What do you do when there is no online support?

No online support can me loss of future sales.

One of my ZDnet colleagues, Phil Fersht, posted MSN, is anybody out there? a few days ago. He described really bad MSN customer service.

It has also been my experience that many suppliers of complex, critical IT hardware and software have chosen to downgrade their support to just offering unresponsive web pages, user forms (where only users are trying to help one another or "knowledge bases" that appear to contain no usable knowledge.) A not-very-entertaining variant is a frequently asked question (FAQ) list that doesn't include a single real-world question or usable answer. Similar "support" options have become popular with online retail establishments, insurance companies, health care organizations and the like.

In one case, the only way I was able to get help from an online service, was to look up the CEO's name and business address on a recent financial report (these can be found in many places, but I usually visit http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml). I then used a online telephone directory to discover a telephone number. I called that number and asked to speak with the CEO.

I, of course, didn't get to the CEO. I got to a group within the company assigned to intercept CEO calls and deal with the customers' issues. In the end, I got support and solved the problem I was facing.  I have never purchased another thing from that company and often use them as an example of bad customer service in conference presentations.

How many others, I wonder, would go to the effort of tracking down a number? I suspect that most would just go away unhappy.

Don't these companies understand that people share bad support stories with everyone within earshot? Don't they understand that once their image is tarnished, people will go elsewhere to purchase products? I guess cost cutting is more important, in their minds, than future sales.

Have you had a similar experience?

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