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Tech-Support Travails

I lost 40 minutes of my life to Hewlett-Packard's tech-support line earlier this afternoon, and it wasn't even the hold music (alternated with periods of total silence) that bugged me this time around.

Instead, it was the gratuitous waste of time that constituted HP's screening system: First I spoke to one person who asked all the standard questions--name? phone number? can HP e-mail, write or call me later on? computer model? serial number? product number?--only to tell me that he had to transfer me to another department.

After 10 minutes of waiting for the next HP rep to pick up, I then had to answer every one of these questions all over again! I should have just made up my answers the first time around, since HP's system doesn't seem capable of remembering any of them. "Yes, my name is Zaphod Beeblebrox and my phone number is mauve."

The best part of the whole ordeal was after a brief round of Q&A with the second fellow, he said he couldn't answer my question either and would be transferring me to a third department--which would charge me extra for a 45-minute help session. I wasn't going to do that, so I thanked him for his time and hung up.

End result: 40 minutes of two HP reps' time consumed with no benefit to either the customer or HP. Even at outsourced wages, that would add up to non-trivial expenses if merely a fraction of customer calls take such a meandering route through the company's tech-support archipelago.

It must be nice for HP to be so flush that it can afford to engage its employees in such non-productive behavior.

You know you like to rant about tech support; now's (once again!) your chance. Let 'em have it in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 27, 2007; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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I just spent the day helping a friend with his Verizon DSL connection. Yesterday a Verizon tech came to his home and told him the connection was fine; that he couldn't connect to the Internet because of a problem in his computer. Later, a Verizon phone tech told him that his USB DSL connection wasn't working and that he might try installing a network card. Today we did that. When we still couldn't get on the web, I verified with the network card's manufacturer that the connection was fine until the computer reached Verizon. Armed with that information, we called Verizon again. It turned out that their system had somehow lost my friend's User Name and Password; by re-entering it, we could connect. The last Verizon rep, the only one with whom I spoke, was pleasant and knowledgeable. But that's at least three over a two-day period.

Posted by: Marshall | February 27, 2007 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Verizon DSL phone support is hit-or-miss, in my experience. Some techs are script-reading drones who know less than I do; some are friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.

Some of my best experiences have been with IBM tech support when calling for service on a ThinkPad. They trust the customer's word (i.e. they don't force you to go through 30 minutes of scripts just to tell you what you already know), and they have quick turnaround for depot repairs.

Posted by: William | February 27, 2007 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: catester | February 27, 2007 7:41 PM | Report abuse

When my Logitech cordless mouse stopped working, it was no surprise: it had been cranky from the outset. Since my son had the same mouse, we tested the unit and its parts pretty extensively before calling customer service. The rep was helpful, asked what we'd done, said it sounded like we knew what we were doing, and sent me a new mouse and keyboard set, no return of defective equipment. Took about 15 minutes.

When the Linksys Wireless Router died, we did the same level of troubleshooting. (My son has been installing networks since he was 12. I've done A+ and Cisco certs.) It took two calls and about two hours to work through a script with an outsourced agent in India who spoke minimal English (when she couldn't understand what I was talking about, she'd just repeat the same question. I felt like a translator.) After that, the return took weeks, with charges and backcharges to my credit card.

The keyboard set cost me about $10 more than the router had, so we're talking comparable value here. Guess what keyboards I'll keep buying. Guess what routers I'll never use again.

Posted by: mopalia | February 27, 2007 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Trying to decide on an HP and Dell system that I built online. It's down to these two options:

24" LCD monitor, but only offering E6400 Core 2 Duo processor for the discount

22" LCD monitor, with the Intel E6600 Core 2 Duo processor

All other options are about the same, with the same overall price. Which would you go for?

Posted by: Need Help! | February 27, 2007 10:58 PM | Report abuse

02 telephone/web support in the UK.

When using a webform to contact them for support, they insist you type in all your name/poone number and even DOB details, even though you are logged into the site and those details are available to them. When queried on this they said it was for security, but if someone had logged on as me somehow then all the details they'd asked for are available through my profile details on the site!

Then after making contact I get an email confirmation with a unique ID. Each time I respond to that email, the operator du jour re-asks me for my DOB and all the other details, even though that ID must log all those details. Completely insane.

Posted by: Mike | February 28, 2007 5:30 AM | Report abuse

YouTube support- hopeless. I wrote to say that I couldn't login using firefox, and listed everything I had tried, including the suggestions on their FAQ - none of which had worked.

Each time the support person suggested or asked if I'd tried the items in the FAQ. By the time I gave up, I had stated/confirmed that I'd done all of those 6 times (all listed on the thread).

Posted by: MikeW | February 28, 2007 5:32 AM | Report abuse

Hey MikeW, you getting your money's worth at YouTube?

Oh wait, IT'S A FREE SITE YOU FOOL!!!! Don't complain about "customer" service when you aren't a paying customer.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 7:56 AM | Report abuse

I run Linux, on a box I assembled myself back in 2000. I'm my own tech support.

The advantages of doing it this way: Since I assembled the box myself I was able to select the components (by manufacturer) myself, thus ensuring the highest quality. I've had no hardware failures.

The disadvantage to doing it myself: About a 25% cost premium for quality. Still, 7 years later and no hardware failures in rather nice.

The advantage of running Linux, in addition to good security, is that I can get in there and tweak anything that needs tweaking to get maximal performance. The disadvantage is that you have to learn how to do that.

The tech support is free, but what is my time worth?

The PC is beginning to show signs of age and Impending Doom, so I've started to look for a replacement. An iMac that's equivalent to what I want i a PC costs slightly less than the PC would, assuming I built it myself. Interesting. And the Mac runs Unix, and has a Bash shell. Double Hmmm.

Posted by: wiredog | February 28, 2007 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Re: YouTube
a) Why offer customer service if you can't provide it.
b) Google/YouTube makes money off of advertising from users
c) Some customers have to pay

Posted by: MikeW | February 28, 2007 8:29 AM | Report abuse

I also assemble my own parts. Recently I bought a DFI Infinity Crossfire M'board. A Wacom serial pen wouldn't work in either COM 1 or 2. I used a serial port tester and found only a handshake, it wouldn't transfer data at all. My fix was a PCI serial card whose presence in slot 1 made the other 2 PCI slots not function ! I've been using both the pen and the card for 7+ years in an older machine and was told by DFI support that "legacy devices are a pain and why not just leave the PCI card in since -it works-". Needless to say I'm returning the motherboard. I'm waiting on emails from ASUS and MSI support. EPOX wrote back saying that a serial mouse and 3 PCI cards had been tested together in their Crossfire board.I think that's what they meant. The English was so awkward as to be almost incoherent.
I buy US whenever I can,even paying more but can't find any Crossfire boards not made in slave labor China. Yech.

Posted by: Rob vabear | February 28, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, we have Verizon DSL at work. Ha! I simply gave up trying to get anything from them! But I don't see anyone talking about our favorite, Symantec, aka Norton.

We renewed with a five-pack in January. On one of our computers, after a scan runs we never see the Scan Complete panel. I attempted to call and find out why this part of the pact doesn't seem to work on this particular computer. This particular computer seems to fend off all sorts of attacks, according to Norton Anti-Virus, while the other computers in the office are seemingly issue free.

I first went to the web site to get one of those needed, and seemingly required parts, you know the one: the Norton priority ID. I entered my information, clicked the button and waited for the ID. In addition, you can enter some information - not more than 1000 words though - that describes your problem. It all comes out to a short text message. After seeing the Priority ID appear, I called the 800 number. After maneuvering though the phone system, waiting for about 10 minutes and then finally hearing the person's voice, he asked to confirm my information. The representative has an unpronounceable name and very obviously was from India. Now, I didn't think I was dumb, but I realized that he needed to find my information. I figured he should have received the information by now, but realized he might be on Verizon's DSL service. He kept asking me to confirm my entered information. Your phone number, email and one other item total all the information requested by the website. The rep kept asking me to repeat my information. He couldn't really help me with my issue, but hey, he's got all my information.

While waiting for this rep to answer, I saw that Norton has a newer version of NAV that may or may not be only for Vista. You can download it if you ordered from sometime in early January. I wanted to know if we should get this even though I have XP. This rep couldn't answer and transferred me to another rep, who asked for my previously submitted information. I just hung up realizing no one ever asked for my Priority ID number!

Posted by: umm.huh | February 28, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

My worst experience: After getting an HDTV, it took 6 phone calls and 2 days to get the box hooked up. Here is the basic timeline:
Day 1: Had to have an installer come hook it up (apparently it is much too complicated, even though he asked me to do the audio myself since he didn't want to figure it out). An hour later, it the box stopped working.
Call 1: Tried to send a message to tell box to reset, this may take an hour, please call back in an hour.
Call 2: Our records show it is working properly (it wasn't at all). You need to schedule an appointment, because it is too complicated to unhook yourself and replace at local office.
Call 3: Yes, the box is not working. Yes you can take it to the local office.

Day 2: Switched out box at local office (no questions asked). Installed it and it was working, but not yet programmed.
Call 4: Sent a signal, may take up to an hour (got the digital channels, still no HD)
Call 5: Sent a signal, may take up to an hour (lost the digital channels)
Call 6: Sent a signal, check it and see if it works (everything works).

My favorite was that it may take an hour to send an electronic signal on random days/times. When I get good service, the signal is instant; bad service, wait an hour....

Also, called US Cellular about a rebate recently, they couldn't help because their computers were updating (at 1:00 pm) and I need to call back in an hour.

Posted by: Adelphia User | February 28, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

On a call to Comcast, I once had to give my phone number five (5) times! They kept bouncing me around. The most frustrating thing is that if the next new phone rep doesn't even have your phone #, you know you're gonna have to explain the underlying problem AGAIN, too.

Posted by: Ronnie | February 28, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Consumer Reports reader survey was very uncomplimentary about Verizon DSL support, but fairly positive about Verizon FIOS support.

I had intermittant problems with Verizon DSL speed & noise issues. Tech support was far, far less competent than Earthlink or other ISPs. Online self-support resources were useless. Thanks to, I was able to determine that my problem was due to a faulty connection in *another* branch of my interior phone wiring and I fixed it. Since then, Verizon DSL has been rock-solid.

If it hadn't been for forums, Verizon would have one less DSL customer.

Posted by: Doug | February 28, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

What was your problem?

Posted by: Mr. HP Support | February 28, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday I complained about Verizon support. Today I'll put in a good word for Belkin. I had problems with their equipment but in the end the experience was quite positive. And, if Belkin supported all of their customers as well as they supported me,they would go out of business. So I'll buy from them, with confidence, at every opportunity in the future.

Three years ago I changed from dial-up to DSL and purchased all the required accessories from Belkin: network card, wireless router, and USB network adapter. Everything turned out to be incompatible with my computer; it would work for a while and then die. The situation led to numerous conversations with Belkin tech support.

Almost always, individuals knew the procedures applicable to my situation. When they didn't, they would leave me on hold briefly to consult with someone else on their end and return to continue the conversation. When they couldn't get my equipment to work, they replaced it - without making me return the defective items first. Replacements arrived rapidly. This went on for two years, until I replaced my computer; Belkin guarantees its equipment for life. It also provides lifetime technical support.

Posted by: Marshall | February 28, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. HP Support - you'll find out in tomorrow's column :)

Thanks to all for pointing out companies that have done a good job at this. I don't want this to be all about the negativity. Readers also want to know who takes care of customers, and comments like these are a huge help.

- Rob Pegoraro

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | February 28, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Dear Rob,
I understand that your excruciating
experience with HP prompted you to solicit
comments from your -affectionate- readers.
Each of us has of course a bulk of tales
concerning not HP only, but Microsoft,ISPs,
computers' builders and dealers, etc.
However, let me publicly break a lance in
favour of the Italian Google Team.
I had a couple of small problems re.Google
gadgets, and am ashamed to say that I
afflicted them really too much.
Well, I always got immediate mails with
any kind of requests in order to better
evaluate my problems, until they finally solved them for me.
I'd like to know if you and/or your readers
got the same, exemplary support.

My best as usual, Rob.

Posted by: oldboy, Genoa | February 28, 2007 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I have to deal with various companies' tech support in my job. I've been trying to get an HP issue fixed for the last ten days, for a total of about seven hours on the phone. Apple still hasn't come to fix a minor issue reported two weeks ago, they say they're scouring the globe for a logic board. With Dell, I never spend more than twenty minutes on the phone, and usually get the same competent technician the next day. HP and Apple have turned minor problems into larger problems. Which would you choose?

Posted by: JohnofCharleston | March 1, 2007 7:55 AM | Report abuse

ever get a package slip from UPS or FEDEX for a package that requires a signature? I am hardly home and have a leave anyway signed with each company. Nonetheless sometimes it happens anyway. You call FEDEX and get into their voice recognition system. There are no options for "hold the package for pickup", it is "track package". I KNOW WHERE THE PACKAGE WAS AND IS NOW--I DON'T NEED TO TRACK IT! If you hit zero in the menu system when you don't know this... it takes you back to the main menu. IF you hit zero in quick succession multiple times, it takes you to a rep. WONDER! UPS must have a similar system, including voice recognition, but zero and multiple zeros don't work. As an experiment, I said, "how bout f*ck you?" in a quiet voice. It immediately transferred me to a representative. I tried the same thing in FEDEX... instead of multiple zeros... the magic word.. f*ck. It immediately transfered me! Now, I use it all the time... instead of fumbling around in the menu system, I say the magic word! Gotta love it.

Posted by: dan | March 1, 2007 7:48 PM | Report abuse

One of the worst of recent memory is Calumet Photographic.
I was strung along by one of their "tech support" people for over a month with a problem on a RIP I purchased from them. Each week it was a different story.
Finally out of frustration I emailed that was tired of being lied to and I wish that I could reach through the screen to grab him by the throat so I could choke him for awhile. That got someone's attention. An hour later I was emailed by the OEM asking me what the problem was. We resolved the issue within 20 minutes.

Posted by: Larry Wangelin | March 2, 2007 8:09 AM | Report abuse

My problems started when, for unknown reasons, my Internet Explorer 7 cesed to funciton properly. I retreated back to IE 6, and then tried to download IE 7 again. Windows Genuine Advantage validation tool (or whatever they call it), which allows me to download security patches, etc, refuses to allow me to download IE 7.

The Microsoft tech, who communicates with me by e-mail, recognizes that my version of windows is genuine, as indicated in the printout produced by their validation tool, but despite trying the multiple fixes she has suggested, nothing seems to work.

Why can't Microsoft simply override its validation tool to allow a user to install IE 7 when such prolbems exist, rather than making its cuustomers expend many fruitless hours inserting complicated commands in thier registries, all to no effect? It's as though they want to drive their customers away.

Any ideas on how to address my problem?

Posted by: Marty G | March 5, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Now this is the HP that I know. But how do they manage to sell more than Dell?

Posted by: Gary Masters | March 5, 2007 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you and your magic word may have just convinced me that I CAN deal with those awful voice recognition systems after all.

Posted by: ~sg | March 5, 2007 11:01 PM | Report abuse

I had a very bad experience with Dell. I had ordered an Inspiron B130 from them. When the laptop arrived, the sound card seemed to be only half-duplex. I required full-duplex since I planned to do some digital mixing of music. So I contacted Dell online tech support to see if they could help. Here's a summary of my experience:

1) First technician: I ask if the Sigmatel sound card (it's on chip, really) supports full-duplex. He asks "what's 'full duplex' mean?" When I define the term for him, he says "yes, the sound card supports full-duplex." When I ask him to send me documentation to this effect, he sends me all the brochure-ware about the sound card (which I'd already read online), none of which explicitly says "full-duplex". When I press further, he then sends me information about the network card instead (apparently, since the description of the network card contained the phrase "full duplex".) In the end, he insists that the sound card is full-duplex even though he can't provide any documentation to support his claim. I stop talking with him since it's clear he doesn't know anything.

2) Second technician: This time, I try calling tech support on the telephone. After jumping through several hoops (and having my call dropped three times), the technician tells me to run the Dell diagnostic program. After a few hours of running the program, no errors are reported, but, of course, testing to see if the sound card is full duplex or not isn't part of the test suite. The technician doesn't seem to understand that the diagnostic result is not at all conclusive. She simply insists that everything is working fine, and that I should consult their software support staff, at 90 dollars per incident.

3) Third technician: For kicks, I decide to try out the software support system folks. After my call is dropped twice, I finally get a technician who has me try a bunch of stuff, all of which I'd already tried out myself. In the end, he says, "I give up. I don't know. Ask for your 90 bucks back." I actually appreciate his response the most since he's at least honest.

In the end, I sent the B130 back and got an Inspiron 6000 instead. Like the B130, the sound card seemed to be only half-duplex, but a Google search revealed a registry hack that fixed the problem.

Posted by: mk | March 6, 2007 12:00 AM | Report abuse

I was taken by HP support for over $125. When I ordered my Ipaq PDA directly from HP, they sold me a support policy. After a few months, it needed repair, but I was told the policy I had been sold was not appropriate for my model. I spent close to 3 hours over 2 weeks on hold and speaking to various flaks from customer support, sales, tech support, main headquarters, etc to no avail to send me a new policy. Finally I just bought the correct one, but my original went down the drain. I didn't have the time to continue to complain...

Posted by: Doc Rock | March 6, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

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