Tech Support: Why Does It Suck So Much and What Should I Do?
(from the 8/09 issue of the CompuNerds Nerdsletter - sign up for it here)
For the purposes of this article, Tech Support is the service provided by a company when you contact them about a problem with one of its products. Although my focus, of course, is computers, the information discussed can apply to almost any product or service, from defective televisions and appliances, to magazine subscriptions and cable companies.
Why does tech support suck so much? Answering this question won't really change anything, but it might make you feel slightly better if you understand the dynamic involved. The one-word answer is: Money.
Providing tech support costs money. You may not have noticed, but the economy is having some difficulties right now, which makes most companies even more parsimonious with their resources. Every time companies try to save money by reducing the amount, or the quality of tech support, it sucks a bit more. "But wait!" I hear you cry. "Doesn't it ultimately cost a company MORE money to lose a customer through poor tech support?"
Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn't. Most of these companies use complex formulas to determine how many clients they actually lose to poor tech support, how much that tech support costs to provide, and how many new customers could be acquired if the same money is applied to the advertising budget. If the equation tips even one penny towards advertising, you know how the company is going to proceed. It also should be noted that many companies don't take a long-term point of view, often sacrificing long-term gains for short-term ones, because they are responsible to shareholders today, and their jobs depend on immediate results, not longer term ones.
How do some of the different computer companies look in the Tech Support derby? According to surveys conducted by Consumer Reports, Forrester Research, and LAPTOP Magazine, Apple has the best tech support, being the only company with decent tech support and moderately happy customers. The worst offenders were Dell and HP, with the other guys falling in between, but closer to the horrible end of the scale.
So How Do I Get Help?
What do you do if your computer (or other product) is defective, or broken, or misbehaving? How do you proceed? Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge my primary information source. Although I've researched a variety of sources and combined that knowledge with some hard-earned life experience [I'm looking at you, Dell] the most useful source of information for this column is an excellent website run under the auspices of Consumer Reports called Consumerist.com. It is an excellent consumer advocacy website. I wish I could claim many of these ideas as my own, but if it's really clever, it probably came from them. I don't think they'd mind me passing this information on, since we share the mission to cultivate an informed and empowered bunch of consumers.
The first thing you want to do is exhaust normal channels. This means giving the customer service mechanisms in place an opportunity to solve your problem before you break out the big guns. You don't need a sledgehammer to swat a fly.
Here are a few basic things to keep in mind before you even get started:
A) Keep track of everything. Always keep all paperwork, warranty papers, and receipts from an important purchase. You should know where and when an item was purchased, and be able to prove it. When you're dealing with tech support, take notes, and keep track of everything that happens. Make note of who you called, when, who you spoke to, what they said, and what you said. You need to know what has happened, and be able to recount it if necessary.
B) If possible, use the proper terminology. Nobody expects you to be an expert, but whenever possible, if you know the correct terms, then by all means use them. This tip comes from one of my guys. It can save a lot of time and aggravation on both ends if you can accurately describe your problem and what you want. If somebody says that their hard disk isn't working when they mean their DVD drive, there will be a few minutes of chasing your own tail until both parties get on the same page.
C) I probably should have put this one first, but I can't emphasize it enough. Be civil, nay, even friendly. Anger, sarcasm, profanity, personal attacks, raised voices, etc. will avail you nothing. It will probably make the situation worse. You will almost certainly encounter people and situations that will test your capacity for not erupting and spewing molten lava. Blowing your top may make you feel a little better for a few seconds, but it is not worth it. The person on the other end, whether they are in Austin, Texas, or Mumbai, India, is a human being trying to perform a difficult and thankless job, usually with little training, poor pay and contradictory or non-existent support from their own management. You want them on your side, not as adversaries.
So, when you call, you are going to be cool and calm and keep track of everything that happens. If you don't get satisfaction from the first tech support representative you speak to, ask to speak to a supervisor. This is called escalating the issue.
If the supervisor can't or won't help you, thank them, hang up, and start all over. Like a Lotto Quick Pick, sometimes it all comes down to luck. If you call again and get a different person, you might get luckier.
This step will not be fun and it may be time-consuming. You may hear the same Muzak song over and over. Rather than stewing in your own juices like a tough piece of meat in a crockpot, grab a magazine or a book, keep fully hydrated, bring a snack, and don't lose your cool.
Say Hello to My Little Fren'...the EECB
If your attempt to achieve satisfaction through regular customer service channels is not successful, it is time to break out the big guns; the method of last resort: the EECB. Although I have been doing a variation on this technique for years, I credit Consumerist.com with naming the technique, improving it, and codifying it.
EECB stands for Executive Email Carpet Bomb. The idea here is getting your story out to a bunch of the executives at the company in question. When they all get the complaint letter, and know that everybody else got the letter as well, it can often generate the desired results.
STEP ONE: Write a really good complaint letter. It should be clear, concise, polite and professional. Tell them exactly what it is you want. Frame the issue in a way that shows how it will affect the company's bottom line. Make sure to spellcheck your letter and to include contact information.
Remember, state the facts, and how you would like the situation resolved. Provide copies of all paperwork, serial numbers, receipts, etc.
STEP TWO: Determine the corporate email address format. You can look on the corporate website, or use google to look for press releases. Look at the email address of the Public Relations contact. Is it email@example.com? FirstletteroffirstnameLastname@company.com? Figure it out and write it down.
STEP THREE: Make a list of the company's top executives. This information is often available on the company's website. Look for "corporate officers" or "corporate governance" or something like that. You can also go to Google Finance and look under "management" for a partial list.
There are a few websites that have already done some of the leg work for you. At www.emailnamefinder.com, you can enter a company name, and if it is in their database, they will tell you the corporate email format, and the names of some of the corporate officers. Consumerist.com also has a list at: Consumerist Company Email Index. This is a terrific resource with advice for writing your letters as well as email addresses and formats. You can also search at that website to see the information for specific companies, and if there have been any successful EECB's already launched at that company.
STEP FOUR: Combine the format from Step 2 with the names in Step 3 to make an email list.
STEP FIVE: Send your complaint letter to the email list from Step 4.
STEP SIX: Sit back and wait for a response.
Although it doesn't always work, the EECB can be extremely effective in resolving issues that may otherwise seem insurmountable. There you have it folks. Of course it goes without saying, if you are unable to get satisfaction on your own when trying to resolve your computer issues, CompuNerds is only a phone call away and ready to help.