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  • 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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