The Checkout

Tech Non-Support

"Won't you please, please help me."

Little did the Beatles know when they recorded those words more than 40 years ago, how appropriate they'd be today for consumers calling tech-support desks.

But indeed, nearly half of the consumers who contact a computer company's free-tech support line don't get their problems solved. That's what Consumer Reports found in a just published survey (pay required) of more than 20,000 subscribers with computer trouble. Only 55 percent of those surveyed got the help they needed and had their problems solved. That's probably not a big surprise to many of you.

"Free manufacturer support was dismal," with two exceptions: Apple's support for desktops and laptops and IBM for its support on its Lenovo laptops. Apple solved 76 percent of the survey respondent's problems; IBM, 64 percent. By contrast, Compaq had the worst free tech support program, solving just 38 percent of problems and keeping customers waiting a long time.

The magazine also said the extended fee-based warranty plans that are offered by many companies may not be worth the cost. "According to our survey, they didn't reduce many of the hassles people experienced with free support, though they did solve slightly more problems." Again, the exceptions were for IBM's Lenovo because the company solved 75 percent of users' problems and Apple because its free support is only for 90 days.

The other good news: Respondents said they have much better luck at independent support services, which resolved 90 percent of the problems.

And one more thing: Before going on phone-hold forever and being frustrated, consider asking your friends and family. "More than 60 percent of those who turned to family and friends after free support failed had their computer problem fixed," the magazine reported.

PC World has also come to the rescue; in its June 2006 issue, there's an article-- "Never Call Tech Support Again!"--with tips on how to solve your computer problems yourself. Good luck.

By  |  May 9, 2006; 9:15 AM ET Customer Service
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I am curious about the IBM-Lenovo relationship. I understood that IBM sold it's ThinkPad product line to Lenovo, and that IBM no longer had much to do with the ThinkPads. Does IBM provide support for Lenovo? Does the Consumer Reports survey pre-date the ThinkPad deal? Just wondering.

Posted by: John | May 9, 2006 10:34 AM

I'm surprised the number of dissatisfied people is nearly half. I'm guessing the only reason it isn't 100% is because the rest of the people just haven't had computer problems that they need to call customer support for yet.

I bought extended at-home service from Dell and when my computer acted up, they refused to help me. I called Geeks On Call, who fixed the problem - which promptly re-occurred. After one heck of a time trying to get him on the phone, the guy came back, fixed the problem again - and once again, it promptly re-occurred....after which I could not get anybody at Geeks On Call to even answer my call.

I ended up paying a lot of money to have a computer custom built.

The very term tech support is a misnomer. I would call it a crap shoot.

Posted by: lily | May 9, 2006 10:49 AM

Ok, the worse tech support is Dell! The idiots don't speak English! After giving up with them and probably getting burned by a private company, I broke down and bought a new computer. I went to Comp USA this time because they come out to the house. Sure enough this year, after turning on the second computer (a Compaq), flames shot out of the back of the tower; thus the computer was gone. I had an excellent response with Comp USA. Ok, so I was without a computer for a week, but hopefully (knock wood!) my problem is resolved (after the parts were ordered and installed). Bonus? I didn't know I had bought an extended warranty and I saved a bunch of money. Just had to pay for one house call though they came out twice. Compared to the run around with Dell, I was a happy camper this time. Now if somebody could tell Comcast to knock off their crap (never knowing when my broadband cable service at record speed will proceed like dial up), computing now would be just fine!

Posted by: RJ Teich | May 9, 2006 11:08 AM

Wow, thank you so much for telling people to contact their friends and family first. I honestly just love it when someone comes to me with an obscure problem with Windows, which I don't even USE on a daily basis, because I'm the "computer guy". And then I get to spend hours trying to solve their problem.

And people wonder why I want out of the computer business. It's bad enough that I have to deal with everyone's problems at work for a minimum of 8 hours a day.

Posted by: Burned Out Tech | May 9, 2006 11:26 AM

Dell is simply awful. Let me tell you what happened to my wife. She bought a Dell laptop for college. During the year her father had stroke and went into hospice care where he died. My wife, went up to Seattle to be with him, for the 47 days he had remaining. Up there,she wrote a check to Dell, with a letter, for two months payment. Dell cashed the check and evidently tore up the note, because the very next month we got dunned by them for being late. A guy from Dell's Indian call center actually called her on her cell and BERATED her, reduced her to tears. I got involved about then and wrote Dell, requesting an explanation and an apology. I got nothing but double talk; no apology, nothing. Indeed, they sent us, unasked for, some piece of garbage software and billed us for it. We paid Dell off and told them to simply leave us alone. I, an IT manager, had every Dell server at work yanked. Anyone, and I mean anyone, dealing wth Dell Computer has rocks in their head. This is the most odeous, duplicitous, underhanded, company I have ever dealt with and I mean to tell everyone about them and warn them. Oh, and their computer equipment is just plain junk.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 9, 2006 11:58 AM

Fortunately I've not had to call computer tech support for my PC. However, my internet service provider is difficult to deal with. First of all, I am NOT -- repeat NOT -- a computer wonk. I could care less about them and only got a PC at the urging of a friend so we could communicate through e-mail. When I got my PC I also got 6 months of free service through AOL. Well, dropping AOL is like trying to get rid of a stalker. Their 'customer service reps' need rabies shots.

I signed up with instead because it's cheaper and I don't need all the bells and whistles AOL thinks I need. I only want to send and receive e-mails. Juno's 'turbo' service which is supposed to be 5 times faster is slower than molasses in January. Attempting to drop that a go back to mega-mail was an ordeal. Try getting a real live person on the phone to explain your problems.

Posted by: BB | May 9, 2006 12:29 PM

My experience with Tech Support from the major manufacturers has always been good (although slow on answering my call). I do IT work and, wherever possible, I only use Dell workstations, Compaq Servers, Microsoft software, Cisco switchers, routers and firewalls. These are the most stable (but somewhat pricey) configurations. Whenever they breakdown and I have to call their tech support, I'm able to get the fix that I need (usually failed hardware). Of course, I'm also in-the-know, so I'm not going to get snowed by some minimum-wage kid with a script in hand.

I have done (telephone) tech support. The biggest problem I have with users is getting accurate information, whether it's the serial number or a description of the output on the monitor.

WHERE POSSIBLE, the easiest solution is to open up the configuration so that the tech can remote into the box and do the work directly. Of course, this presents security issues, but then so does letting a major appliance repairman into your house in order to fix your dishwasher. I suppose the second easiest solution is to just take it to the seller or a repair depot.

The most difficult solution has got to be telephone tech support. Imagine calling tech support for your car and being told how to change your alternator.

As for the guy who works in the industry but doesn't like to support his family/friends/acquaintances, there are two choices: either start charging or learn how to say "No." Frankly, when I get asked, I do the work at my convenience and on my terms. If that's not acceptable, well, there's always telephone tech support.

Posted by: IT Guy | May 9, 2006 1:06 PM

RE: Burned Out Tech

To parrot IT Guy, give the person a laissez faire schedule. Then remind them if they need it _right now_ there is CompUSA or Geeks on Call.

Even though I met my wife by promising to do a computer rebuild I wouldn't farm yourself out like that. I strung her along for like a month. :)

My exp with tech support in general is usually good or okay. But then again I am computer guy so I can tell when the BS meter is going up. *shrug

Posted by: Sean | May 9, 2006 1:51 PM

Tech support can be bad, but I also think you have to include in those percentage numbers, the people who are totally clueless in using a computer. No matter the amount of tech support given, they would not be able to fix their own problem if the it was spelled out by hooked on Phonics.

Posted by: smith, dc | May 9, 2006 1:55 PM

Smith DC, you hit the nail right on the head! I am one of those that friends/family call to fix their computers. I am all for having people get a "license" before getting a computer. If you can't pass a basic test on spam/spyware/virus/firewalls then you have to go to classes. At least 50% of people out there shouldn't even own a computer, much less get online with it. They are clueless.I think that's part of the reason we have such a problem with spam/virii, because people just happily click away no matter how many times they are told not to. And don't get me started on people who actually BUY stuff from spammers!

Posted by: JW | May 9, 2006 2:26 PM

I recently tried to upgrade my AOL 7.0 to 9.0 (I know, I was woefully behind the times!). When I did the upgrade however, I kept getting an error message saying that there was no modem and I couldn't sign on to 7.0 or 9.0. I called AOL and talked to FIVE customer service reps who all said they didn't know how to help me - that the problem was with definitely with my computer and not with the AOL software even though it was working fine until I did their upgrade. They referred me to Microsoft where I had to pay $35 an hour for a customer service rep who said the problem definitely was with the AOL software. He was actually helpful and offered to do a conference call with me and AOL but (and here's the kicker!), AOL has a policy against this so I had to pretend that the Microsoft tech guy who was clearly not in the United States was my friend who was over helping me with my computer and we had called in to AOL together. The AOL rep was absolutely no help at all and eventually hung up on us when we wouldn't accept his "Sorry, can't help you" response. The Microsoft guy did at least say that since he was unable to resolve my problem he would refund my $35 payment. In the end, I resolved the problem myself - by downloading AOL 8.0 and everything worked fine. I called AOL customer service for a follow up to let them know how disappointed I was in their customer service and their response was "Sorry you aren't happy with the service you received. I'm sure the numerous AOL employees you spoke with did their best. Anything else I can help you with today?". Of course, I'm the sucker in this because I continue to pay AOL for their lousy internet service and practically non-existent customer service. No wonder they aren't the shining star they once were.

Posted by: RNM | May 9, 2006 2:41 PM

I have a suggestion: spend the extra bucks, get a Mac. Even extensive, hair-rending computer problems can be solved with a little research on the web. And no viruses to deal with (yet)!

Also, most computer problems have happened to other people first; before buying a machine or installing some major software, do a little poking around on the web first, and you'll find ways to avoid major headaches.


Posted by: fever | May 9, 2006 3:21 PM

re: Dell is simply awful

Dell probably processed the payment as 1 month's payment plus an additional amount for principal. Thus, the payer never got credit for two months of payments. Dell's computer still thought the second month's payment was due.

Sending in a payment with special processing instructions is a recipie for disaster. NEVER try to confuse the clerks who take in payments. You're better off setting up automatic payments charged to your credit card or checking account.

re: AOL

AOL is the biggest worm/virus/malware of them all. And it comes pre-loaded on nearly every computer sold at retail. Getting rid of AOL and getting cable/DSL broadband is one of the best ways to speed up any computer.

Posted by: Ken L | May 9, 2006 3:34 PM

way to go, fever! i just switched jobs to a non-mac office after two years in a mac office (also have an ibook at home), and i had forgotten how bad these PCs are. switch to mac, people!

Posted by: toadstyle | May 9, 2006 3:35 PM

I hate to disillusion Fever, but there are Macintosh-specific viruses out there. Granted, they are far fewer in number, but they do exist.

Posted by: Antipyretic | May 9, 2006 4:13 PM

I like my Dell and have not had any problems! Now, my Gateway was a headache...

Posted by: Dell lover | May 9, 2006 4:31 PM

I just build a puter for myself whenever I need one or upgrade one from the parts from pawn shops. Never ever had any probs... yet.

Posted by: Smart Me | May 9, 2006 5:50 PM

if you have a tech problem that doesn't involve a return/refund/replacement, the magic word is GOOGLE. or YAHOO, or whatever your favorite search engine is. type keywords to your problem, find a support forum online somewhere, and read. if that doesn't work, ask a friend. if that doesn't work, or if you are absolutely certain that your only chance for a solution is at the company that made your device, call tech support.

i seem to recall some special tech support service (was it Dell???) that--for a price--assigns you a specific technician for x years of your warranty....that sounds like a great idea.

Posted by: Eric | May 9, 2006 6:57 PM

I'm not surprised Compaq is at the bottom of the list. I had an absolutely horrendous experience with them. I was without a computer for 6 weeks, which would have been fine if they had let me send it to them so they could fix it. No. That would be too easy and good for my mental health. I'm not going to rehash what I already wrote. Just re-live the nightmare here:

Posted by: SpakKadi | May 9, 2006 8:50 PM

I had a Gateway laptop that was a piece of crap. The free tech support was helpful. Having to send in my laptop for weeks long repairs wasn't.

Posted by: ProfessorB | May 10, 2006 7:59 AM

fever and toadstyle - don't give away our secret!!

Posted by: i*heart*apple | May 10, 2006 9:09 AM

The extended warranty on Thinkpads is great. I bought mine in 2004 and when it stopped working, IBM tech support answered the phone more quickly and gave me the runaround far less than Dell did. When that still wasn't enough, a repair technician came to my home to fix the computer. The one problem is that repair technicians aren't allowed to bring more than one or two spare parts per house call, so the second time my computer had severe problems I ended up sending it back to the repair shop with him - and he brought it back working fine.

Posted by: Susan | May 15, 2006 10:03 AM

Hey Guys,
Stopping cursing Dell or Compaq for your problems,'coz the real problem lies with you yourself.You Americans are dumbheads and do not understand simple english.
I have worked with two call centres in India (IBM and DELL),and you know what are we told on the first day of our training."The Intelligence Quotient i.e IQ of 45 year old average American is equal to IQ of a 7 year old INDIAN"
So it gets kinda tuff explaining things to u dumbheads.First of all learn the basics of computers and then call customer care if you do not want to be fooled.Learn the basic parts of computers and it is configuration,and a request in the end "PLEASE STOP USING THE CD ROM AS A COFFEE TRAY"

Posted by: IT GUY | May 21, 2006 7:18 AM


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