I recently had a bad experience with an application service provider that illustrated a growing problem with technology companies- lack of service and support. We have grown complacent as technology consumers and we allow vendors to offer very poor levels of service that wouldn’t be allowed in other markets.
In my case, my ASP was Apple. I have been a subscriber to their .Mac service, primarily for email hosting. Apple sells this as a value added service to enhance the Macintosh experience. Considering that you usually get email service through your ISP and that there are many services that offer email for free, why would anyone pay $100 for email? The answer is value. For me there was enough value in having an email address with a particular quality of service not offered by free services and independence from my ISP.
Recently the email service Apple had sold me began to fail. Every other connection to their mail servers timed out. I contacted Apple and was astonished by the poor support they offered. They refused to admit that there was a problem and even had they admitted there was a problem, they insisted that it was outside of their mandate to provide support or to fix the problem.
This article isn’t about my problems with Apple. If you want to read the details of this particular incident, you can go to DotMacSucks.com. I was so moved by this experience that I not only dropped Apple’s service, but I created a website to share my experience with others. What is disturbing is that this poor level of service is not uncommon among technology companies.
The Importance of the Price/Value Proposition
Anyone who has run a business or taken a course in management knows all too well about the price/value proposition. While there are many ways to differentiate your product or service, this is the primary determinate by which consumers select products.
Anyone who sells any product must strike a balance between the price of the product and the value (perceived and actual) that the product delivers. If you examine most any industry you will find a collection of companies, but there are two types of companies that tend to dominate.
The first type of company is the low cost leader. This company subscribes to the strategy that the lowest price at a reasonable value attracts customers. Walmart is an example of a low cost leader. In the PC world, Dell is often cited as the low cost leader. In this model, all production and operation expenses are stripped and streamlined until you can deliver products and services at the lowest price point in the market.
On the other end of the scale is the value leader. The value leader business plan sells a brand and higher quality. An example of a value leader is Bose. How many people do you know purchase $500 alarm-lock radios? How about the iPod? Or even the Macintosh? What these products have in common is that customers are willing to pay a premium for products that they perceive to have more value.
The price value proposition is an immutable principle of business that all companies must recognize to remain viable.
When it comes to technology products, there are several ways to assess value. It can be in design, ease of use, functionality, customizability, and other factors. While these factors are highly subjective, there are some that are fairly constant; service and support.
When it comes to service, we generally know what we want. When we need assistance for whatever reason, we want access to help. Specifically we want some person to help us and assure us that our needs as consumers will be met. The mark of great support is a company that can make a customer feel serviced even if the underlying problem cannot or has not yet been addressed.
Support is the actual assistance received in relation to a product. It is the resolution to problems with products and services. This adds value to a product because it affords a sense of security.
Finally there is an unspoken rule when any customer purchases a product or service from a company: accountability. Companies have an obligation to deliver the products and services that they have sold. If an item is defective or does not meet the description used to sell that product, the company has an obligation to replace the product or refund a customer’s money. This is an essential principle of any business deal and any company that does not abide by this rule cannot survive.
Service and Support of Technology Products
Technology companies have always skirted the implications of value when it comes to service and support. They have also largely avoided accountability. I think this has some basis in the birth of computer technology as a consumer industry. The original computer technology consumers were skilled professionals and hobbyists. In the early days you bought a kit not a computer. Expectations were very different as was the type of support that was offered.
Today the market is very different in the consumer space and even in the enterprise sector. We don’t expect kits; we expect well-integrated, commercial systems and software. Still, support and service in the technology industry has in many ways not caught up.
I think the reason support is so poor in the tech industry is based on two primary factors. One is cost competition. The other is simple complacency.
On the topic of competition, tech companies have to deal with the dropping costs of components and market consolidation. Many companies are racing to become the low cost leader while others are trying to stake out a better value proposition. In this race to strike a profitable balance, companies must deal with the reality that providing service and support to customers is expensive.
Many companies cut costs by skimping on documentation. It is now commonplace to not receive a detailed manual with software or computers. Sometimes documentation is included in electronic format or worse yet, it is embedded in useless online help systems. This allows companies to skimp on printing costs and technical writers.
Then there’s the consideration of customer service. Customer service representatives are expensive. Many companies mitigate this cost by using automated systems such as websites, interactive voice systems, and automated fax systems. If you’ve ever waited on a customer support line for a technology company, you’ve probably noticed the length of time you need to wait to speak to a person and how many opportunities you’re given to interact with an automated system in lieu of speaking with a representative. Considering the cost of running an automated system versus training and paying an actual person to help customers, you can see why companies opt for fewer or no representatives.
Complacency of the Technology Consumer
The question is, why do we as technology consumers put up with this level of service? For one thing, I think the quality of support and service has deteriorated across most every industry, not just technology, and this has lowered expectations. Still, technology companies tend to have very poor support compared to other industries. I think this is not only a consequence of their origins, but also due to conditioning by the entire industry.
If you’ve ever read a software license, you’ll find something in there that states that the company providing the software cannot be held accountable for damages caused by their product. This is something fairly uncommon in other industries, but we as technology consumers have become accustomed to this sort of treatment.
We have also grown accustomed to a lack of documentation. We often buy software, hardware, and services without manuals. In fact, there is a publishing industry based around this simple concept. Companies are lowering their costs by not providing these materials, but consumers do not share these savings. We often buy a technology product and spend another $15-$60 on a manual from a different company and in some cases the same company.
Not only have we been hoodwinked out of a decent manual, but also in many cases, support is a separate product than the product we are purchasing. Extended warrantees and service plans are not uncommon in other industries, but we need to be critical the warrantees that ship with computers. When you consider that the lifespan of a computer is generally in three to five years, just what percentage of the lifespan are they covering? A third? A fifth? That’s just for the parts. What about phone support? A common number is 90 days. That’s somewhere around 10% or less of the lifespan of the product. Should we have to pay extra for better support?
Support is expensive, and I’m not suggesting that we ought to get something for nothing. What I am suggesting is that companies need to be held accountable for their products and they should provide reasonable support. If that means higher prices so be it, but currently technology companies are spinning documentation, support, and service into a separate product rather than keeping it a part of the actual product. This shields them from having to price that support and service competitively like they must price the product or service. This means the company is increasing their profit margins at the expense of the consumer.
Technology companies get away with this because technology consumers have low expectations. Not because we don’t expect support, but rather we have come to expect lousy support. Terrible service. We’ve been conditioned to see these values as a separate product that is an optional purchase.
In some ways this is changing. Because of consolidation in the market, many sectors in the tech industry have already found the low cost leaders, and the rest need to rely on support and service to differentiate their product.
Also there is pressure from the open source community. While open source software generally can’t compete on features and ease of use, I have found that open source communities are exceeding commercial offerings when it comes to service. Returning to my .Mac example, Apple offers email-only support to .Mac users. Also, Apple only guarantees a response within 24 hours. In my case, Apple did not respond to inquiries and it did not meet that 24-hour response time constraint. That same week I was having .Mac woes, I was trying to build the Java 1.4.2 SDK on FreeBSD. Granted this is out of the realm of the typical user, but it is an excellent counterpoint to Apple’s poor support. I was having trouble so I posted a message to two BSD mailing lists, including the java list where the developers talk. I received two excellent responses within thirty minutes, which solved my problem completely.
Granted open source groups do not make any claim of support, service, or accountability, but I have found them to be more responsive and more courteous than many professional support services. When a commercial operation cannot supply the value attached free software, they need to seriously reevaluate their policies and practices.
Besides lower expectations, technology companies enjoy a lack of options and competition. This isn’t true of all products, but it is something to contend with. If you were unhappy with your toaster or your VCR, you could easily shop at a different store or buy a different brand. If you were having problems with an accounting software package, you may only have a choice between three or four companies. In many cases, you may have to stick with a single company due to the availability of features or perhaps you need to use a de-facto standard. Other, non-technical users are often unaware of other options or unsure how to locate them.
When you receive poor service or support from a company, or a company refuses to take responsibility for its actions, do not be complacent. Make a stink. Don’t go away. Don’t allow yourself to have low expectations. Regardless of how a company acts, the consumer holds the power in any business transaction.
Remember that support and services costs money. If you go to the lowest cost provider, you aren’t going to get the red carpet treatment. So never demand more than is fair. Still, demand accountability from the company.
Second, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. Nothing hurts a company more than losing a customer. Especially if you are a customer that is likely to make repeat purchases. Even if you think that you’re locked into a particular product or service, it’s never as bad as you think. A great example of this is Ernie Ball of the Sterling Ball Company. Microsoft treated him so poorly that he replaced all Microsoft products in his company with alternatives. There was no reason for this to happen other than arrogance on the part of one company.
Finally, tell people. Tell everyone and anyone. There is an old business rule of thumb that every unsatisfied customer tells twelve people about their experience. I’ve heard the rule stated with a disgruntled customer telling as many as twenty-four other people. The consumer has the power. With the communication capability of the Internet, we can post reviews and create entire web sites to point out bad experiences. Customer satisfaction in the Internet age is more important than ever.
Again, take the example of my .Mac experience. Apple wouldn’t pay a representative to fix my problem or to help me. How much would it have cost them to do this? When you consider that .Mac service costs $100 per year, when you subtract the cost of running the service and paying someone to help me, they may have severely damaged or even negated any profit gained from me that year. But they also lost my $100 for next year. They lost my $100 for the year after that. They lost any referrals I may have sent them. They may lose my business when I purchase my next PC. Furthermore, I have just started a small business and I spent over a week gathering information on what platform to standardize on. OS X was near the top of my list. Even though Apple hardware costs more money, I was counting on the ease of use and support to make the TCO lower over the course of the lifetime of the machine. I’m not so sure at this point. Also, I have told everyone I know about this experience and I was so moved by their indifference that I created DotMacSucks.com.
Every disgruntled customer has the potential to become an evangelist against a company that doesn’t live up to their responsibilities. As tech consumers it is time to put corporations on notice that we will be complacent no more.
Fred McCann works as a Software Engineer in New York City
If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.
It was worth $99 a year for all the preks: wordlwide IMAP access, ad-free webmail, and a iDisk. But the service has always been “up and down”. And the “web only” support policy sucks.
… too subjective.
Note: I don’t work for Apple nor do I have .Mac service.
If you removed your anecdote from the post it would be a decent and objective how-to for customer service. Instead, in my opinion you’re starting a vendetta against Apple and using this post as a platform versus a discourse on customer service. Yes, examples help, but I think we’ve all been down a customer-service nightmare road before and can empathize. As it relates to your specific situation, I would enjoy an off-list/web discussion if you want (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’ve enjoyed OSNews for mainly objective coverage of operating systems for sometime. And being its customer, I hope to continue enjoying it for sometime to come 🙂
I don’t know, I kind of like the ‘choice’ of not having support. I’ve never dealt with a company that never took returns for bad products.
I’m a reasonable computer user without much support needs, so why pay for it? Imagine if you could buy a car without the basic 3 to 5 year warranty. I wonder how much the cost would drop? This would be perfect for those people who know what they’re doing with cars.
If you need the support, pay for it. When I bought my laptop, I knew I wasn’t about to go open it up…EVER, so I purchased the extended warranty through the retailer. It wasn’t that much more expensive.
I will agree with the greater point of the article…and that is poor support. What other industry is going to give you the kind of support you need with a computer over the phone? This is the single biggest issue with technical compnay support. If your car breaks down, you take it to the garage, they don’t ask you over the phone to verify the alternator is operating correctly.
Not to mention that theres no need for a computer retailer to provide you with information on the details of how to operate a PC> Its a sufficiently complex operation that you must learn on your own. You’re not going to call toyota and ask them the rules of the road or how to drive. You most certainly have the right to ask them how to turn on th AC, or unlock the trunk from inside…
Suffice to say that a computer software and other modern technical iteams are the most complex device we will ever use as humans. No anumber of analogies can really do it justice. Almost every other device in your entire life is restricted to just a few buttons and options.
Without them having solid access to the problem item (PC…) tech support is reduced to one big long list of question and answer, which is why most people don’t bother with it. That’s just one of the many reasons, people should only buy computer from a retailer they can physically reach and talk to.
My experience with Apple’s tech support was much better, but the article is still very good. For a long time now, companies have been giving an increasinly short end of the stick to consumers when it comes to service. It’s all part of keeping costs down, but I would rather pay more with the assurance of good service, than pay less and play the roulette wheel.
That’s actually why I own a Mac, and I’m really irate to learn about stories like this one (.Mac seemed like such a scam to me) and the iPod battery that wasn’t replaceable until it suddenly was.
The author’s right: stuff like this goes on in lots and lots of companies. I haven’t had such good experience with open source mailing lists as the author, but good for him 🙂
So called “Customer Service” hasn’t been around starting around the ’80’s. Obnoxious phone “loop” menus, and no one to talk to, or asked to pay a service call for something that is thier glitch.
I agree, If I feel I need the hardware warranty & supoprt I’ll pay it. But if you have a problem or question you should be able to get a hold of “someone” and not some lame e-mail.
On top of that there are issues like incompetance or being condescendant (“did you turn it on?”) or language (call Dell lately?)
Apple support is only nice if you pay them for support, otherwise they quickly put down the phone (especially if you have an iPod without an extended warranty)
I, like everyone else, have had a lot of bad customer service experiences. I can think of one time in the last few years, where I was able to get what I needed without uttering the words “Can I speak to your supervisor?”
I’m not now, but have in the past been a customer service representitive. I think companies are conditioning people to accept poor service, but it extends beyond technology companies. Companies that I know of don’t give CSRs the ability to solve people’s problems. In fact, I was so much as told “your job is to get people off the phone, not to solve problems.” There’s nothing worse than being forced to tell someone “due to company policy, we can’t help you with this problem,” only to have them ask for a supervisor who says “sure I can take care of that.” Hey thanks for making me look like a jerk.
I agree about Open Source “support,” I was trying to compile the nVidia graphics driver for the 2.6 Linux kernel, so I sent an email to them about it, figuring maybe I’d hear something in like a week. An hour later I had a response, with a fix that worked! F/OSS 4ever!
The best of open source “support” is truly remarkable, but it’s catch as catch can to connect with whomever can (and will) help. That’s understandable. It is, I think, largely driven by intrinsic motivations on the part of the individuals who undertake it with little or no funding to support them and there’s certainly no infrastructure which guarantees to connect helpers with those in need of help. I’ve experienced the best possible open source support and I’ve also gotten nothing (it was in re: Gnome and KDE vs. Sun Ultra 5 sound support under Linux), but I don’t apply a value judgement to the latter. It would be unfair. There may be someone out there who can help me and I just haven’t found them yet.
It’s a pity though, that commercial support infrastructures still manage to produce no or poor results.
pay for it. Even if the people on this forum are willing, most are not. Oh sure, they’ll say they are, then they’ll have a fit when it’s time to pony up a credit card. The problem is people have grown to expect free tech support. This wasn’t a problem in the C64 days, when tech support amounted to ‘turn off your computer, turn it on. Works now? Greaaaat’. Modern desktop systems and applications are incredibly complex. It takes in depth knowledge and skill to support them. It takes a ton of effort keeping up on the latest trends. It takes a lot of training. If you want companies and employees willing to put that effort in, you’re going to pay for it. Or you’re not gonna get it. Period. So quite your whinning.
First off, I’ve always got great service from Apple – even when I was in China. My .Mac service has been a great backup tool (iSync/Backup are great), backup e-mail and a great way to share photos with friends. So, I feel there has to be more to the story than you are letting on. Second – the margin on computer equipment is NOWHERE near what Bose gets on a pair of $500 speakers. Come on – they are chipboard and some $15 drivers more or less. There just isn’t many resources put into a product like that compared to rolling out .Mac or Office or OS X. To make it worse, people think all these things should be free – which is non-sense. Then, when things don’t work – you want to call and talk to someone – instead of reading the help or learning more about your own computer. Oh, and you don’t want to pay for the call either. It’s nonsense.
When you buy a Dell or a Mac, it’s right there in the package: a tech support number. You _have_ paid for it. So when tech support doesn’t give you support, you _should_ whine. That was the point of this article.
If you ignore bad tech support, that just allows the company to pretend that they offer it. By complaining enough and making a stink, you will either get what you paid for or everyone will know that they don’t have any real tech support.
Claiming that they offer it and not providing it may even be a breach of contract or false advertising in addition to giving them a bad reputation.
Support is a fool’s game. Think about it: how well can someone support hardware when they don’t have a hold of it? And how well can someone support software over the telephone? The answer is, torturously if at all.
I think people are just mistaken in thinking that they ought to get support from their vendor. For anything other than replacements, it’s a much better model to get support locally. We end up asking vendors to do the near-impossible and then complain when they suck at it.
Apple has been rated number one in customer support and reliability by Cnet. Which is bullshit. Considering out of the last 40 MACs (including laptops) I have purchased recently purchased there has been close to 20% failure or fault rate in under 8 months. I know I cant be the only one who is saying this.
I found the failures rather odd considering you pay a premium for their “reliability” and I still have a few g3s still going strong for legacy quark based publishing work.
But what really pissed me off was with 1 years worth of tech support you only get 3 months of free phone support. Thats right folks, if a power supply or system board goes (like its happened to me so far) you either find your way to an apple store or cough up $60 bucks just to tell someone you have a problem.
They make Dell’s and HP’s enterprise support seem like gods gift to IT and those 2 have fallen quite far in my books.
So feel free to bitch about Apple. In my book very few of the reviews or polls regarding Apple are fair, so lets aim for balance;-)
But if you have a problem or question you should be able to
get a hold of “someone” and not some lame e-mail.
If half the people out there could read then email support would solve a lot of problems.
The reason you can’t get ahold of anyone when calling technical support is not because no one is there. Its because you got a long line of idiots before you that need someone to waste 30 minutes explaining the difference between right and left clicking a mouse.
On top of that there are issues like incompetance or being condescendant (“did you turn it on?”) or language (call Dell lately?)
Yeah most end users are incompetant. I’ll agree.
Support people ask those questions because 90% of the time the person on the other end of the line is a complete dumbass.
Its clueless users who force companies to provide poor support. So many people don’t even know the f*cking basics of operating a mouse and when they call, oh its not for support on a company’s product. Its like a god damn tutorial hotline on how to click “My Computer”.
Companies get sick of dropping big money so that idiots can call at all hours of the night when they feel lonely or the XXXToolbar rips IE a new asshole.
Everyone expects superhuman support but rock bottom prices in the PC world nowadays. Not only that, this “let’s complain!” attitude gets you no farther. Cheap PCs have led to consumers who don’t know what they purchased and don’t know how to maintain what they have. Granted, a service outage with your email is a valid concern, but, most complaints stem from continued ignorance and bad computing practices. At the price point consumers are asking I cannot stay in business training an angry customer not to let his kid download Kazaa again. “It has the same problem as before! I want a discount! Fix it again for free!” is all I hear. Not only do I have the stress of performing Technicial service on time and honestly, but also the stress of the customers post service demands. Understand that complaining doesn’t solve anything. Expecting support to teach you computer maintenance is like taking money from their wallet from your own training. Their are also feelings to consider when attempting to cop an attitude to weasle a discount. Don’t think it won’t eventually happen to you as well; see how it feels then. Reasoned, carefully identified points of concern will always be treated with respect in the service inducstry (especially if respect is given towards the support staff). The author was knowledgable enough to identify and use the proper channels for stating concern and asking for correction.. Alas, this is rare where I come from. You want appliance-like quality and steller support? Pay for good hardware and a good warranty. You want that steller support to go beyond the usual norms? Be polite, concise and resposible for your use of the product.
If you want some concrete suggestions, the best email service I have found is offered by Fastmail. (Fastmail.fm)
Runbox.com is a close second. They offer IMAP, have super-friendly forums where the developers themselves post and it has been extremely stable. Above all, they care about the customer. I have no affiliation with them other than as a happy customer.
Amen to that!
It’s like this….
Client: Hey I shoot my foot, can you bring it back?
Tech Support: I’m sorry sir, but it’s not covered in the support contract…. (Translation: your dumb enough to shoot your foot, be dumb enough to bring it back).
Client: #$&%@! I paid a large sum of money for this! Bring my foot back or I’ll sue you!!!
Tech Support: (mute phone) @$%^* Don’t shout at me!!!
Client: Give your supervisor, I’ll have you fired in no time….
If you look at how much money a typical beige box reseller makes per system sold, you see that they can only survive by selling lots of beige boxes. If you have ever had to sit down at a friend’s/relative’s computer to “fix” it, you know how much of a hassle this can be. If you take a decent hourly rate for this, you can see how just one such “fix” means you’d have to sell tens (if not hundreds) of beige boxes. Now, consider how many people you know who have a beige box, and what percentage of them ever asked you to “fix” it. I am sure the ratio is nowhere near 1:10, let alone 1:100.
Bottom line: the absolute cheapest beige box resellers _can’t_ offer a decent level of support. And they could increase their prices, but you’d walk away to someone else.
[QUOTE] Support is a fool’s game. Think about it: how well can someone support hardware when they don’t have a hold of it? [QUOTE]
I can diagnose Dell (Notebook & Desktops) HardWare problems to aprox. 98% accuracy by spending an average 5 minutes for each case. So Support is still a foool’s game????
Support is very important. And when you buy Dell, HP, Apple, IBM etc. you get support and pay for support. At least for the HardWare. (For Dell the hardware support is a LifeTime Support.)
Use your support! And if you do not get help. Check if you ask something outside support limits. If you belive you are entitled to help. Keep on contacting, and ask for help until you get help.
Btw. I totally aggree with the author regarding Dockumentation. With a car you always get a manual telling you how to operate the AC, change tires, open the hood, check oil etc. Computers should have extensive manuals as well!
…the entire computer hardware industry, recently, has not competed on anything except price. Dell’s, Gateway’s, (etc.) only real competitive advantage has been scale of economies. Gateway could not differentiate their $600 desktop computer from Dell’s. Dell sold more computers so Gateway started to sell televisions.
Another thing to consider is the fact that the above mentioned companies are generally considered “hardware companies”. When it comes to support, do most people have problems dealing with the applications or OS running on purchased hardware? It’s fairly easy to diagnose a faulty hard disk as opposed to why IE isn’t working on a support call and I’m sure this constitutes a large number of support calls.
I also feel the consumer has begun to treat the computer as a commodity and trained to not look for support with the purchases because of the emphasis on price point.
Twice in the last 3 years I’ve had to show a willingness to sue to get any support at all. It works, but it shouldn’t be necessary.
Since others brought up the car analogy, lets extend that a little. If we say:
Apple = Mercedes/BMW
Dell = GM (everything from Chevy to SAAB and Cadilacs)
With BMW’s, you pay a premium for the car. That means better engineering, design, and support. Some BMW dealers around here have driving ranges, massages, T1 connections, etc so you have something to do while your car is being worked on. They’ll hold your hand, and go the extra mile to make you happy.
You buy a Chevy, you’ll get Chevy support. Stale coffee and all.
There’s room in the market for a Toyota/Honda/Nissan style of computer vendor. Moderatly well designed cars, excellent engineering, without quite the level of hand holding.
Apple’s problem is they don’t realize that most people aren’t willing to pay the level of premium they expect. If you give people value, they will spend a little more. Just not a lot more.
Dear MoronPeeCeeUsr you have demonstrated that you really have worked in a support center. I hope your sanity is not too badly scared.
What you say is the ugly truth. I work as telephone tech support for a major anti-virus company. We charge for support incidents. If I may add to your list the people who think its their %CREATOR% Given Right to free support on a 5 year old install of Windows 98 with 64 MB of RAM and adware/spyware from half the porno sites on the Internet. Then they demand a supervisor. Then I go into Corporate Drone mode and explain policy and that my supervisor would simply restate policy. At that point I pray that they hang up. But no. They give in and pay. And I have to spend another hour trying to troubleshoot with user who thinks that AOL is his operating system and constantly asks “Do you mean right or left click?” on very little step . . .
Not to go into too much detail but where I work, our Systems staff is *incredibly* pissed at a software vendor whose software upgrade — the one they promised IN WRITING would not cause any problems — has been a 2 week long nightmare to sort out.
School starts monday. The problems are still not fixed.
Vendor’s tech support (especially condsidering the amount of egg on their face) has left a lot to be desired. But it doesn’t seem to occur to the vendor that *now* is when they make/break the next sale.
There’s no reason our next server has to run their software.
BTW, vendor in question is not Microsoft.
We know where you work.
– Microsoft Fanboy
“And I have to spend another hour trying to troubleshoot with user who thinks that AOL is his operating system and constantly asks “Do you mean right or left click?” on very little step . . .
Aren’t one button mice likeable?;-)
Yeah, you know where I work. SFW.
Want to know why technical support can be bad? Technicians can get burned out on the job real fast. Imagine taking calls from people that think the monitor is the PC and they want to have spyware removed while thinking it’s fault of the PC maker. Or they need special training to use a mouse or even how to setup the PC even though a 2 year old can follow the illustrated directions. Computers require a certain amount of education and intelligence to use. Where I worked people would call in for this kind of thing constantly and it was enterprise support. If people wouldn’t demand that PC companies support user’s and MS’s mistakes and feel the PC maker has to hold thier hand while they install a program, tech-support would be much better. Technical support is to fix a problem, not to train users in the very basics. Of course, printed manuals explaining maintaince and basic use would solve these problems but why waste money for a manual when users can clog enterprise support to learn how to click OK to install Bonzai Buddy?
“…but currently technology companies are spinning documentation, support, and service into a separate product rather than keeping it a part of the actual product. This shields them from having to price that support and service competitively like they must price the product or service. This means the company is increasing their profit margins at the expense of the consumer.”
An alternative way to look at this is, by taking service and support out of the costs of the product companies avoid charging customers for support they don’t need or want. If you are an expert with desktop computers, do you want to pay for the support levels expected by a novice? In fact by separating support consumers are freed to go to third parties for support if they choose. It is entirely possible separating support makes support more competitive.
I raised a support call with BT OpenWorld a few years ago, about the free web-hosting I got with the account. I wanted access to the access_log’s from the site.
The CSR told me that the logs aren’t availble “but it can be done… I’ve said too much, bye”.
So I played around – chuck a PHP script on there, see what happens (nothing); create a “/cgi-bin” and chuck a shell script into it (nothing); create an SSI html page, chuck it in – aha!
So I played a little bit more with SSI, and found that they even supported #exec (!!)
It was a bit of hassle (create a page, upload it, view it), but I ascertained it was a Sun server; readers who know Sun software will understand what follows: I looked at /opt/SUNWexplo/output, got a bit more detail, looked at httpd.conf, learned a bit more, looked at /etc/passwd, (I deliberately avoided /etc/shadow, but I’d learned more than enough from /etc/passwd); then I started looking around /net. Wow! Access to BT’s internal network – available for all BT customers (BT are the UK’s main telco/ISP).
I raised a new support call, asking them to remove #exec support (I even pointed out the line in httpd.conf which needed changing). No comphrendo. Kept chasing them.
I created a page which used /net to grab config details of a firewall; its location in the datacentre; the physical location of that datecentre; etc…
A month later, I got a phone call, from somebody to whom it had been escalated, who actually understood the severity of the problem.
Gasping thanks – “it’s been shut down immediately.”
Unfortunately, they disabled SSI entirely, not just the “NoEXEC” flag – so I can’t even #include on that webspace anymore 🙁
It was fascinating to see the difference in interest between the CSR’s who didn’t understand what was going on, from the admin who actually found out – he must have been shocked – not just that the exploit existed, and hadn’t been discovered (or reported) before, but also that a customer had been honest enough (in my own self-interest) to report it.
Harald, I assume you work for Dell support?
My Dell laptop’s PSU failed recently; having tried the phone “experience” before, and had trouble with the Indian accents, I went for the web approach. After a few days, swapping emails confirming that – yes, it is the PSU, that’s why I raised the call about the PSU, I eventually got a replacement sent. I even got a link to track the location of the replacement. The link didn’t work – the phone number I was given as an alterative lead to a very helpful lady, who was looking for an entirely different format of reference code, so couldn’t help me. Fortunately, a few days after that, the new PSU arrived.
It hisses. That doesn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve just got to get up the strength to speak with an Indian call centre, or discuss values of “hiss” over email, with self-same call-centre.
It’s not my laptop, it’s work-provided. I’m unimpressed; if I’d paid for it, I’d vow never to touch Dell again. As it is, I simply vow never to spend my own pennies on Dell.
Just curious… why do you have to emphasize the indian accents and call center?
There are software companies that provide horrible paid support, miniscule documentation, and expensive software that turns out to be crap in the long run.
There is this company that makes insurance software which costs about a million dollar. Almost a year later, you will discover the insurance system is very buggy. So buggy, it is an infestation. There is no technical documentation about it, so you have no way to fix it. Support is not free, you have to pay for it. If they provide source, that’s another million dollars. If you did ask for paid support, that’s hundreds of dollars per hour you have to pay. In several months, they may get back to you with something. The company will not acknowledge any problems in the system.
Another words, its like buying broken glass, but you don’t notice how badly broken it is until many moons later and numerous dollars wrong in the system. What do you do? And because its software – you can’t get your money back. So, you’re stuck with software like flies on (organic waste).
I even had a big retailer/grocery store refuse to refund me money for software I bought the day before. This company accepts almost any purchases back EXCEPT software. I only returned because it refused to install on my computer. Maybe that’s another issue for another topic.
In my opinion, “Customer Support” for software whether paid or not is an ugly joke! The only “real” support I get from software is with any communities or web pages you can search for on the internet.
Steve: Yes I work for a Dell Support Center.
How did you report the PSU failiure?
If you simply write:
“Hi, My PSU failed yesterday. Plese send a new.”
You will recive a mail asking you to give:
1. Adress and Contact information.
2. Probably several Troubleshooting steps & questions about Power LED, Diag LED’s, NIC LED etc.
What is important is giving enough information.
In your case: Explain how you diagnosed a bad Power Supply. Write down the state of any LED’s on system. (On a PSU always try to toggle the Voltage selector, with the power disconnected of course!!)
And if you contact telephone support with a HardWare problem, please have access to a screwdriver and have your system placed so it is easy to open. You will be asked to remove and reseat parts and connectors during troubleshooting.
Hope you have a better experience next time!
“Just curious… why do you have to emphasize the indian accents and call center?”
Likely for the exact same reason I DO… He bought his system from an ENGLISH speaking company, and expects to receive ENGLISH speaking support for the same system. Not some “tweaked and coached” version of whatever he is connected too in BFE.
MANY of us find this trend highly annoying, and it is somewhat likely to effect our future purchasing.
Dell for example is going to have a really tough time reselling another system to many of their existing customers.
Hopefully, you don’t work Dell support in India. They are likely to begin paying you in pork……
..she can’t understand funny accents. She also can’t understand canned support responses. But you bought Granny a cheap eMachine or Dell: That’s what you get. Buy cheap and the company will have no choice but to outsource the support to Babaschleebi. Now either you or your local computer store will have to deal with her frustration. Was it worth it?
This is a topic I’ve been ranting about for years now. Good luck. You can’t change people’s minds, only encourage them to think a little more about things.
This industry is a big nasty monster.
Paying for warranties and “good hardware” doesn’t in any way address the real problems and is mostly pointless. Service sucks, in general (you want the customers to be knowledgable? how about the service people being knowledgable!!), and there is NO warranty or accountability whatsoever on software. What’s a computer without software??
I actually had a pleasant experience with an obvious Spanish speaking person from tracfone tech support the other day. Her accent was thick enough to cut with knife, but I could understand what she was telling me. She solved my problem in about 3 minutes! I wasn’t aware that offshoring tech support had gone south as well as east up to that point. Anyone else find Hispanic support common?
“Btw. I totally aggree with the author regarding Dockumentation. With a car you always get a manual telling you how to operate the AC, change tires, open the hood, check oil etc. Computers should have extensive manuals as well!”
Ain’t that the truth. The only good documentation I’ve ever gotten with a PC or an OS was from Suse. Microsoft has their own press. They really ought to be putting it to better use. People shouldn’t have to buy a manual for the computer they just bought.
(Whoo hoo. Posting from work. In fact, posting from the reference desk.)
I agree with the idea that software and hardware should come with a manual of some sort that offers guidance. A well written, clear manual makes a world of difference. (The 150 page book that came with my copy of Photoshop is *fantastic*.)
The problem is, so many manuals are so poorly written and have insufficent pictures. (Remember reading VCR manuals? Remember how many VCR’s you’d see were still flashing 12:00 because setting up the clock was neither intuitive nor clearly explained?)
The manual that came with my copy of Roxio Toast has nothing to do with how I *finally* got it to burn a CD.
I counted over 30 differences between what I had to do to get things to work and what the book said to do in YDL.
Back in the day, I remember cringing when I had to open up the DOS or Windows 3.1 books. Not only were they really badly written, the indexing was mediocre, and everything was listed in the most technical terms possible — not what it was called around the office.
I think that manuals were discontinued because people were so conditioned to assume they were useless that they never bothered to read them and why pay for the cost of paper and print? (And in the case of 75% of the manuals I ever read, they sure the hell weren’t paying for a technical writer.)
I don’t even see the point of technical support over the phone. How much can you actually diagnose over the phone while you’re relying on the descriptions by somebody who has no idea what they’re doing?? ie. “I point the thingy at the thingy and push the button and it doesn’t do anything!”
Great article! I could not agree more with your comments about the poor service you received and the need for us consumers of tech. products to be more discriminating. My recent experience show that there are some businesses that clearly recognize the value of good service and support, and of course, some that do not.
Positive case #1: Epson–I purchased a new Photo Stylus 960 and after 3 months one of the times I printed a CD the printer jam light came on and would not go off. I called Epson Technical Support and went through only one layer of voice menu and one minute of waiting time. The service person was superb! This individual: 1. Spoke and understood English 2. Did not waste my time 3. Made a promise that Epson backed up fully.
I received a new printer AND all new ink cartridges and a UPS paid return of my problem printer–now that is one company you may be sure I will deal with again.
Positive Case #2: V-com & System Commander 7–After locking my hard drive using their product, I could not unlock my system. (Mind you that this is about 2 years or so after purchase and install.) I called tech support and got through to a very curteous and knowledgable person within 5 minutes. My problem could not be solved immediately–so V-Com support worked with me over the next week via e-mail (I was in the midst of moving) and eventually gave me instructions and a program that solved the problem. Again, in this case I have become that much more a committed customer of a business with great service and support. I just purchased V-Com latest System Commander 8.
Semi-negative experience: Intuit & Quicken. My wife first began using Quicken to track our finances in 1993. We upgraded just about every year since then with one or two exceptions. Yet Intuit gives only a $20 discount to longtime loyal customers such as us–I am just about fed up with that policy and Intuit. At least V-Com (see above) gave a 50% discount for my System Commander 8 upgrade!
What about log files? Configuration files? Errors received? System overview? Questioning techniques…. Phone support helps if the clients will cooperate well.
It’s nice to hear that Harald believes in the system he works for. Unfortunately, having dealt with the system, my experience hasn’t been that positive. Mostly because I’m on hold for half an hour, then dealing with someone in India (there’s that again), which wouldn’t be an issue except they can barely speak English, who spends 45 minutes trying to diagnose the problem. Yes, it’s a fool’s game – I wish I did get someone like Harald, if it only takes him 5 minutes.
And, um, in what weird parallel universe do Dell (or anyone) offer lifetime hardware warranties? Dell’s standard is 1 year from memory, more if you pay through the nose for it.
Personally I find it ridiculous when you look at the “manual” Microsoft give you with Windows. Most of it is the freaking license agreement!
On the other hand, I tend to think that you shouldn’t really need a manual for many bits of software – I’m surprised to hear KadyMae’s issues with Toast. I haven’t used it, but if I can set up k3b in under a minute, with the software coaching me the whole way, I can’t see why any commercial product should be harder to use. Once it’s set up, it’s pretty damn intuitive to anyone who knows what they’re doing – which I think is often the problem, many users won’t even try to engage their brain when it comes to computers.
How does not paying for higer quality products and an extended service plan not help? Buy definiton you pay more and get more. Yes, you must actually *look* at what you are going to pay for. You can always pay more and get less because you failed to understand what it is you’re getting. Take big retail chain stores: You pay less an hour or at small flat rate and you get 6 dollar an hour monkeys. You want knowledgable service staff? You pay for that too.
My experince is, that every commercial application is worse than it’s free equivalent. It is limited to some platform, it’s licenses often limit also usability on networks, or completely disables it. When anything is wrong with that product, there are few free mailing lists and there is “””hot””” line with mostly analfabets not knowing even about their product, nor about hardware issues…
While this dosent excuse a support person for being a jackass, it would help if the support companies:
1) Didnt set a time limit for the support person to assist you.
2) Payed the support person a more than someone working at MC D’s..you know like a proffesional
3) Allowed the support person to not allow a caller to abuse them.
I know I did support for 2 years. It was a thankless job. from the consumer too the CO! To both you are just a number.