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Is it any indications of poor programming if the support staff for a given product requires you to clear the cookies in order to troubleshoot issues with their web-site?

As a point of example, if you're trying to activate a new SIM on a tablet, and the carrier's activation web-site is giving you an error message that their web-site is down, even though there is no problem with actually accessing their web-server, which responds with the our-website-is-down page just fine.

Subsequently, the support staff instructs the user to try clearing the cookies (even though this activation web-site is not know to have been accessed prior to the error message taking place).

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    I would say your example is more an indication of a poor tech-support script. Jan 24 '14 at 4:12
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    Stack Exchange does that from time to time. I'm not sure there's anything "correct" or "incorrect" about it. I used to work in technical support, and I asked people to do some pretty exotic things, up to and including reformatting their hard drive and reinstalling their software from the distribution CD's. Jan 24 '14 at 4:22
  • Having talked to tech support people, I disagree with Kelly. Let's say there are 3 groups of people, A) non-technical people who gave up quickly, B) somewhat technical people who know enough to be dangerous, and C) technical people who know exactly what is wrong. Unfortunately, it's difficult to differentiate between these people since people in group B think they're in group C and people in groups B/C pretend to be in group A. Clearing cookies on a site which may or may not have been accessed ensures the user is starting from the same state...which is important if your script is rigid.
    – Brian
    Jan 24 '14 at 15:04
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    Have you tried turning technical support off, then back on again? I find this solves most problems, so I don't see why it wouldn't work here.
    – BrianH
    Jan 31 '14 at 14:27
  • I've since found out that their application seems to not actually support the default and only browser on a device they claim is supported (e.g. iPad 1), instead returning the error as described. I've looked at the actual code, and, funny enough, one of the parameters on the submitted form is something like "clear session = true", so, it seems to be especially troublesome that tech support wants you to clear cookies for "clear session = true" form submission to supposedly succeed. :-)
    – cnst
    Jan 31 '14 at 22:40
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It's just an example of tech support not knowing a lot about computers. I've had similar experiences with our tech support suggesting to customers that they turn of virus scanners, for instance. It's very much a cargo cult, driven by a business desire to keep expenses down.

As a customer, it's therefore a sign to avoid that company. They will be saving on QA too.

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    The "orbital strike" methods of debugging are often faster than a full root cause analysis, though. For certain problems (Primarily ones which the user needs to do once and never again) I don't think it's fundamentally the wrong approach. Things like clearing cookies and reinstalling software can 'solve' a large swathe of issues in relatively little time. That said, if L3 is still trying to avoid a RCA then run.
    – Phoshi
    Jan 24 '14 at 9:23
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If the user's expectations is correct and the actual result is different then there's a bug by definition.

You're conflating programming with technical support. They're not the same. Troubleshooting means identifying the problem and hopefully fixing it. If you're calling tech support to register a SIM do you really care what the bug is or do you want to register your SIM? Tech support is trained to solve the problem and get you on your way, not debug the code.

Furthermore, you're equating the web site with the web application. A web site can be up (and serving you the error page) while the application that lets you register your SIM is down. Providing you an error message that says the application is down is a lot more useful than keeping you in the dark -- you can for instance call and have them register the SIM manually.

The support staff in this case seems to be unaware that the web application is down and thus they are making you jump through hoops unnecessarily. A good principle in tech support is never to trust the user, but it's also a good thing to think for yourself and not always blindly follow the script.

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    The OP is also conflating Tech Support and Customer Service. CS probably has access to a separate system to activate SIMs, and (maybe) userland web access. Along with a note that some web issues can be fixed by clearing cookies. No real troubleshooting knowledge beyond what they pick up on the job, and that sometimes wrong.
    – SailsMan63
    Mar 2 '14 at 20:14

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