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VirtualAcorn Technical support:
Technical support policy

This is an updated version of an older article

When a customer purchases a product from us we will include one (1) year of direct support for that product via phone or e-mail. After the one year period we will continue to offer support entirely at our discretion. This technical support is only for the product that's been purchased. If we are speaking to a customer on the phone we may decide to try and help with problems not caused by or related to our products. That's not because we are obligated to do so, it's because we try and help where we can.

Over an average day we spend more time dealing with support requests, both phone and e-mail, than anything else. Sometimes we can get days where nearly all the working day is filled with support requests. That's fine if the support request relates to a problem with one of our products and if the customer is going to follow any reasonable instructions we provide to help fix the problem. However whilst 99.9% of support issues go well there's a tiny minority that go in completely unexpected directions. We don't have infinite resources so if we end up spending unproductive time dealing with a problem that time that can't be used for anything else.

Customers should always remember that we reserve the right to withdraw technical support if:

  • A customer is abusive towards our staff.
  • A customer behaves unreasonably, for example demanding we fix a problem that's unrelated to our product.
  • We spend extra time on a problem because a customer hasn't followed our instructions.

Here's a few examples of customers who really don't get it, please don't follow their examples.

Spam Bin? No sorry I've never heard of it

I will start with a quick story that's happened in the couple of weeks since the second draft of this article went live (Dec 19). On Friday a customer sends an e-mail asking some questions. We send a reply answering the questions. On Monday the customer places an unlock code request on line, we send a reply to the unlock code. Late afternoon the customer sends an e-mail asking why we hadn't replied to his e-mail on Friday. I check, we did reply, so I resend that reply. Next day the customer e-mails to ask why we haven't processed the unlock code request. I check, we did so I resend the reply. Then the customer rings up, no one was available so the answerphone took a message. The message was a complaint asking us to reply to e-mails and leaving the e-mail address that we had already used.

This nonsense actually went on for almost a week before the customer, who had apparently skipped e-mail class 101, decided to see what was in their Spam bin. Of course every reply we had sent to every e-mail was there. I won't tell you the customers name but he did work in the educational sector. Have you ever heard the old saying that 'those who can, do but those who can't teach'. This customer had the job title 'Head of Cognitive Computing', which caused much merriment in our office.

You expect me to read the instructions?

We have a number of elderly customers and that's fine by us. One particular customer had made many support requests over the years and had been told a couple of times that he needed to read and follow any instructions we provided to him when he asked for our help. The customer had moved house, everything was fine on his PC but the VirtualAcorn refused to run. So he was sent a link to an article that covered this very problem. The customer replied a couple of days later saying he had read the article and nothing had resolved the fault. So we sat down and tried to come up with a different explanation of the possible fault. Over the next couple of weeks we spent nearly 12 hours trying to work out what could cause the problem. Many e-mails went back and forwards and in the end we ran out of ideas. Everything that could be checked was checked.

Once we had run out of ideas we decided that perhaps we had missed something so we would go back to the start. We took the first suggestion from the support article (speakers unplugged) and e-mailed the customer. Next day the customer replied saying that the suggestion had solved the problem. When the PC was setup the speakers had been plugged into the microphone socket by accident. That's great. What wasn't great was that the very first suggestion the customer had been given was the correct one. All the time we spent after than point had been wasted. The customer finally admitted that they hadn't read all of the article and had skipped the speaker suggestion because the speaker lights were on. That's despite the article asked for the user to check sound could be heard.

Given that the customer had a previous history of not reading and given the amount of time that was wasted as a result of him not following the instructions we regretfully withdrew any future support. Incredibly instead of apologising the customer got quite abusive and as a result guaranteed that we would never get any more support on any of our products.

A virus, a virus my kingdom for a virus (or ten)

A customer rung us to complain that his VirtualRPC wouldn't work properly as it was running very slowly. After a few minutes on the phone it became clear that the VirtualRPC was misbehaving but that the problem was with his computer. When the customer started reading text from error windows it became increasingly obvious that his computer was infected, the hard disc partially encrypted and effectively useless. I carefully explained that if he had been sensible it wouldn't have happened. His computer had no anti-virus software installed. Windows update had been turned off and no firewall was working. He had basically put a big fat target on his back and when a popup had appeared offering to 'cleanup' his computer and 'fix' problems he clicked on it. I asked how long the problems had been happening and discovered that his computer had been infected for several weeks before he rung me.

I attempted to give him some basic help in recovering the computer over the phone but it needed professional help that the customer wouldn't pay for. I did my best in trying to remove the infections but there's only so much you can do if you aren't sitting in front of the computer. The first question I ask in these circumstances is how long was it since all personal files were backed up. He had never backed up any files. Reluctantly I had to tell him to remove his hard disc and smash it with a hammer (to destroy any remaining personal data) and then take the computer to a recycling center. Then buy a new computer and be a lot more careful in future.

I recorded the event on my notes as it was the worst case I'd ever seen. Now I wouldn't normally record something like this but I'm glad I did because just over three years later the same customer rung me. He was complaining that his VirtualRPC was slow 'again'. It was so slow that it couldn't be used 'again'. What was I going to do about it? ('again'). Well guess what, his new computer was infected with malware 'again'. Why? Because he hadn't taken note of any of my suggestions from last time.

I had told him he had to use an up to date anti virus utility. His new computer had come with one but he hadn't taken out a subscription after 12 months when it wanted money from him as he didn't 'trust' the popup message. He'd fiddled with Windows update and disabled it ('again') because his friend who 'knew everything' about computers had told him to. His friend had said that allowing Windows to install updates when it wanted was 'bad'. In our opinion the only thing that was 'bad' was the friends advice.

The situation was simple, had he followed my advice it would have been highly unlikely that his computer would have become infected again. He ignored my advice and his new computer became infected just like his earlier computer because he had repeated the same mistakes. That's what happens if you don't learn. He wasn't best pleased when I told him that we were not going to help resolve the problems. The faults were not with VirtualRPC, even though the customer still told me that 'Everything else works...', even though very little else on the computer worked without multiple errors.

The unwanted laptop(s)

Incredibly we've had this experience twice since VirtualAcorn started. The example here is the most recent one. A few months back a customer e-mailed about a problem with VirtualRPC on a laptop and we gave some advice. I didn't hear anymore until an unexpected parcel arrived a week or so later. When we opened the parcel inside was a laptop and a note. The note was from the customer and said that rather than following the instructions we provided it was easier for him to send the laptop so we could fix it and send it back. I wasn't very happy about this for several reasons.

Firstly we hadn't agreed to receive the laptop because it's not a service we offer. Sending the machine (the parcel was addressed to me personally rather than the company) could make me legally responsible for it and for the data on the drive. For example if I worked on the machine and the customer subsequently complained that an important file had gone missing I could again be found liable by a court. If the computer got damaged by the courier when being returned I could be found legally liable for the replacement costs. Legally a situation like this is a minefield so I did the only thing I could. I contacted the customer and told them that I would not 'fix' the laptop as I wasn't going to even power it on. In addition I wasn't going to arrange to return the laptop, the customer would need to arrange the return shipping. I would repackage the laptop using the same packing but I wasn't going to release the machine to a courier until the customer had confirmed in an e-mail that they would not hold me liable for any loss or damage.

The customer was very apologetic and did as I asked The result was that they ended up paying two lots of couriers and the machine was returned to them with out the problem resolved. What made this especially ridiculous was that the 'fix' needed to resolve the problem with VirtualRPC would have taken the customer a few minutes at most. I lost some three hours of work and had to make sure I was available when the courier came to collect the machine.

Q. So what's the point of these little stories?

A. Even free support has a cost

We are a small company and we supply technical support free of charge, but that customer support has a cost. If we are on the phone with a customer for an hour and half that's time that can't spend doing anything else. In the above case when that customer rung up after suffering the same problems on a different PC I consulted the database and luckily discovered my notes from the first infection. So once I had found out what had happened I told the customer I couldn't help because the fault was not with my product.

The customer has to take responsibility if they have done something that we have advised against. In this case the fault wasn't with our product yet I had still spent some time trying to help deal with the infection on the first computer but I wasn't going to repeat the process a second time, even though the customer thought otherwise. I told him that he would either need to pay a professional to remove all the infections or dump this computer in a recycling centre just like the first one. If he wasn't going to follow our helpful advice then it wasn't worth our time giving him any further advice.

Obviously all our customers have access to the support section of the VirtualAcorn website and most problems can be solved without the need to contact us. If the customer had a problem directly related to the VirtualAcorn we will always do our best to work out what went wrong and try to help with fixing it. However we do not run a general purpose support service where customers can ring up with any problem. You can purchase support contracts that do offer that sort of service but they cost a lot more than we charge for any of our products.

A heartfelt plea

So if you do have a problem with a VirtualAcorn product ask for our help. If it's not a VirtualAcorn problem please don't expect us to fix it. We might offer some appropriate advice but we aren't obligated to do so. If you use up our time with problems that don't relate to our products or you cause us to spend extra time on a support issue, because you ignored some instructions or didn't bother reading a support document, then we do reserve the right to withdraw our support. I'm pleased to say that the list of people who we have withdrawn support from is very small and we will be delighted if it never gets any bigger. Please remember that whilst we don't charge the customer for support that doesn't mean that the support is free of cost.

Handling of unlock codes

It's worth me pointing out that we do not class 'unlock codes' as technical support as they are an essential part of the product. So if we do tell a customer that we won't be able to offer them any further support we will still process any future unlock code requests provided any such requests are made in accordance with our instructions.

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Last Edit Date 05/12/19