The Tech Support Report: Getting Good Service — Possible or Not?

August 2nd, 2006

As I consider the return call from a supervisor that never came from Verizon Wireless, I have to wonder whether the support portion of the tech industry has fallen completely apart? I mean, Verizon was supposed to be one of the good people, known for its exemplary service.

More recently, as I reported in a recent commentary, I ran into a problem with Apple’s customer support, where the phone rep said one thing, and the store had a different policy about handling my defective 23-inch HD Cinema Display. In the end, it was resolved, although I had to climb a few levels in the support department to get satisfaction. And let me assure you readers that I didn’t get any special treatment because I am a tech journalist and talk show personality.

The problem with support these days is the fact that the people at the bottom rung of the ladder have very limited authority, and anything that falls out of their knowledge or authority will create problems for you. In some cases, it almost seems as if they are reading from scripts, which assume you know nothing, and you must follow their routine to the letter before you can get any answers.

The worst service lies offshore. Language and cultural differences sometimes make communication impossible. I recall one instance where I struggled four times to get the person to understand my name, and the conversation went downhill from there, before I requested a supervisor, who hardly fared better.

Despite the obstacles, however, it is often possible to get help if you keep your head and prepare yourself. So here are a few simple ideas that might help, but I make no promises.

  • Check the printed and/or online documentation for troubleshooting hints and follow them all first. This may avoid the dreaded phone call altogether, and if the problem persists, at least you’ll be able to tell the support person what you tried.
  • Read the warranty, even if you need reading glasses to examine the fine print. This way you know what your rights are before you place that call. You’ll also want to ask the right questions in case the legalese is just too confusing, as it often is.
  • Prepare yourself with a step-by-step description of what is going wrong, and the steps you’ve taken to address the situation.
  • Be in front of or near the device when you call, and have the part and serial number at hand, in case you’re asked. And you did turn it on, and connect it properly, right?
  • Control your temper and avoid the inflammatory words you might be tempted to utter if the support call isn’t going well.
  • If you do not get a satisfactory response, insist on escalating the issue to a supervisor. In some cases, such as a broadband Internet provider, they may automatically step you up the ladder to a higher support tier, but if they don’t, insist on it. As I said, control your temper, but be firm. However, the range of possibilities open to a supervisor, such as replacement of a malfunctioning device, may also be limited, so don’t expect miracles.
  • If the upper levels fail to provide satisfaction, continue to ply the management levels for a sympathetic voice.
  • If all else fails, call the company’s main office and ask to speak to an executive in charge of support or something called “executive relations.” Larger companies do maintain staff at this level to deal with the most serious support issues, and they have the replacement or refund authority that may not be available to middle management.

In the end, if a company fails to deliver the support you need, you may just want to take your business elsewhere. Now I realize this may be impossible when it comes to a broadband Internet provider in a city where there’s no competition. Or, if there is competition, it may be no better.

Most of the time, however, despite the frustrations along the way, I’ve gotten a satisfactory experience, even though the road there is often paved with lots of large bumps. But I’m curious about your war stories, and our Comments feature is open to one and all.

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7 Responses to “The Tech Support Report: Getting Good Service — Possible or Not?”

  1. Andrew says:

    I just went through that ringer with Apple on a hot-running Mooing MacBook. After the second week in the depot for repair I finally got in touch with Customer Relations, which threw in an extra battery for my trouble.

    Sadly it didn’t end there. The machine arrived after a total of 18 days unrepaired, and to make matters worse, somewhere along the way the repair depot incorrectly reassembled my computer so that now the trackpad button didn’t work. Back to Customer Relations, this time for a replacement MacBook.

    More delays on their processing the replacement meant another “compensation” from Apple, but sadly I’m still stuck in MacBook limbo as the replacement unit has problems of its own. The colors on the screen are washed-out (yes, I’ve played with the color balance and can compensate to a limited degree) and it still makes the moo sound. That was yesterday.

    Today its back to Customer Relations, who knows what the result will be. At this point I’m seriously soured on MacBook quality control, which is sad as I bought this to replace both 12″ and 15″ PowerBooks, neither of which can be replaced anymore. I love the power and ergonomics on the MacBook, but I’m really not sure that I can trust another, and may just ask for my money back and try my luck with another vender or try to find a leftover PowerBook and go back to the slow lane.

  2. virginia says:

    You should check out Apple support forum for .Mac email issues. Recently there’s been a lot of downtime (only for some users) with no help from Apple.

  3. lisa says:

    I asked my webhosting provider to switch servers (from Windows to Unix). My email requests just went into a black hole. Eventually I escalated my requests and that resolved the issue right away. This particular company used to give good service. But it may have over grown it’s support resources.

    On another occasion, I tried to kill an old free Tripod or Yahoo website I had. All that was on it was my son’s birth picture and announcements. It was time to get rid of it but I could not log in for some reason. No email or phone# to contact at all. So, I was forced to just let it sit there until it got auto deleted from non-use. Imagine what would happen if someone got a hold of your personal info and posted on a website somewhere? Scary.

  4. Rob K says:

    Calling for support is always a pain, but an approach worth trying is this; Reiterate what you are told, with a bottom-line conclusion. Example; “So what you are saying is Apple considers defective products normal, and Apple customers should expect problems.” Or “Are you saying Apple policy is dissatisfied customers?”

    Always remain polite, but playing offense can at least makes it a tiny bit fun!

  5. Andrew says:

    Well, the support ordeal may finally be over (looks that way). From Customer Relations I moved up to Executive Relations, where another replacement MacBook was arranged. The difference is that I was able to go to a local Apple Store and thoroughly inspect the new machine before taking it home. I guess it pays to be pushy, as I finally have a MacBook that runs at a semi-reasonably temperature (between 60 and 75 C depending on load), has an excellent screen and no case or touchpad button issues. The “Moo” is still there when it hits 64 C, which is about what everyone else is reporting, but is much quieter on this one than on the last two.

    What a difference production variance can make.

  6. gopher says:

    Verizon’s support. An oxymoron in of itself. One time I had to setup a customer’s internet service. I looked at how to do the DSL support with the provided software and hardware. Tried with the Mac’s own software, and it still didn’t work. So while at the customer site I took the plunge and called Verizon. Worked with the person there, and he finally couldn’t solve the problem, and passed me on to Mac tech support. Took half an hour on hold and finally got through to someone who knew his stuff. It was a hidden button somewhere to enable the PPPoE access on the router they provided. All in all I was on the phone for 2 hours!

    Thankfully the next time when encountering this issue I decided to call Verizon right off. It was a different router, and actually had some decent Mac software. The only thing that wasn’t clear was what password Verizon had assigned PPPoE. It was preassigned within the software Verizon provided to something that was good. And they were able to verify this within 10 minutes.

    Your mileage may vary, but Verizon now being a bigger company than the company which founded it (AT&T), and my owning stock in the company, is a mixed bag. Sometimes good. Sometimes a pain in the neck to deal with.

  7. Joe says:

    Yesterday I had a very successful encounter with AppleCare. After upgrading to Tiger, Safari displayed an error message on startup. I had everything prepared, error message displayed, serial number at hand through Apple Menue > About This Mac > More Info… , ect. The service person had me go through a reasonable sequence and then had to do some research. It turned out to be an out of date third party add in, Acid Search. Having AppleCare was the key. I paid for it and had not used it in almost a year an a half.

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