Monday, December 14, 2015

How convoluted can a tech support system be?

I was recently tasked with upgrading the software licenses on one of the products we use at the office—I won't use the real name, but let's call it "Vim"—to a version that works with the latest version of OSX. While a less detail-oriented person might buy one key outright and slap it onto as many computers as one could get away with, I prefer the high road where my employer isn't exposed to liability, and instead chose to upgrade (less cost) existing licenses that would become redundant.

The process should be reasonably simple. Vim's website has a portal that tracks all of the licenses I've purchased in the past, and when I go to their store website to purchase upgrade licenses, it requires me to log in and select which previous-version licenses I want to upgrade to.

Assuming all of my previous licenses were properly registered (which by today they were after a bit of work a couple of months ago), this upgrade purchase is straightforward enough. In and of itself, this worked fine for me.

After making the purchase, I am taken to a receipt page that makes reference to the fact that I've used a credit card, though it only says the total and nowhere does it actually say "paid". I printed it out anyway and hope it's sufficient to serve as a 'receipt' for our accounting department.

The important part, though, is the confirmation e-mail I then received. This looks like a typical invoice, with a listing of what I've purchased, subtotal, etc. There's a column for the product name, a column for the download button, a column for the license key, and price, and quantity.

The only thing is, there was only one line, with one license key and a quantity of 4.

This is where things started to break down. Some frustration:

For a normal software product, this would be fine. You'd use the license key they sent you and install it on up to four computers.

But I knew something was up. I had learned in a previous encounter with "Vim" that they do not have volume licensing or bulk licenses. So why did they just send me a license key with a quantity of 4?

My curiosity got the better of me, and I logged back in to the Vim portal and saw that the license key from the confirmation e-mail wasn't listed among my keys.

The customer support person I was talking with on the phone during much of this process was never able to tell me what the deal is with that code, other than telling me that it isn't a valid license key when I forwarded it.

Luckily, I don't rely solely on Vim's license key portal to track my licenses; I also use a custom-built license key database, which enables me to quickly notice that some of the licenses now in my portal weren't there before.

More frustration:

Meanwhile, there was an "alert" in the Vim license key portal which I would never have seen unless I went back in to the portal (which, seeing the license key in the e-mail, why would I?). The alert told me that three license keys had been generated for my recent order, and it listed the license keys. None of these were the same as the one in my e-mail.

Back in the license key portal, I was able to track down these three, as well as a fourth license key that was new (which also wasn't the one I received in the e-mail). I went back to my e-mail to see if there was something I missed.

"Sure enough, there was fine print in the confirmation e-mail that indicated that this was a temporary license key and four new keys would be generated in my license portal" is what you'd expect to read next, but alas this was not the case. Not only did the confirmation message give no indication that this was not the license key associated with my purchase, but there was also no separate e-mail to inform me that these new keys were created.

Having found my license keys, I decided to stop digging and quit while I was ahead. After verifying that my license portal did indeed show four (not three) new license keys that were purchased today which didn't show up in my own database, I concluded my call with the customer support person.

I had already wasted enough time by this point, but being the altruistic guy that I am, not wishing this situation on anyone else (especially one who might unwittingly try to install the license on multiple computers), I found the website feedback form on Vim's website and sent in my feedback and suggestions on how they can improve their messaging. (Imagine finding that you've installed this license key on various computers and after a while they stop working because it was the wrong license key and you have to track all those installations down!)

As is usual with such customer support encounters, I received an e-mail from my Indian correspondent advising me that the ticket was now closed and I could forward the ticket-closed e-mail to the licensing e-mail address for the company.

Which I did.

I copied and pasted my website feedback and sent it to the e-mail address cited in the e-mail from the customer support person.

More frustration:

Then I got an e-mail saying that that account didn't exist. I triple checked that I spelled the address exactly the way as it was given to me.

I decided then to reply to the customer support person and advise that the licensing e-mail address did not work.

More frustration:

After replying to the customer support person, I received an automated response indicating that I was replying to a closed support ticket, and therefore my e-mail would not be accepted. I could log in to a support portal (which may or may not be the same as the licensing portal) to find my support ticket and reopen it. Or I could contact them by phone.

At this point, I'd done as much as I had the patience for to try to give Vim some feedback on improving their customer communications. After all, by this point, I was trying to submit feedback to someone about a broken feedback mechanism to which they had directed me in order for me to give feedback on another feedback mechanism.

With this amount of Catch-22s, the only thing my feedback could possibly do is give more ideas to the evil twin of Douglas Adams—who must have designed these systems—to adjust any part of the process that wasn't sufficiently frustrating.

My initial feedback did, as far as I know, make it through their website feedback form, and I can only hope that it isn't used against me.

- RG>