Bad support

Is there anything more frustrating than contacting a company’s support line with a detailed problem report and having to walk through a set of canned answers that are clearly inappropriate to solving the current problem?

I’ve had that experience twice in the past week. Once with Qwest, where a support agent actually asked me to unplug the phone cord from my DSL adapter and reverse it, taking the end that had been plugged into the wall and connecting it to the modem, and vice versa. I was momentarily speechless as I tried to figure out what good this could possibly do, but the agent insisted this had to be done before she would proceed. This was after power-cycling the adapter twice and disconnecting it completely for five minutes while they “ran some tests”. I finally refused to go any further when the agent wanted me to take the modem outside (presumably with a 50-foot extension cord) and connect it to the input jack on the outside of the house. Uh, no, I won’t do that. The problem, it turned out, was a faulty card in the phone company network center at the end of our block. How do I know that? Because the supervisor I finally insisted on speaking to actually checked and discovered that no one in my neighborhood was showing an active connection. Imagine that.

(In the interests of fairness, I should note that Qwest’s support professionals for their broadband phone [VoIP] service are first-rate. Amazingly good, in fact, perhaps because they know how to listen. Qwest’s other divisions should learn from them.)

Then, today, I was downloading some music tracks from the subscription-based Rhapsody service and was suddenly disconnected from the server. Trying to log back in kept failing. After waiting 15 minutes, I contacted Rhapsody support via their web-based chat interface. The agent seemed intent on resetting my password even though it was pretty clear the problem was either on the network or at the server. (Hint: I was connected using saved credentials, and the problem started when I was suddenly disconnected.) After ten minutes of this pointlessness, the Rhapsody servers came back online, the software reconnected, and my downloads resumed. No thanks to the clueless front-line support tech.

So, what’s your worst experience ever? Any excellent service stories to tell?

20 thoughts on “Bad support

  1. Yeah, a few months ago my DSL went down with no notice. Phoned support, was told that there was no faults with the service, problem had to be my end. Hmmm.
    Three hours later, no DSL. Phoned again, ran through tests, was told that my modem was dead. Bought new modem (I’d given away or blown up my spares so I had to rush out and buy a new one at a vastly inflated price). That didn’t work.
    Back to support. While I’m on hold, modem suddenly starts working. Ask support what the deal is. “Oh, it’s the phone company, they’ve been working on the system … we were told about it this morning.”

  2. Poor support experiences are the norm. I’d be writing for days if I tried to document it all. One that’s stuck with me for many years is the Sprint agent who called me a “liar” when I called trying to correct a billing issue and wouldn’t escalate me to a supervisor after making that statement. So I connected myself to the cancellation department. In recent weeks I’ve called in to Roku (Netflix) and Vudu tech support lines and got quick, professional, and knowledgeable assistance. A nice surprise. I also remember having good experiences with Harmony (in Canada) shortly after they were acquired by Logitech – including them customizing my profile for me (changing timing/delays or something like that, which I couldn’t access through their tools at the time).

  3. This is customer service and not tech support related, but…

    I have been trying for a MONTH to get Verizon to Upgrade my FIOS to the next level up. I’m actually telling them that I will gladly pay MORE money for their next level of product, which I know very well that they offer here.

    I have called in 8 times now, with the same two answers every other time:
    1) Alright, your order has been processed and will take effect in a few hours (liars)
    2) There’s a problem with your account that will take 3 days to fix. (liars)

    Verizon is just simply awful. They should simply answer the phone and say “How can I pretend to help you today?”

  4. My worst was with Nextel. I dropped my phone two stories onto concrete, it fell out of my pocket. I told them the truth and they said I could get a refurbished for $50 and I agreed. About a month later a $499 charge showed up on my bill. They said I wasn’t eligible for the $50 replacement because the phone had water damage. It took two months and way too many phone calls to get the situation fixed. The only reason why they finally took it away is because I said I wanted to cancel and I would pay the $499 and the $250 for cancellation. I canceled 4 months later when my contract was up.

    For computers I generally get very good customer service because of our higher education accounts. Next day parts and repairs if need be. For Macs we have our own registered repair center.

  5. There’s GOT to be some way for technically adept people to skip the front-line technician, and get immediately elevated to someone who knows what’s going on. To avoid having this wasted on Joe Sixpack, you’d need something like a pop quiz: “What is the server SKU of Windows Vista?” Know the answer? Then you don’t have to deal with the front-line people.

    @How-To Geek: It gets worse if you’ve ever had to do any sort of bundle with them. Verizon seems to have totally separate computers systems, and support staff, for DSL, local, long-distance, and FiOS. And some of these are separate too, because of all the legacy systems from acquisitions. (This is not counting Verizon Wireless which is a joint venture, not a Verizon subsidiary. Actually, I think Wireless has got the worst customer service of them all.)

    Even good companies are luck-of-the-draw, depending on which CSR you get. And sometimes you get really lucky at companies with bad support.

  6. Been there. I have a couple of tips for dealing with clueless tech support folks:

    Especially when dealing with a huge company like Qwest, as soon as the rep starts to annoy me, argue with me, or tell me to turn a cable backwards (!), I hang up on them and call back. You get a new rep every time you call, and sometimes you’ll get a good one. Or at least a polite one.
    I tell them “I’m a network consultant and I’m helping my customer, so-and-so, get their service working.” This often shortcuts the treat-me-like-an-idiot routine. Sometimes I have to throw in some technical jargon, like “I’ve run a continuity test and I think the issue is at the NOC.” This sometimes gets me escalated to someone who knows what they’re doing, too.

  7. I had a case where my DSL connection slowed to a crawl but only in peak hours (4pm to around 11pm). Explained it to phone support and told them their modem’s own diagnostic showed problems on the ATM OAM segment.

    Nope says support, must be a virus on your machine. A virus that impacts performance for all my machines (Win/Mac/Linux) and only during peak usage hours? After the third call I opened up a ticket via email and attached screenshots of the modem diagnostics and ping stats to their gateway in the evening and the morning. That eventually made it to someone who could help me.

  8. I once had the misfortune of recieving ISP services from the ISPchannel (who, like the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, were first up against the wall when the revolution came). In their wisdom, they put in a caching proxy in front of their NNTP servers, and configured it so that any connection on port 119 was directed through the proxy, even if it was supposed to go to a different USENET srever (such as Microsoft’s beta newsgroups for example 🙂 The net result was that any newsgroup that wasn’t on their servers wouldn’t connect.

    I tried to explain the problem to the “tech support” person and realized (after wasting 30 minutes of my life) that I’d need to start from first principles with TCP/IP then move on tricky concepts like proxies and NNTP servers. Eventually I managed to get to someone who had a clue and the problem was resolved.

    These days when the tech support person says to perform some operation that is either clearly pointless or that I’ve already tried several times, I just pretend to do it, then tell ’em it didn’t work 😉

  9. @Tom, yes, it would be nice to be able to skip the basic stuff. Once I can get a ticket opened with a higher level tech, I can generally get transferred fairly quickly, with any company, but the first call is always the long one.

    I have discovered that using lingo the first level tech doesn’t understand generally works well. Talking about signal to noise ratios on DSL lines works the best with Verizon techs. I also got the pager number of a tech who lives down the street, and I can get him assigned to the jobs if someone ever needs to come out. He is the best technician Verizon has, and by requesting him, I save hours of time. (Of course, fortunately, I haven’t had to have someone come out in a long time, but during the first year or so, there were people all the time). Apparently, some people don’t really notice that their internet is down, or don’t really care. Most of Pittsburgh’s Verizon customer had flaky internet for a week before they finally believed me that I didn’t need to reboot my computer, and that they had a bad network card. But, very few people actually called them.

    If I wasn’t so cheap, I’d go with, you can native speakers of English and the techs really know what they are talking about. But, the monthly cost was $50 versus Verizon’s $15, so I stuck with the $15. I am moving north of Pittsburgh and need to find new service, so I’ll need to pay a lot more, probably to a cable company.

  10. LOL .. “unplug the phone cord from my DSL adapter and reverse it, taking the end that had been plugged into the wall and connecting it to the modem, and vice versa.”

    I worked at college IT phone support before, and that was a polite way to tell the technology clueless students: “Dude, I think your cable was somehow unplugged even though you insist otherwise”. The downside is if the other end is Ed Bott, it’s a not that appropriate : )

    But we fixed LOTS and LOTS of cases with that single instruction. Go figure : )

  11. I’ve got two. One happened January 07 and the other was just a few weeks ago.

    Last year I moved my computer (HP tower) across the room and it started making a horrible noise and crashing constantly. I opened it up and saw that the CPU fan had fallen out… no idea how, but it came apart while moving it apparently. It was still connected to the wires but after spending hours trying to get the thing back on it just would not fit properly! I called HP to get someone to fix it… it took me 2 1/2 hours of speaking with people from all over India, going through tons and TONS of pointless exercises before they would send a box for me to send the computer back to them. Exercises such as making sure the RAM was plugged in properly, running diagnostic reports etc…. this was the case even though I told them it was the CPU fan (and I had already done most of them)! Anyway, once I sent it to them I waited two weeks for my computer to get back and when I go to open it………… the CPU fan is not only disconnected, but not even hooked up to the wires anymore! It’s just rolling around inside the tower!! I get on the phone with them for – get ready for this – 4 hours before they’ll take it back again (they had me go through the same things as in the first phone call, and after 2 hours accidentally got disconnected. When I got back on the phone again they absolutely would not go forward without doing the same procedures over…. again… for. the. third. time…) … by the end one of the reps had actually said, “wow, it sounds like they didn’t even do any work on it at all”…. no duh… another two weeks later and the computer comes back with a new CPU fan. It never crashed again… who knew it all it needed was just a new CPU fan? Oh wait, that was me…

    A full month without my tower, 6 1/2 hours on the phone, and never once speaking to someone who knew how to properly speak English clinched my decision to never buy an HP computer again.

    Last month, I was looking at my churches website (which I design) and noticed hundreds of the past 4 years worth of sermons were not showing up. I checked and the files seemed to exist but I could not access them in the browser or http://FTP... after contacting the hosting company (Globat) I was told continually to take some step that I had JUST explained that I had already done (like go into FTP and change the CHMOD to 755). This continued for about a week and they started to ignore my emails and there was never anyone at the service desk (so much for 24/7 support). Finally, after two weeks I was told that the files I was seeing were actually ghost files (i.e. they didn’t exist) and that the server crashed two weeks before and the files had been lost. I asked them to upload a backup and was told to re-upload the files myself because they don’t keep backups that are two weeks old (if they had gotten it right from day one!!!!) ……….. yeah, no problem except that these files come from different people all over the church and are anywhere from 30 – 50 MB each… over four years that’s a lot of MB’s and files to track down! Eventually we got most of them, but this was just the final straw for this hosting company. Besides nearly daily downtime, 4 years of billing “accidents” that always worked in their favor, horrificly slow servers, impossible to find support and features that I pay for that just haven’t worked for over 2 years…… I finally gave up on them and started looking else where…. they must have gotten wind of it because before I could move they had a server hack and everyone who hosted with them got their sites hacked (3 of them were mine incidentally)… So, yeah, NEVER go with hosting. They are so horrible it’s almost laughable!

    Uh oh… my twitch is back 😐

  12. Telephone support is not easy. Most customer support agents have little real world experience with the technology they are “fixing”. They usually work from scripts that someone else wrote. It is not surprising that they are often clueless.

    Furthermore, it is common for large companies, particularly the commuications giants, to not talk within the family and let the CSRs know when the network is the problem.

    On the other hand, I recently had two support calls where both AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless support personnel were spot-on in diagnosing BlackBerry email issues and fixing them. They were polite, American based and knowledgeable. Wow, was that a shock. Kudos to AT&T and Verizon.

  13. When hurricane Wilma came through south Florida in 2005, a neighbor’s tree limb came down on the power/cable tv/ telephone lines that run along my property. Everything survived the limb except the phone/DSL drop to my house. It was severed in the yard. Upon calling Bellsouth (now ATT), their automated repair order system gave me a date 45 days out. Considering the damage in the area, that didn’t seem unreasonable.

    I went out to pick up the telephone lines to get them out of the grass so I could mow my yard. I took a clip on telephone test set that I’ve had for years (I’ve been in telephone equipment business for nearly 30 years). The line was still in service, so my next stop was the phone company wire center (where all the repair trucks live). I asked them for 40 feet of drop wire and some gel filled splices. After explaining to them what was going on, they had time to realize I knew what I was doing and was serious about doing it, one of the guys told me they couldn’t give me anything. I told them I would then go ahead and fix it using my own parts until they could come out in 45 days. The guy asked me for my address and said to go home and he would see me in an hour.

    Within 90 minutes of that visit, a bucket truck was on my property and hung a completely new drop cable from the road along three poles and to my house. The electricity didn’t come back on for another 2 weeks, but I had a landline and DSL back. Any time my generator was running, I was checking email.

  14. Support is frustrating isn’t it? I work technical support fixing DSL for a business phone company. I would love to just have a line for technical people to call versus mundanes, but the problem is half the mundanes think they’re technical and would call the tier 2 line and tie it up with minor stuff. Then there’s the know-it-all consultants who THINK they’re technical and want to ask about all sorts of innane stuff unrelated to their problem, and then you find out their problem is that some ping on a traceroute was a little higher than they’d like – not that it’s affecting their service in ANY way, they just like to ping stuff so they can call up and nitpick.

    That said, I agree that with most telecom companies, getting past the first tier support is frustrating. I’m proud to say that our front line tech support group is headquartered in the US with personally trained technicians rather then standardized web classes. We have no scripts that we go off of. Each problem is being worked by the person you talk to.

    Frustratingly enough, we DO have to go through a lot of those steps. Powercycling with the modem cord unplugged often does seem to help. Reversing the cord is a new one on me though. Some of the weird stuff comes out as a result of customer resistance to necessary troubleshooting. When I ask someone to powercycle, what I’m doing is not just wasting time, but actually I’m hoping to see the modem send an authentication attempt through. Though I would NEVER ask a customer to take their modem out to the demarcation point on a DSL – that’s the job of the dispatched tech! That’s WHY you dispatch a tech! No one in our group could imagine asking a customer to do that.

  15. In support of us “tech support” types everywhere:

    About 30 years ago, I was in charge of the 24/7/365 Job Control for the Communications Squadron at an Air Force base in New Mexico.

    Late one moonless night, our night shift controller got a call from the Security Police reporting all the closed-circuit TV monitors for the exterior of their CCF (Central Control Facility) were black, and they wanted someone to come out right away and fix them.

    Our controller explained that our CCTV support agreement and manning did not call for “other than normal duty-hours” support and that a technician would be dispatched first thing in the morning. That was unacceptable to the impertinent new butterbar (2nd Lieutenant) Security Police Watch Commander who insisted we send someone out now. It soon escalated to command level where I was directed to send CCTV out “as a courtesy to our customer”, and the command sections would deal that Lieutenant, and policy later.

    When the CCTV technician arrived, sure enough, nothing could be seen on the monitors. He looked outside and saw nothing there either. He turned around, flipped the switches labeled in 3 inch letters, “AUTOMATIC CCF EXTERIOR LIGHTING – DO NOT TURN OFF!” to the “ON” positions, verified the building exterior could now be seen in the monitors, and walked out.

  16. Adobe Acrobat (full version) support: There are no problems with Acrobat, it’s always another product. Just format your hard drive, and reinstsall only Windows and Acrobat. Then add your other apps back one at a time until you find the one that’s keeping Acrobat from working.

    It doesn’t get much worse than that.

  17. I have been fairly lucky with tech support, twice this year Microsoft gave me great support when I needed it. The first time was when I had a BSOD when installing SP1 on my primary desktop. The technician listened to everything I had tried to get it to work, she then told me I had a corrupted system file and would need to do a repair/upgrade install with my install disk, it worked perfect and the machine has worked great ever since. The second was when my Zune died suddenly a few weeks ago, the tech support listened to me when I explained I had attempted a reset already and instead of telling me to try it again, she simply got my shipping address and told me they’d send me a box to return the item which I got a few days later.

  18. A while back I managed to get hold of a semi-secret phone number for Qwest DSL support that actually got you to people who knew what they were doing. I’ll have to see if I can dig it up again.

  19. I think the most telling is that Dell has now admitted how bad their support is and is now upselling to better support. They have a support product now called Dell Pro Support and two of the features listed are “Quick, direct line access to North American-based technicians” and “Advanced (Level 2) technicians with additional hardware and/or software certifications.” To get this it will cost you about $100 extra for a 3-year warranty. Also it is implied this used to be as part of a lower tier (free?) service offering. See for yourself at

  20. If you haven’t read my rant about up above, read that before the next paragraph because….

    … just when I thought they were gone for good, I get a billing notice… they actually charged me for another year of hosting, plus another year for my domain, which is not in their possession anymore! I swear, these guys are like the leeches that are wearing the bad sock, stuck to my side!

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