A Call for Support
While education technologies get better, customer service gets worse, writes James Banks, assistant superintendent
of technology at Barbers Hill (TX) ISD.
My first experience with technology in education occurred nearly 25 years ago when I was a middle school computer literacy teacher.
We used MS-DOS 1.0, full-height floppy drives, and 8¼-inch floppy disks. Except for some rudimentary message boards, the Internet was nonexistent and many of today’s software giants were still infants.
The ed tech scene today by comparison seems pure science fiction with its high-level graphic applications, wireless high-speed Internet connections, laptop computers, and the endless repository of online resources and information. With all of the great advances and changes, however, customer support to keep all this tech running keeps getting worse.
The first problem is that many vendors have made little or no effort to distinguish between the needs of the business world and those of the educational world. While each has similarities, their target audiences are vastly different and their application varies widely. For example, most vendors have simply made no effort to think about how the average high school sophomore treats his or her machine versus the average 30-something mid-level manager.
Tale of Tech Support Woes
Recent experiences with our one-to-one laptop technology program are a case in point. Our district works with many nationally known vendors. Given the size and scope of our program, which covers grades 7–12 and involves nearly 2,000 students, it is not unusual to encounter delays, lost shipments, or the occasional rude and unhelpful support staff member. If only these were isolated incidents. Instead, they represent a continuing pattern of declining support and customer relations on the part of major corporations:
- During a recent purchase of a large quantity of laptops, the vendor sent an entire team of experts to our site to sell the product. After the purchase was complete, the account manager seemed nonexistent.
- A second vendor was chosen when we expanded our program. At first everything went well. But then, our account representative was dropped, our support model was changed, and it became nearly impossible to have our equipment serviced. The service became so poor that we contacted the corporate offices. The customer service representative’s response: “You have called everyone in the office; you need to just stop complaining and accept it.”
- To help support our laptop program, and after much research, we decided to change our Internet software filter. The vendor assured us that its remote filter was the best available. After purchasing the product, we found that the filter did not work and that students could remove it easily. When the vendor was confronted, the company dispatched an engineer to our site to address the issue. When we explained the difficulty, the engineer insisted that the problem was not the vendor’s and stormed out of the meeting.
A Word of Caution
While the relationship between customers and vendors can always be in flux, one thing is clear: The time-honored adage that the customer is always right seems to have evaporated in cyberspace. For those of you who are exploring one-to-one programs in particular, be aware of a few basic challenges:
-To date, no national vendor that we have worked with has truly developed a model to account for the differences between operating a one-to-one program in an educational setting and simply selling laptops to a corporation.
- Because vendors do not seem to appreciate the different ways laptops are used by students versus adults, they are often frustrated by the higher level of support that is needed to keep the laptops in service.
-While professing to be on the cutting edge, vendors tend to demonstrate a remarkable lack of understanding about where technology is headed in education and fail to appreciate it as the fastest-growing area of their own market. Also, be aware that corporate jealousy and competition will affect your ability to successfully implement your program.