Dell built its reputation, and its business, by providing the best tech support you could get. That was years ago. Lately, say some recent buyers, it’s been a different story. (After all, the bean counters in management always argue: tech support is not a profit center. They’re wrong about that, of course; it’s the ultimate profit center.)

Ben Popken at the web site site “,” says the way out of the miserable tech support mess is to buy from a company’s corporate division instead of the consumer division. If you buy your computer from the “small business” division, he says, you get to call for tech support from the company’s best and most experienced people. The price for the computer is the same, so you might as well skip the consumer label. Sometimes, you can get to business tech support by clicking one of the choices in the endless voice-mail hell that comes up when you first dial in.

Our own approach is tougher: If we call tech support and get someone who obviously doesn’t know what they’re doing, we make some excuse to hang up; something like: “Oh, we’re sorry but we have to empty our waste baskets right now.”  Then we call back in and get a new support person. If you do this two or three times, you stand a reasonable chance of getting someone who actually knows how to fix the problem.

Sometimes nobody knows how to fix the problem. We tried three tech support for pay services last week to get a printer linked to two computers. After hours of effort (we are not kidding; it was hours), one of the techs offered to set up a special web site where we could go and access the printer from the web. What a solution. After total failure from the experts, we simply installed an A/B box. These are cheap devices that let you plug in two computers to operate one or more devices, a printer and a scanner, for example. They’ve been around for 30 years. To switch between computers you press a button or flip a switch from A to B or the other way around, depending on which side you’re connected to. When we described our simple work-around to the tech support guy, he said “What’s an A-B box?”

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