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How Long Should a Consumer Wait on Hold for Technical Support?

A friend of mine regularly calls me up to ask tech support questions about commercial applications. While I generally have no problem about helping him (I’ve pestered enough of my own geek friends at one time or another), I’ve frequently advised him to call technical support of the company supporting the application. That is after all what you pay for when you bought the product. Those people have the best knowledge for solving your problem quickly. No matter how brilliant your friends are, a dimwit technical support guy can probably solve the problem faster.

My friend had complained about Roxio tech support, and I dismissed it. I had lots of experience waiting on hold for tech support. I spent a good three days on hold with ATI about my video card. Actually, ATI is not a bad company, and their tech support was pretty good (if you could reach them). The problem turned out to have nothing to do with ATI and everything to do with quirks of Windows Me.

But nothing can compare to the hell I experienced in calling Roxio, the maker of Easy CD Creator Platinum 5.0. I called up, had to input something called a TSID number. Later, after 10-15 minutes of waiting, an operator came on to tell me that my TSID number was wrong. After keying in my registration and serial number, the operator concluded that the number typed on my box was a misprint. She gave me a new number entirely and put me into the tech support queue.

So I waited. And waited. After 30-35 minutes of additional waiting, the phone system hung up on me. Just like that! I called again, and after about 50 minutes of waiting, the Roxio telephone tech support system hung up on me again!! I know it couldn’t have been me; I was on speakerphone the whole time and couldn’t have accidentally hung up.

At that point I just decided that getting help wasn’t worth it. I sent a demand via email for a product refund. Roxio had already proved itself unreliable at answering support calls.

Just two weeks ago I raved about how Roxio’s site documentation was. And even now, I agree that it is wonderful. It is a model of what a site should be, and indeed while waiting, I browsed through the knowledge database, downloaded upgrades and drivers for my hardware. But it did not solve my problem and I still needed tech support.

It makes sense for companies to spend lavishly on documentation if it results in fewer technical support calls. But it seemed to me that Roxio seemed to have documented an awful lot of technical support issues for their software. Perhaps not only has Roxio skimped on tech support, but also testing as well. The irony is that the software itself looks very impressive from a usability point of view. I might have endured a long wait on telephone support if I could feel confident that someone would get on the line.

Companies seem to have the perception that people overuse tech support, that they do so only because they are too lazy to read the documentation or troubleshoot by themselves. Actually, there is nothing LESS that consumers would rather do than to call technical support. Believe me when I say that if we are calling tech support, we are probably very frustrated and even a bit angry. We have already read the documentation and tried everything we know of to fix the problem.

That is why it was so surprising that Roxio’s telephone system should be so unreliable. To turn your Customer Relations Management to an automated telephone system, you need to be 100% confident that it will not lose calls. A system that fails to do this is by definition not a system that can be used.

It’s funny how small irrelevant details like this can torpedo customer satisfaction. I once bought a refurbished computer from Dell (yes, the company where I worked!) and was dismayed to find that my computer delivery was delayed a week and a half because the person taking the phone order forgot to read me an oral agreement over the phone. The rep had just finished asking me 100 other questions and had been entering them into a database. The order system asked me about my income, my college education and my hobbies, but it never bothered to ask me to okay a verbal agreement which determined whether the sale went through. Completing this step seemed so vital to me that I would have thought that the rep’s computer terminal would have big flashing lights go off when this step was overlooked. (I ended up cancelling the order and building my own computer from generic parts).

The Roxio incident indicates the dangers of cutting costs too much. Roxio had the most expensive burning product on the market for $90, but its tech support staff was still woefully understaffed. How hard would it have been to raise the sticker price 5 or 10 dollars for better telephone tech support? Instead, Roxio seemed to be hoping that the fraction of consumers needing tech support would not overshadow the majority of consumers who were generally happy with the product out of the box. On that matter they were 100% wrong.

Finally, I need to mention getting answers from newsgroups. I used this option often when needing answers to linux questions. For these questions, one usually has lower expectations and a patience for getting the answer. I usually give 48 hours for a decent newsgroup response. If software vendors don’t provide timely support, what advantage do they have against open source software?

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