Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Black Dog

Last week I bought a new gizmo for my laptop. It seemed such a simple thing to do at the time. I then spent several days effing and blinding alternately at the instructions that didn't mention all the connecting cables and adaptors you need that aren't actually provided, and at the blokes in PC World and/or Maplins who only ever managed to sell me one thing I needed at a time, resulting in three 24 mile round trips to get the three things I needed. Nice...

What's this got to do with language? Well, news out this week of a dodgy pseudo-survey (ie ostensibly legitimate research but paid for by a company that just happens to provide services to solve the problems the research finds) that shows the high level of abuse that IT users hurl at helpdesk workers. 81% of helpdesk workers had experienced verbal abuse, 22% had considered jacking in their job there and then because it was so bad. It's an interesting angle on both language and technology, and language in the workplace. Now I feel really bad about the polite strop I threw at the bloke in Maplins and I'm going to have to do another 24 mile round trip to go and apologise...

The survey also offers other tantalising suggestions about language. First of all that the level of verbal abuse is both gender related, age related and status related. How surprising do you find this? How does it compare with other research findings about the use of expletives? Would you expect members of senior management to be the most likely suspects? Older people rather than younger ones? How do you account for these differences? Is there something about the workplace that makes us behave differently, or is any or all of this research flawed?

Secondly, the survey shows that 80% of IT helpdesk users might keep their temper better if they didn't first have to get through the seven circles of hell, also known as the automated voice response system. Y'know, you ring up and a robot asks you to memorise 17 options and then press the correct code, then you get through to another robo-menu, and another, and.... So why, when this kind of technology-mediated language drives us all nuts, do so many companies use it? Well, with so many opportunities for an employee to screw up and lose customers in spontaneous conversations, they'd rather leave it to a machine. The survey suggests they're wrong, and although spending some cash on staff training might hurt their pockets in the short term, it might be worth it later in happier customers and staff who stick around longer.

Check it out below (and follow the related stories links at the bottom for other interesting stuff...). The survey is linked at the foot of the article if you want to read it - might be a useful starting point for an investigation into language and helpdesks.

The crap IT circle of abuse and despair


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