Tech Support Rage: Is It Intentional?

Category: Reference

You’ve probably suffered the dreaded agony of calling for “Tech Support” if you own any modern appliance or electronic gadget. 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.

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...

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Most recent comments on "Tech Support Rage: Is It Intentional?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

David Lagesse
15 Aug 2022

Comcast personnel always “Blame the Other Guy”!
Over the years, ever since “Outlook Express” (then “Windows Live Mail”, several Non Microsoft E-mail programs, MS Office Outlook mail, Windows 10 Mail) when I have used SEVEN or EIGHT Different E-mail Third Party providers, yet out of having 5 different E-mail addresses at the same time, they have always FAILED in the exact SAME way, on the SAME E-mail Addresses!

What is happening is SOMETIMES I get another set of E-mail messages to download to my computer every time “Send and Receive” is activated on just the “jdng”! Two, Three, or MORE copies of the same E-mails! All sent with the exact same Date and Time Stamp! But of course, “jdng” is the E-mail address that I get the MOST E-mails on!

It can’t be that ALL of those 3rd party apps ALL failed in the exact same way for the very same E-mail address.

It, therefore, MUST be Comcast doing it!

Technical “Support” is the PITS, after fully explaining myself to some idiot, who passes me on to another dum-dum, then once again go through all the various steps of RE-identifying myself to each new person I talk to, and then I have to explain myself all over again. I usually I get hung-up on after getting someone who is much less informed about Technical Support than I am, then I have to call back again! Then it is back to square one.

You go through the Phone Tree to get to the Department that you want. You must identify yourself and prove you are a customer, while in the Automated Phone Tree System before you get to talk to anyone or get automated support. Then you have to re-ID yourself again, before you actually get to discuss your problem, but they are just ‘Phone Answerers’ who then they pass you on to someone else. Then once AGAIN (THIRD TIME!) you have to re-ID yourself again, before you actually get to discuss your problem, who may or may not have the wherewithal to actually help.

The Tech Support is terrible, it always seems I am like talking to someone who is on his first day on the job and has had NO Training!
The simplest things that they must do many times every day, takes them HOURS, and you have to talk to four or more different people... and ID and explain yourself all over again to each of them!
If they are stumped, then they should PASS IT ON to someone who can ACTUALLY HELP you, instead of plodding along and reading what is on the webpage or their tech support book, while you are on hold, because this is apparently the very first time that they have dealt with this problem. Then if they finally do pass you on to someone else, you have to go through the entire process of re-identifying yourself each time you talk to a new person! You have had to ID yourself to get to the previous person to prove you are a customer… or you would have never gotten to that person! Why should we have to do it all over again?

Then you tell them exactly what you are doing... and then a minute later, they ask you to do it, because they were not listening to what you have to say!
ME “I am shutting down my computer” TECH: “Please shut down your computer”
ME “I am now logging back on to my computer” TECH: “Please Log On now”
Or you must tell them five times or more the same information. “I need help resetting my E-mail Password” What part of that, did they NOT understand the FIRST time?
THEY DON’T LISTEN! You tell them where you are and what you are doing, such as “I have the Device Manager open”, then they direct you to go on a long circuitous path, to get right back to where you just were on the Device Manager, using the most simplistic or ignoramus instructions possible.
Or, they treat you like you have never SEEN a computer before and you are three years old! TECH: “Do you see the Windows Button on your keyboard?” DUH! No, I have never even seen a keyboard before, what’s a ‘keyboard’? What is wrong with the TECH saying: “Press the Windows Key, then…”?

You go into the Comcast Office to get a new Cable Box, before they hand you that new Cable Box, they have all of your information right in front of them, Name, Address, and Customer Number. They have the boxes serial numbers right there in front of them, they have scanned in those numbers and assigned that Cable Box to you, but now you have to go home connect the box, then waste time calling Comcast Tech support to Activate the boxes! You have to READ the tiny little print on the serial number, that was just in front of the Comcast Office person just a half an hour ago or less! They have already SCANNED IT IN and registered that Cable box to your account at the Comcast Office, or it would not have it issued to you! Then, you get someone on the “Activation Team” that is totally CLUELESS like he has never done this before! It takes TWO HOURS!

OK, perhaps there is an actual technical reason that the box needs to be provisioned after you have connected it to your TV, but Comcast should be expecting and anticipating that call and have all your information and the information about the box in front of them when you call! After all you have just identified yourself to get to speak to them!

This is the way it should be: “Hello, this is Joe Smith at 999 Anywhere Street, Anytown, Ca, here is the 6 digit number I was given: “ABC123”.
COMCAST TECH: “OK, got you, you will have your box active within two minutes, thank you for being a Comcast Customer!”
That is the way it SHOULD BE!

Treat Tech Support Customers like ADULTS and that their TIME is IMPORTANT!
Call back, when we get cut off!
The last thing I want to hear is: “If you would like to make a call, please hang-up and dial again.” “If you would like to make a call, please hang-up and dial again.” “If you would like to make a call, please hang-up and dial again.”!
If I have wasted 2 hours on a simple Tech Support call, the last thing I want is to start all over from the very BEGINNING!

Many times, when doing remote Tech Support, the technician takes over your computer and does completely DUMB stuff, that you would never do to your own computer, then before quitting does not undo the goofy stuff, or instruct you how or what you need to do. For instance, they once did a delete of all the “Install Files” and never undeleted them. I did not know they were necessary to run the programs and got rid of them. Then I had to reinstall all those programs!
They don’t explain what they are doing… or why they are doing it… they just do it… without even asking for any permissions. However, if you try to stop them, they just continue on!

I want to speak to a live person who is knowledgeable about my problem, and is a native English speaker, not someone with such a heavy accent that you can’t understand them!! Sometimes all they need to do is slow-down a bit, but they won’t do that.

Every-time I do Chat or E-mail “Support” you get dumb STUPID replies like this one that was sent to me like I am some kind of IDIOT!
(This of course, is not Comcast, but you get the picture!) “…your device needs to have GPS enabled and be powered on with a data connection.” It WAS turned on and enabled! Well, DUH! Which had absolutely NOTHING to do with my problem… it was not even addressed!

Then E-mail “support” still takes many DAYS to get absolutely NOWHERE!
It usually takes half a dozen E-mails to get some STUPID response “answer” that HAS nothing to do with the problem, which you have diligently explained half a dozen times!

Posted by:

15 Aug 2022

Agreed, Comcast is the worst. I ended up writing letters to Corporate HQ THREE times, before I finally got someone who actually cared, over a period of 8 months.

That said, there are truly great support teams out there. Apple Support is the best I've ever dealt with, the initial contact isn't always able to fix the problem but does get you to someone who can fast, no matter what device you need help with nor how simple the solution may be. I also have an HP desktop and pay for support, but it's worth it's weight in gold as they can remote in and fix whatever problem you have and they will, politely. I also use USAA for banking and insurance, they have outstanding customer service agents as well. So they aren't all bad, but there are far too many like Comcast out there.

Posted by:

15 Aug 2022

Comcast is one of the worst. Just last weekend I wanted to change my plan because the contract had long expired and the price kept going up every month. I went to sales and was helped immediately. When I finished, I asked for help with another problem that has been going on for over a year. (Someone opened a mobile account with my name and phone #) I see that I owe 3300.00 every time I log in. I have never had an mobile # with comcast. Once that gets agreed upon, they always say they will take care of it but nothing ever changes. Last weekend I kept getting escalated and was finally disconnected after 1-1/2 hrs. After I got disconnected I got a survey and expressed my feelings. I then got a text saying they couldn't help me and to please go to the support online. I'm still mad about that.
The best tech support is Verizon. I always get things resolved quickly.

Posted by:

15 Aug 2022

You actually reached a human at Amazon?!?

Spill the number Bob! You will have my undying gratitude forever

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022

Hello Bob,

This thread was a far better response than I, personally, have received of late hahaha.

Having had a total computer breakdown very recently - I can speak with authority when I say that Corsair and, especially Seasonic- were breathtakingly knowledgeable and helpful. Whereas, the supplier of the rotten apple in my pc., i.e., the motherboard - ASUS at Jakarta could not have been more uninformed about THEIR OWN PRODUCT. In fact general members of the Public on FB had more commonsence, understanding and advice.

But getting back to Bob's experiences - is it only me that thinks companies DELIBERATELY make it impossible to contact them especially by EMAIL?

Take my treatment at the hands of Barclays - a maze of hurdles to gain telephone contact only to be given a 'lost account' website. Now this is similar to an Ombudsman's office which had NO PERSONAL details of my accounts of course to help me with why my Current Account had been closed without any form of contact with me - they had my address, phone number and email address!!

I am waiting to be told why the Bank cannot check its records to tell me why, after a couple of decades, they do not know me.

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022

Customer service? Good customer service is extremely rare these days! Thank you Bob for a very informative article, which describes customer disservice!

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022

Hello David,

Now aren't you glad their not the Fire Department or EMT? You'd Be DEAD!

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022

Government monopolistic services are the WORST!
Here in Canada we have the worst creation man has ever devised call the Arrive Canada App. It is designed to drive away tourists, make travel inconvenient and slowly strangle freedom. We recently had a sever problem and required remediation to correct a problem the app had caused.
ALL the phone numbers listed were NEVER answered or led to voice mailboxes that no one ever had any intention in answering.
After two days, my wife finally found a number that was answered. The woman enquired how she got this number. A day later the number was scrubbed from the web page!

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022

I often ask for a supervisor. If the supervisor does not help I ask for their supervisor

Posted by:

Dana Lynch
16 Aug 2022

I found that AT&T has good customer service. I learned if I don't like the response to be persistent and they will work hard to solve problem. When I renewed the price for TV & Cable bundle went up $22. I get disability and couldn't afford it so they lowered then previously paying. I just looked at my current bill and it went up $4. I called and they told me of the government Affordable Connectivity Program. If you get government assistant you may qualify for $30 off internet. I like saving money.

Posted by:

Sarah L
16 Aug 2022

Your dishwasher story makes me glad Abt sells appliances in the Chicago area and responds in an hour to an e-mail + photo of the leak just after installation, e-mail sent at 6:30 pm. Fixer crew came the next morning and stopped the leak.
In the same week, AT&T restored my broadband service, finding the unexpected break in the fiber optic cable inside a box at my place. They came the day after I called. The tech and I were both happy the break was where it could be easily reached, not hidden in the wall. Four years of perfect connection before a problem. I did have to be firm with the first person on the phone who tried selling me a new gateway, irrelevant to the problem. The computer connected by wire not WiFi had no connection, and she gave in, sent the tech. He knew what he was doing.

Posted by:

Sarah L
16 Aug 2022

Your dishwasher story makes me glad Abt sells appliances in the Chicago area and responds in an hour to an e-mail + photo of the leak just after installation, e-mail sent at 6:30 pm. Fixer crew came the next morning and stopped the leak.
In the same week, AT&T restored my broadband service, finding the unexpected break in the fiber optic cable inside a box at my place. They came the day after I called. The tech and I were both happy the break was where it could be easily reached, not hidden in the wall. Four years of perfect connection before a problem. I did have to be firm with the first person on the phone who tried selling me a new gateway, irrelevant to the problem. The computer connected by wire not WiFi had no connection, and she gave in, sent the tech. He knew what he was doing.

Posted by:

Chuck Ridgley
16 Aug 2022

Positive results at Cap-Tel(Caption Telephone) when our phone connection kept dropping. Immediate new phone.
Problem with Walgreens internet Application. Unable to add family member and NO Tech support called when they were supposed to.

Posted by:

16 Aug 2022


Posted by:

Mike in Colorado
16 Aug 2022

I've had to call Comcast recently for various issues. I try to be really nice and friendly with the rep who is probably in India. Each time, they are profusely grateful and thank me over and over for my kindness. It's a sad commentary on Americans when a foreign rep's only interaction is with some hotheaded a-hole. Being friendly and kind has gotten my problems solved and usually a nice rebate or gift card.

Posted by:

17 Aug 2022

I have had very good experience with 3 companies which are DISH, Consumer Cellular and Starkey Hearing Aids. All three have English speakers and I believe are in the US. I have recommended these companies to friends who have switched to them. A referral is worth 10 times the advertising dollars.

Posted by:

DBA Steve
17 Aug 2022

Its not just tech companies that have bad support.

While discussing my bill and an insurance SNAFU with a local hospital, I was told "figure it out yourself." Almost a year later, they did finally refund my $600 over payment.

Let me repeat what I was told by the lady on the phone: "figure it out yourself."

Posted by:

Peter O
18 Aug 2022

Bob please fix this.
If I wish to send a response & fail accidentally to enter email & name I lose my work (IE my response to you). This is no fun & happens enough to be a real PITA.

Posted by:

18 Aug 2022

I worked in tech support with Microsoft for 10-years (long ago). Depending on who was in charge of product support at the time determined how helpful we were encouraged to be. It varied between making the calls as quick as possible to going above and beyond to make sure the customer was happy. Everything was "recorded for quality purposes." One time we were given small magnetic mirrors to put on the edge of the bookshelf in the cubicle. There were bullet points printed beside the mirror with the last thing written in big, bold letters, "Smile!" Apparently people can hear you smiling, no matter how irritated the last caller made you.

My favorite calls were the ones that started with, "I'm the company admin and I've been doing this for 10-years. I know what I'm doing. This "program" is just impossible! I've done everything to make it work..." After remaining quiet and listening to the rant, I'd ask, "Have you tried...?" Most of the time the answer was, "Uh, no. Why would I do that?" I'd suggest it be tried (knowing it would work), and in a moment I'd hear a long apology. "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

I really don't miss that job.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

I have AT&T DSL the speed I'm paying for changes often. If it rained hard the Internet would die and a call to the rep/help line. They made it sound like I was nuts when telling them about a rainy day/night. Ha, saw the repair dude in the alley he told me water had gotten into a junction box.
Oh, another call to the help line, she asked how old was my computer, told a little fib I said 5 years,
She then said I was using an outdated computer!

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