Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Customer Support?

Since I'm old I've been witness to much of the progress of the computer through the ages. I'm not sure my kids, even though they are adults, can even fathom a life without personal computers. When I was a kid, the whole of idea of computers was still like sci-fi. Sure they existed, but they were few and far between and huge. Whole rooms/areas were set aside to house these behemoths, which required a good deal of air conditioning to keep them cool and only a relatively few people knew how to operate them. When I went to college, I had to take two computer course. These were classes in programming in COBOL and FORTRAN. Auburn had one computer, an IBM 360 mainframe, that every one used for everything - from admissions and billing to athletics to students. Needless to say, student computer programs were at the bottom of the priority list. There was no Internet (or at least not that any one knew of except maybe a few Government labs), no wired dorm rooms, nothing. To run our software projects, we had to use punch cards. A single COBOL program and a simple one at that, might use 500 to 600 cards to run. We had maybe 12 to 15 punch card machines for the entire student body. Needless to say they were always busy although the computer center was open 24 hours a day. We didn't have any remote terminals to enter data. I didn't do that well in either class although I passed both. I always seem to be a week or two behind in grasping concepts. I would spend entire Quarters cussing out the computer and how dare it tell me my coding was wrong? Couldn't it read? WTF?

Fast forward to the late 80s and early 90s and personal computers are becoming much more common in households. For the most part, access is by dial up. Broadband has not made it to the masses yet. This is about the time that I first became an AOL member. Unlike a lot of people, I've been pretty happy with AOL over the years. My primary e-mail address has been an AOL address. Even when I got broadband, we have kept AOL. In fact AOL is a local company. They are a neighbor to the bike trail I visit most weekends. One of their server farms is in my county. A few days ago when trying to sign on a message appeared that my screen name had been suspended. I mentioned it to Ann, who happens to have the AOL account in her name, and she said she had been notified of a Terms of Service (ToS) violation by The Son. ToS covers everything from cussing out other people on line to spamming, to sending inappropriate pictures, etc. I didn't think that much of it as The Son has gotten his share of ToS violations over the years. Usually a call to Customer Support is all that is required. So it was yesterday that I decided to contact AOL to see what the problem was. My first problem was that I couldn't find their Customer Service phone number on the web site despite looking for quite a while. I finally Googled it and apparently others had had the same problem and were only too happy to share it much to AOL's dismay, I'm sure. So I called. After providing some basic information to a recorded voice, a representative came on line. I told her of the problem and her response: "I can't help you. You'll have to write a letter to AOL headquarters." A letter? Was she serious? She couldn't help? "No. You have to send a letter." No phone number to call? An e-mail address maybe? "No. A letter." I told her that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard, but took down the address anyway. When Ann got home, I told her of the problem and she mentioned the ToS violation, but thought it was pretty benign and therefore hadn't replied to it. We thought since she was the account holder of record, that she might have better luck then I had. So she called AOL and same thing. Customer Support couldn't help and a letter was required. For a company that provides internet access, e-mail and probably has the most popular Instant Messaging program, that they are requiring a letter just seems bizarre to me. I'm not sure what a letter will say. Ummm...not sure exactly why, but our account has been suspended. Can you tell us why and how do we get it turned back on? Oh and by the way, you're still collecting my money. It just seems so archaic. I can hardly wait to see what response our letter brings. Maybe in cuneiform on clay tablets.

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