now. While you’re filling out that form, I’ll tell the Email Technician about your situation and then connect you two.

Next, up popped a request for my credit card details and a request for a refundable deposit of $59 (nor $5 as noted on the previous page) and a message from Jess, Software Technician – “Hi, I am online and ready to answer your question right now. Your refundable deposit signals to me that you’ll be willing to credit me if you are satisfied. You will have the option to rate my service after we finish.

Here is where things really climaxed. Another page came up requiring me to fill out some personal details, which it kept rejecting. In despair I call an 0800 number and got an American accented voice who kept telling me to complete the form and Jess would come on line to troubleshoot for me. After four or five minutes of toing and froing I could see we were getting nowhere. With a sigh I requested she cancel the credit card transaction and that was the end of my latest stress inducing online experience.

Once upon a time such interaction was more personal and empathetic. We communicated by talking to an individual, be it on the telephone or meeting face to face. In this modern world of rapidly changing technology and the internet, the reach may be far greater, but in the process something has been lost – the ability to really communicate. In the above exchanges I felt like I was communicating with automatons.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Is it any wonder we can become so stressed? I am grateful to Gareth at Vodafone, who displayed empathy with my predicament with Trustpower, a rare quality in a corporate official. And thanks to the friendly staff at the Freyberg and at Bernie’s, who listen to my stories. They make me feel good and help keep me sane.


  1. Clamobactor, 29. October 2018, 10:20

    The business ‘justanswer.com’ has nothing to do with Microsoft. Alas, you clicked on an advert paid to be shown by Google before any the ‘real’ search results (which would refer to Microsoft.com). Don’t forget that Google works for the advertiser. In effect, you got ‘phished’. In my experience, the real Microsoft customer helpdesk is populated with real people who are knowledgeable and helpful.

  2. Micheal Barnett, 29. October 2018, 20:09

    Thank you Clamobactor. So it seems I was ‘phished’ whatever that means. This is something that others like me who struggle to keep up with this modern technology should be aware of.

  3. Ian, 29. October 2018, 20:21

    Try the helpful people at SeniorNet.
    Gmail a speciality.

  4. Alex McIntosh, 30. October 2018, 10:34

    Got caught out by the same system when trying to contact the L & G service helpdesk about a fault on a brand new TV. Smelt a rat and got out after a prolonged wrangle and a partial refund. Seems to be set up to cash in on manufacturers “Help” systems.

  5. Clamobactor, 30. October 2018, 12:37

    A core issue here is that Google search has seemingly earned a place of trust in people’s minds but does not actually act in their best interests; instead, it puts the financial interests of the advertiser ahead of yours. In many cases these advertisers engage in intentionally deceptive practices, which combined with the trust people place in Google to deliver the ‘best and most appropriate’ search results, inevitably leads to people unwittingly getting reeled in and ripped off.
    Perhaps NZ needs to look at to what extent internet search should be considered an essential public service, and how best to regulate the behaviour of internet search providers and advertisers.