Do You Have Tech Support Rage?

Category: Reference

If you own any modern appliance or electronic gadget, you’ve probably suffered the dreaded agony of calling for “Tech Support.” Even the most even-tempered human quickly experiences alarming symptoms: sharply increased blood pressure, trembling fingers, reddening face, rising voice, and colorful language. Is it possible that tech support services are in fact *designed* to elicit such a response from you? Read on for the full story…

Is Tech Support Designed to Enrage You?

This condition even has a name among mental health professionals: “tech support rage.” And in many cases, it's also quite deliberately induced by the companies you call for tech support.

There’s an old proverb: “Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.” But the companies that design devilish tech support systems are not stupid; they know exactly what they’re doing and what effects it has on customers.

They analyze every call to see what buttons you press, how long you wait on hold, and what you say to the interactive voice response system, including the naughty words. They seek, quite successfully, to strike an optimal balance between losing customers and avoiding the unprofitable expense of talking to them.

Got Tech Support Rage?

Then, if you persist and finally get a live human being on the line, “the system” is designed to make your interaction with him or her as painful and unhelpful as possible. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), conducted a survey of its members, all customer service managers. It found that 92% of them think their agents could be more effective, and 74% said their companies’ procedures prevented agents from being more effective.

That bears repeating: three out of four customer service managers say their companies’ carefully designed and precisely documented procedures prevent you from getting satisfaction. They are well aware of it, and no one is doing anything to change those policies.

Why is Tech Support So Frustrating?

The reason is “money,” of course. Most tech support is provided free of charge, so companies want to provide as little of it as possible. Rather than make products that work as advertised, are easy to figure out, and don’t break, they do all they can to make customers go away with their problems.

This is not just my own little conspiracy theory. Justin Robbins, who was once a tech support agent himself and now oversees research and editorial at ICMI, told the New York Times in an interview: “Don’t think companies haven’t studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service. Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you’re hearing messages like, ‘If you’d like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.’”

In my experience, this treatment isn't limited to the world of computers and tech gadgets. I called Sears, wanting to schedule a service appointment for our broken dishwasher. Even though we have a pre-paid service contract, the rep started asking ridiculous questions, in an attempt to "help me" diagnose and fix the problem myself. He then put me on hold, allegedly to find the service manual, and when he returned, he offered to email me some helpful do-it-yourself instructions.

No thanks, I'm not going to stick my head in there and fiddle with the whatchamacallits. Just send a technician, please! I eventually got so frustrated that I hung up on the guy. Which is probably just what they wanted me to do. I called back, and got a different rep. And oddly, he was amazingly friendly and helpful. My service visit was scheduled right away. But the cynic in me thinks this is all part of a plan to minimize the expense of sending techs on service calls.

This strategy works best when customers cannot switch to another company. Unsurprisingly, the ICMI survey found that managers in monopolistic markets, such as cable TV or public utilities, reported “agents could be more effective” and “procedures prevent agents from being more effective” at much higher rates than managers in competitive markets. Startups are also more eager to please than incumbents, as anyone who has dealt with a big company and a newcomer can confirm.

The First Line of Defense

Paid services don’t want you to cancel your account, and often have “retention agents” who will argue with you rather than let you cancel your subscription. Some even use software bots to put roadblocks between you and the Cancel Button. But services like AccountKiller provide the necessary directions for deleting accounts on many social networks and websites.

If you persist and finally get a live human being on the line, don’t expect him or her to solve your problem. The first person you speak with probably knows less about the product and its vagaries than you do. The ICMI survey also found that 73% of managers report tech support calls are getting “more complicated,” as customers are increasingly sophisticated and solve simpler issues on their own (or with the help of online forums and sites such as mine).

The “procedures” that companies inculcate into customer service agents emphasize minimizing phone time with each customer, not solving problems. So when your call approaches the magic two-minute mark, you are going to be put on “terminal hold” while the agent moves on to other calls, or transferred to “escalated” support to wait forever for someone who actually knows the product.

I recently spent over an hour on the phone with an Optimum tech support person, trying to diagnose a problem with my cable modem. We never got beyond “power it off, and then back on again.” I repeatedly asked the rep if they could confirm that my modem had an assigned IP address. That seemed to flummox him/her, and we kept going back to the most basic troubleshooting steps. When it became clear to me that the tech rep had no technical savvy, and was just reading from scripts, I hung up.

Who wouldn’t totally lose his temper after an hour of such treatment? It’s deliberate, it’s cunningly contrived, and it’s pervasive throughout the customer support industry. It’s not just you.

There are exceptions to this dastardly convention. Amazon’s customer service reps get high marks for actually solving problems, and doing it swiftly and efficiently. They are empowered to do things for customers like send out a replacement product immediately, or issue a refund.

I've also had consistently good experiences over the years with Verizon tech support, for both billing and technical issues. When a rep can’t help, they pass you on to a “Level 2” or “Level 3” support person who specializes in the specific problem you have. But in most cases, when you call tech support for a large company, you are going to be driven to the verge of murder. So be prepared.

How to Make Friends and Influence Tech Support People

Do whatever it takes to avoid losing your temper with an agent; that won’t get your problem solved, it will just get you put on terminal hold faster. Take a deep breath. Meditate. Take a chill pill (or something stronger if you have a prescription). Moreover, you may actually get an agent to work for you if you try honey instead of vinegar.

Remember the agent’s name and use it often; this establishes a personal relationship, and most agents are starved for personal recognition. Try (and I know it’s hard) to find some humor in the situation. If you can make an agent laugh, which he or she probably hasn’t done since accepting the job of “tech support agent,” you’ll get the best service that canned scripts and limited authority can provide. It’s better than terminal hold.

Here’s an idea for avoiding the hell of navigating those interactive voice response (IVR) systems: use social media to contact tech support. Posting your plea for help on a company’s Twitter feed or Facebook account may well get attention much faster than a phone call, and at least you’re not waiting on hold until attention is paid.

Another tactic is to choose the voice-menu option for “sales” or “place an order” instead of “technical support.” Those callers are answered faster because they mean money. They’re usually answered by people in your country, too, while tech support calls are answered by foreigners in who-knows-where.

You can also consult sites such as DialAHuman and GetHuman, which are repositories for the collective knowledge of many customers. They include tips for navigating specific companies’ IVRs as painlessly as possible, and direct phone numbers of key customer service staffers at many companies. Another option is FastCustomer which eliminates waiting on hold. You place a request for support, hang up, and then wait for the rep to call you.

Have you experienced tech support rage? Tell me which companies have offered you the best and worst tech support experiences. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

tech support, service calls, support reps, IVR systems, customer satisfaction

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Most recent comments on "Do You Have Tech Support Rage?"

(See all 36 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Judy G.
23 Oct 2020

Century Link is the Worst. Directv not much better. The only way I could talk to someone live was by online chat. It took forever to finally get the information I needed. I cringe every time I have to deal with them. They are the only company we have so we have no choice. Directv even hung up on me. Agent English was hard to understand. Good article on this subject.

Posted by:

23 Oct 2020

....oh, I forgot this one: Many kudos for DISH Network. Been with them for 10 years or so. Customer Service and Tech Support always available and helpful. They speak English, too!!!

Posted by:

Bob Sardiga
23 Oct 2020

T-Mobile very good
ATT very poor

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
23 Oct 2020

I have had one job as a Tech Support Agent. I worked for a company that (when I started) provided support for customers of ATT@Home, a now defunct cable Internet provider. After successfully completing training, I 'went out on the floor' to take calls and provide tech support. More experienced agents informed me that my real job was to get the customer off the phone - period. In response to the 'enlightenment' I developed a process to quickly determine if the problem was ours (was the issue related to Internet service?), if so, was it something I could help with (I was a tier 1 agent with limited authority), then if so, walk the customer through the process of correcting their issue. Using this process I was able to satisfactorily end calls within about 10 minutes.

When the @Home went out of business, and shut down their servers, AT&T switched to their own service named ATTBI (AT&T Broadband Internet). As a tier 1 agent, my authority was not increased, so I still had to 'escalate' most customers to tier 2 for help.

Finally, ATTBI was purchased by Comcast. My authority increased dramatically. A policy of 'One Call Resolution' was instituted, Ns I was a much happier agent.

Because I had a better than average understanding of TCP/IP, and Networking in general, I became a tier 2 agent.

As a tier 1 agent, I could only help the customer by recycling (restarting) their router or by removing and reinstalling their drivers - but only for Windows or Mac. Linux was not supported, even though I knew how to fix driver issues on Linux as well (I have been dual-booting between Windows and Linux since the late 1990s).

As a tier 2 agent, I had the power to reset their router, wipe and reinstall their router software, and schedule in person tech support calls.

As a tech support agent, I encountered customers who believed they knew more than I did because they were studying Computer Science in College, customers who wanted their introductory service plan extended for any number of (usually fictitious) reasons, customers who apologized for not being Computer savvy, and a few who worked in the industry. This last group was the one I preferred to work with for a number of reasons. They understood that I had to work through an organized set of information gathering procedures to ascertain the true root issue to arrive at an effective and lasting solution. I worked for that company for only four years, then they closed shop and moved to Canada to avoid the rising cost of medical insurance.

The most amusing call I remember (a classic) was from an irate lady who told me that after 'installing the Internet' her computer screen was black. I began troubleshooting by requesting that she check that her computer and monitor were both plugged into the wall outlet. After a few moments, she sheepishly reported that her computer had gotten unplugged. After plugging it back in and starting up her computer, all was well. :)


Posted by:

top squirrel
23 Oct 2020

I have found it helpful, when the hoops they make you jump through are going nowhere, to try to get the rep on your side. Make it clear you are not mad at them but you sympathize with them for being compelled to execute policies by their bosses that do little more than get people mad at the innocent people like the ones who answer the phones, like the one you're talking to right then. Tell them you sympathize with them, you don't blame them a bit, that it sure doesn't make for good job satisfaction and that you bet they go home at the end of the shift all wrung out. Make it a matter of you plus me against the problem. The people you and I should get mad at are the ones who make the policy and set the procedures.
And ask them, OK, you know the ropes. What's my best shot? Is there a special number to call? Don't worry, I won't tell them who gave it to me.
Butter as necessary. You get the idea.

Posted by:

Dave H.
23 Oct 2020

As much as I detest Comcast (for their annual price hikes, their failure to provide you with the least expensive option until you threaten to terminate their service, etc.), I must admit that I have (almost always) found their tech support to be excellent. The reps seem knowledgeable, usually speak English clearly, appear committed to solving your problem, and do not try to rush you to get you off the phone. (However, I'd still dump Comcast in a heartbeat if I had other viable options.)

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
23 Oct 2020

My advice to anyone when calling for support of any kind is to

1. Be cooperative, courteous and patient. Get the agent's name, even ask that (s)he spell it and write it down. Inform the agent why you are calling with a brief explanation of your problem, but take notes - you may need them.

2. If (when) it becomes apparent that the agent cannot or will not be able or willing to help you, ask for a supervisor. You may have to wait a while, so be ready with something to do to pass the time. I have a phone in my office near my computer, so I usually play Klondike solitaire.

When the 'supervisor' comes on the line be cooperative, courteous and patient as if the call was just starting. Explain why you asked to be transferred, then repeat your original problem description and any steps the tier 1 agent took you through (see I told you you may need your notes).

Finally, remember to remain patient. The only one you will harm if you get angry is yourself. The person on the other end of the line does not care how mad you are and has the right to end the call if you become belligerent, abusive, or if you are uncooperative. Also, the agent you are calling may be attempting to subtly enrage you in order to justify ending the call sooner rather than later.

These are a few tips from an ex- tech support agent.

I hope they are helpful,


Posted by:

23 Oct 2020

I have to agree with Bob on his comment on Verizon tech support. I have a dedicated number to call and they have a call back system so you don’t wait on hold. Plus they usually call back right away. Their tech support people are quite knowledgeable and are US based speaking English (at least that has been my experience). And if they cannot solve the problem, they do not hesitate to send a technician and I have gotten next day appointments.

Posted by:

David Lagesse
23 Oct 2020

How to Wreck a New Computer, just call COMPAQ Tech Support!
Back when Microsoft’s “SP-1 Update for Windows XP” was new…
I bought a new Compaq computer, but two months later it went back to Costco (At that time they would accept computers back for up to 6 months)
I had the computer for a month and had installed all the programs I wanted on it by then. While talking to Customer Support on another issue, I mention that I cannot register the computer using the telephone modem connection. I had Cable Internet, but at that time, most programs, as well as Windows XP, would not recognize the Cable Internet connection, so instead the telephone modem would attempt to dial out to register the computer, but it had successfully dialed out to register some of my other programs. The Compaq Tech Support had me do a “non-destructive recovery” repair for this ONE TIME only problem.
Then after the “non-destructive recovery” repair is all done, and Windows is starting to load in, the computer is asking for this special patch file. It would NOT continue loading at all, without the patch file.
Back on the phone again, I learned from an American Tech agent that the Compaq needed a special file to patch between the Microsoft ‘SP-1 Update’ and the Compaq Operating System. (SP-1 was fairly new at the time) but he gave me totally elaborate and confusing directions to the proper website. Then I could not get another American Tech support agent on the phone, it then took 30 DAYS of hassling on the phone with their total idiot East Indian tech support agents.
I was told, “You must be downloading SP-1 from the Windows Update website.” I tell them, “I already have SP-1; I need a patch between SP-1 and the COMPAQ operating system!” They again tell me, “You must be downloading SP-1 from the Windows Update website.” Then “If you are not doing what we are telling you to do, there is nothing we can do to help you. You must be downloading SP-1 from the Windows Update web site.”
One idiot Tech AND his supervisor, both East Indians, living in India, insisted I had to have a Dial-up Internet Service Provider …just to dial out! -- More of the benefits of “outsourcing”!
I had told them that I have Cable Internet! The phone modem was properly hooked up to the phone line, and had registered other programs by phone; this is similar to the sending of a fax.
One entire month goes by of many more horror stories like this, then I finally get an American Tech agent and I am told that I should have installed the patch PRIOR to doing the “non-destruct recovery” He admitted that the first tech messed up in not having me do this first.

After I finally get directed to the proper website that I needed to go to (on another computer of course, the new Compaq has been a “large paper weight” for a month.) that will get me the patch. It turns out after I try to install it, the computer tells me: this is the WRONG PATCH!
Back on the phone AGAIN! That is when find out no patch is available for this particular computer model.
So now the only option I was given was to do a Totally-Destructive-Recovery (T-D-R) (back to the “fresh out-of-the-box state”). This means: No Other Programs. All those programs I had JUST installed would be GONE! All of my saved E-mail correspondence and all my saved files would be gone!
So I finally told Compaq, that I would not do a T-D-R. Because without them having this patch file available, if I ever needed to do a Recovery AGAIN, it would be once again: “T-D-R - fresh out-of-the-box”.
Then you have all the hassles of reloading all of those other programs. AGAIN! So I told the Tech Supervisor that after all the hassle they put me through; they would have to send me another, BETTER computer, one with the patch available. But they would not go for that, at all, and they insisted that my ONLY option was to do the T-D-R. I told him about buying the computer from Costco and that I could return it posthaste.
The Tech Supervisor INSISTED that I must do the T-D-R and that I would not be able to return the computer.
So I asked the Tech Supervisor, “Can you say, ‘Dude, You’re Getting a Dell!!’?”
BTW: This was (originally) typed on the new DELL.

Since then, Compaq was purchased by Hewlett Packard… nothing has changed.
In May of 2010, I bought a HP printer, after I brought it home I noticed that there was a note on the box that said, “Some features may not be available with Windows 7”. I called HP and got back to some of their “highly knowledgeable and competent” East Indian Tech Support agents, to ask about: “What features will be unavailable with Windows 7?” Four phone calls later, and after a lot of listening to some crappy music on hold for 55 minutes on just one of those calls, I was no more knowledgeable about my question than when I first read the note.
One memorable statement that I was told, “Never mind what the box says, you are installing the printer, not the box!”

The HP Printer went back to the store …unopened.

Posted by:

Jack Reacher
23 Oct 2020

Yes, as much as I despise Amazon for their bullying tactics, forcing community against community and their horrible employment practices, sometimes they're are the only game in town when it comes to some products. However, their record for handling and solving problems is impeccable. Also just as stellar is the treatment I get from New Egg. They have always been fair, polite and competent.

Posted by:

23 Oct 2020

For me, it used to be a derangement near Car-Salesman and Human-Resources. Nowadays, I must admit my own public enemy #1 has become Customer-Service and more precisely the pre-recorded "Representateeeeve"! I just finished an argument (which did not go so well) with one; where I was requested to submit a video, because the item would not turn-on, when the power button was pressed or charge, when the USB power was attached. I contested this request and was told was "We need to get all necessary information and pass them to the supplier, this will help us to give you a good solution and improve the quality control."

Posted by:

23 Oct 2020

I recently had the worst experience with Century Link. My DSL modem died; and after multiple calls with many hours on hold with tech support agents I could barely understand, three different techs visited my home but couldn't fix the problem. After six weeks - I have no idea why I was so patient - I angrily cancelled my DSL service. They couldn't even get that right. I received a text saying that my DSL modem was ready to be set up! That required another call to tech support and more time on hold.
I will warn people away from Century Link for as long as I live.

I have since switched to Mediacom cable service. It's cheaper and faster. So far so good.

Posted by:

Frank D
23 Oct 2020

In the past couple of months (Sep-Oct 2020) I have had superb customer support and complete satisfaction from Customer Support at Dell and Apple. It literally could not have been better.

I had total satisfaction in each case by returning the unit, which was beyond fixing over the phone, to the manufacturer in their postpaid box, and receiving it back within a week in perfect operating condition.

Posted by:

Dennis English
24 Oct 2020

Mediacom Cable is the worst. I use Outlook for my email software. When I have a problem with Outlook not connecting or something like that I get the stock answer "we do not support Outlook." However, every time I've had a problem with it it's because of something they've done at their server that's caused my problem. The last time it was the fact that they moved my email to a new server from POP3 to IMAP. They didn't warn me it was moving, nor would they tell me when I asked what had changed at Mediacom to cause the problem. My IT guy found the problem accidentally during a call to their tech center.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2020

As someone with some hearing difficulties, I have a real problem in understanding many foreign accents. That's enough reason for me to go digitally searching far and wide before calling tech support. But when I can understand what I am being told, I often get decent tech support, but occasionally horrible.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2020

I have always had excellent service from Comcast. They answer quickly and solve my problems. Amazon also gives excellent service. On the few occasions when I have needed to speak with a representative, the hardest part is getting to the screen where you can have them call you.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2020

I decided to update the map on my 11-year-old Garmin 855 GPS. I paid about $49.
After downloading, I learned that Garmin will not refund for downloaded products.
The updating software told me the device could hold only the "lower 49" map.
Then I discovered the voice-command feature didn't work.

Begin several calls to misleading tech support.
"Voice doesn't work with the lower 49. Install a micro SD card." Still no voice command.
"Limit on micro SD cards is 32 GB." No voice.
"Limit 8 GB card." Nope.
"On your old device, the map cannot use the micro SD card. We offer a customer-loyalty discount. Pay $130 for a new GPS." So that's $49 for the deaf map update, plus $130 for a spiffy new Garmin GPS -- total $179.
Garmin's tech people were personable and tried their best.

My new Tomtom cost $179.

Posted by:

Robert van Ruyssevelt
27 Oct 2020

I have had uniformly bad experiences from Telcos and ISPs but great service from Brother and Samsung as well as from my bank TSB (all in NZ)

Posted by:

27 Oct 2020

I have had such poor service from AT&T that I refuse to do any business with them! I also try to let as many people know of the issues I have had with them in the past, so they don't make the same mistakes I did!

Posted by:

13 Nov 2020

Telus in Alberta, Canada fits all the criteria you described.

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