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Tech Support: The Good, Bad & Ugly
Vizio and Microsoft score high marks on this consumer tech support report card. Apple, AT&T and LG do not fare as well.
tech support
August 26, 2008 by Richard M. Sherwin

Over the last few months, my friends, my family and I all had some tech support issues… with a combo HD-DVD/Blu-ray Player from LG; a camcorder from Hitachi; a Vizio TV, a Media Center Desktop PC from Dell and HP (using Vista Service Pack 1); a switchover from Cable to DSL and back to Cable a whole house Wi-Fi audio system and an Apple iPhone.

Which do you think got fixed first, what was last? Wrong! Keep guessing.

Since hardly anything in this high tech age works perfectly from the get go, it is sometimes the manufacturer’s or service provider’s customer/tech support that makes the difference between a happy, repeat customer and a pull-out-the-hair, I- will-always-hate-this- company experience. And, unfortunately, thanks to all the new features, even usually reliable TV makers have added, the learning curve or usability experience is also going downhill fast.

The Good
If you throw in the fact that many products now have to partially rely on the Internet or cable and telephone companies, well, you do the math. The odds on getting good service from almost any service provider is not good. If you look at some recent industry statistics, a few of the of the most notorious offenders in the “we don’t care about you” product categories are… Microsoft - in all aspects of computing and Vizio - in TVs.

But surprise-surprise friends, neighbors and family recently had great experiences with the customer and tech support groups at Vizio and Microsoft. Both companies (on an image improvement campaign) were quick to answer the phone and unbelievably quick to solve a problem or two and to act on the issues with the least amount of hoops to jump through. And they were the leaders during our recent excursion into customer and tech support hell.

My neighbors 60-inch Vizio Plasma TV purchased at BJs wholesale club wouldn’t work at all except for an occasional blurry screen. My neighbor called the phone number on the install booklet and Vizio sent out a repair person in one day. He diagnosed the problem and offered either an on-site repair which might take a few hours or a replacement TV. My neighbor chose a replacement and the unit arrived on schedule and was up and running perfectly the next day.

In the case of Microsoft, many of the video features expected to be cleaned up by the download of Vista’s first system upgrade called Service Pack 1, actually caused more problems for my experienced PC and video-editing friends. But after getting Microsoft tech support and the group specially assigned for Vista issues, my friend was guided through every stage of the download, re-install and even helped out with some user-caused problems. Microsoft took over his PC with a newly revamped remote repair console, walked and talked him through the issues and made sure the system worked before signing off.

The Bad
Now my insurance guy, who relies on his iPhone for making money off my family and others and, even more importantly, needs to be there for the occasional home or car emergency, was out of luck the last few weeks. The usually reliable Apple Inc. not only didn’t admit it had a problem but its partner, AT&T, also relinquished its spot as a top customer care provider by not having a fix ready for its increasingly vulnerable network. What made matters worse is, if you also had AT&T DSL or AT&T landline service, it was nearly impossible to get through to the new Ma Bell, because they didn’t anticipate how many resources the wireless and wired company would need to deal with for severe technology issues in two unrelated parts of the company.

Apple’s iPhone problems resulted in consistently bad cell-phone reception everywhere in the country for many users over the iPhone-AT&T network. Many iPhone-ites were also effected by almost non-existent web- browsing and loads of related and unrelated issues that occurred at the same time. But Apple, known for mostly manageable iPod tech support and above average Mac Computer support was unprepared for the newest iPhone problem.

What may make matters worse, now that a quick fix for iPhoners was put in place, was that reportedly, the company will not ramp up for any further disruptions believing that its customer base is so loyal that it will put up being a sucker. The recent iPhone patch, and AT&T fix, is supposed to be only temporary. So my insurance guy and yours, too, might be out of service again soon.

Phone and computer companies have always been known for disrespecting their customers, but a CE - TV maker? And what happens when the TV maker needs an online support system to solve its problems? Recently my niece had some issues with a terrific LG HD-DVD/Blu-ray player. I have the same unit and agreed to make the call to LG, while she chased her kids. I got through fast enough to tech support, who diagnosed the problem over the phone and indicated, that the problem was known and because my nieces’ warrantee expired, it would be $154 to repair it. She loves the player and because she is unluckily one of the people who collected many movies on HD-DVD she was willing to repair it.

Now things got interesting when customer support asked me to hang on while I got switched to the pickup and delivery part of LG, where my packaging directions would come from. The 25-minute wait on hold led me to hear that LG provided support for technological issues for everything from washer dryers to DVD players on their web site.

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Richard M. Sherwin - Contributing Writer
Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.

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