For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

Summary: What happens if something goes wrong with a Windows PC? Good luck finding honest and competent help. Right now, somewhere in the world, an incompetent support professional is performing "repairs" that make things worse and suggesting useless "upgrades" that line their pockets and slow down PCs.


One reason people love Macs so much is the simplicity of the support experience. If you buy a Mac, your hardware and your operating system come from the same vendor, which makes support a dead-simple experience. When something goes wrong, you call Apple. In the worst-case scenario, you haul your hardware into the nearest Apple Store, where a trained support tech can diagnose and repair most problems.

So what happens if something goes wrong with a Windows PC? Good luck finding honest and competent help.

I'll be making a house call later this week to undo the damage a major PC vendor's support professionals did to a neighbor's PC. He had called them for assistance because his computer (a year-old, high-end laptop) was running slowly. I had helped him set up this machine less than a year ago and I know it's working well.

The tech he reached collected a $79 fee up front and then rolled up his sleeves and went to work. When he was done, the formerly fast machine was a hopeless mess.

  • There was no malware on this system, but the tech installed and ran Malware Bytes anyway.
  • The agent recommended that my neighbor install a "system optimizer" program "to erase crap your PC accumulates." Not coincidentally, that will be another $40, please.
  • Although he had a functional, up-to-date copy of Microsoft Security Essentials, the guy at the other end of the line (halfway around the world, by the way) recommended he purchase McAfee antivirus software instead. "You need more than just a free service." Oh, and ka-ching! That will be another $80. McAfee software is at the top of my "not recommended" list.
  • The support tech uninstalled Internet Explorer 9 and restored IE8. "Folks are having problems with IE9," my neighbor was told. He, of course, had been perfectly happy with IE9, which is considerably more secure than its predecessor. In the process of removing it, they also disabled the LastPass plug-in, which meant he could no longer access his collection of saved passwords and automatically log on to websites.

And here's the best part of all. The reason he called for support was a slow computer. After spending an hour on the phone with the PC's manufacturer, his computer was still slow. He was $80 poorer, and the tech had tried (but failed) to sell him $120 worth of additional software that would have made his PC even slower. After he hung up, he tried what any competent support tech should have done first: "I unplugged the cable modem and reset it … and things immediately started running faster."

A similar scene is probably being repeated every minute of every day, somewhere in the world, as incompetent support professionals perform "repairs" that make things worse and suggest useless "upgrades" that line their pockets and slow down PCs.

The irony is that it doesn't take a genius to work at one of Apple's Genius Bars. Their limited hardware selection and support for a single OS means that a little training goes a long way. Apple also charges enough for its hardware and its AppleCare add-ons that it doesn't need to squeeze out extra profits by selling needless crapware.

Maybe if Microsoft had a network of retail stores as large as Apple's it could step in and offer this service. For now, though, finding a competent PC support professional is a challenge as big as finding an honest auto mechanic.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Browser, Microsoft

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  • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

    Wow. What a douche. "Folks are having issues with IE9"? "You need more than a free service"!?<br><br>If I could reach through the phone and choke him, I would.<br><br><br><I>"I unplugged the cable modem and reset it and things immediately started running faster."</I><br><br>So, he didn't have a slow <I>*computer*</I>, he had a slow <I>*Internet connection*</I>? Big difference there. Still doesn't excuse the douche on the other side of the phone line.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Exactly

      @Cylon Centurion

      The tech was so busy to start "fixing" things that he didn't even diagnose the problem.

      Maybe there needs to be a Hippocratic oath for PC support professionals: "First do no harm."
      Ed Bott
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott I agree...he needed to do a little diagnostic work before starting to "fix" the issue.

        The first question should have been, "What do you mean when you say your computer runs slow?"

        He would have quickly figured out that while applications are running ok, the internet was slow to load.

        The problem with an Oath like that is that the "Big Guys" would be the ones writing it and policing it and ignoring it, while the little guys like me would get hammered by it.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott

        It's pretty clear here, that whoever this was, had an agenda. First rule of diagnostics is not to go in and immediately change anything.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott As a support and IT pro, I usually uninstall all the crap from a PC, even if they only have a slow internet connection.
        Most of my clients don't check what they're doing and end up with 16 Browser toolbars, outdated Anti Virus, old browsers etc.
        I also recommend MSE. I've been confronted by hundreds of AV suppliers to sell their 'shit' but I just kept telling them I recommend only MSE.
        As for IE9, its also the only browser I recommend. Support 'pros' are usually tech junkies that try to shove their 'favorite' crap down customers throat.
        But yeah, I always tell my clients to call me when they have a problem, I offer lifetime support on anything I sell.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott Well, on my company PC, the hard drive made a "ting, ting, ting" sound as the heads landed on the platter, when I turned it off (old Compaq 386 with 40MB drive).

        The repair guy turned up and removed the hard drive, removed the cover and pulled the air filter out, claiming that was what was causing the noise! :-O

        Trying to get my bosses head around the problem why the support wasn't good was a laugh, he was saying "of course he had to remove the cover to get at the hard drive," he couldn't get his head around the fact that the tech had actually dismantled the hard drive itself!

        Needless to say, we got a new drive from the support company...

        Then there was the time they sent the same tech to repair a Canon BJ. The purge unit was dead, he argued it was just air in the pipe between the ink resevoir and the head (yes, because the purge unit was dead!). He pulled the tube off and sucked, hard... Until he got a mouthfull of ink, which he spat all over the personnel managers desk! He then legged it to the toilet to wash out his mouth.

        The personnel manager turned to me and said, "he never sets foot in the building again!" :-D
      • If you had a PC Hippocratic oath

        @Ed Bott : Then MS, Adobe, McAfee, Norton, and many many others would be out of business. Remember the parts of all the EULAs that say "We are not responsible for any damage, whether it is our fault or not, that occurs while using this product."?
        As for installing and running MalwareBytes: It's free (unless they tried to sell him a full version) and doesn't run unless called upon, so I doubt it "broke" anything, and malware *IS* one of the biggest causes of slow PCs, and ALL the antivirus suites miss SOME of the viruses, so a second line of defense is always advised.

        However, that tech is most likely a victim of a greater corporate machine that tells him he has to upsell or the implied "or else..." takes effect. Who's fault is that? This does not excuse his lack of diagnostic acumen, nor his inability to ask the right questions. However, when a manager is sitting over your shoulder counting "finished" calls instead of "Successful" calls, it puts a better lens on the matter. I'm not trying to say he's not at fault, but there's more going on in addition to just the incompetent tech.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott

        Riiiight, because that oath thingie worked out so well for Michael Jackson...
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        Even medical doctors can't do the Hippocratic oath because is incompatible with modern society needs.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott

        99% of the time PEBKAC
        Alan Smithie
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott - and one registry clean later, if it is determined a registry cleaning will fix those nasty little "gremlins", is it the tech or the software's creators that get blamed? Anybody knowing how the registry works knows problems can creep in at times and cleaning the thing usually resolves them. Unless there is underlying system corruption.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott - and comconcepts' final paragraph is spot-on, based on other industries and oaths made.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott

        I AGREE with Cylon Centurion where there were hard-line marketing policies in place and support was being utilized as the vehicle for: networked partner promotions and up-selling at a minimum. I jumped a software vendor about the same practice and got an immediate response where they apologized for any misrepresented facts and assured me that they weren't marketing over support channels; right, and they didn't get busted either being left to save face. These fools can spare me the B.S.

        The problem with these clowns is that they have no real life experience to draw from where they would realize that they aren't always talking to a sixteen year old child just getting into computers. It's nice to notice the fact that they have considered their audience/market and segments. Basic production practices are definitely not at the forefront with most which lends itself to the old type-casting that they are obviously only interested in making a fast dollar.

        In a conclusion of my own, I tend to stay away McAfee security; strange how everyone I know, including myself, would always wind up with a system re-install scenario shortly after un-installing a McAfee anti-virus product. Equally disturbing is the fact that optimization programs are trash; the only thing an individual needs is the knowledge of how to set a few little configurations in Windows for optimized operation with any number of free utilities and they're done.

        I ran into issues using Malware Bits in the past where the tool was installed and shortly after un-installed and for some odd reason I started having issues with the "Genuine Advantage" system of my Windows & 64bit Ultimate system. As much as I would like to use it and believe it is as awesome as I have been told, I am not seeing it and will not be back for that one.

        It's good to know that I am not a dying breed who trusts in common sense and see that digital technology is without exception. Thanks to you Ed and everyone else here on this thread for taking the time and spending the energy to keep your heads screwed on right in a world of garbage tag-lines, smoke and mirrors.
      • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

        @Ed Bott

        I run a small computer repair shop in a rural area. I definitely have a personal Hippocratic oath perhaps due to pride, but also because If I don't "resolve the issue" the computer comes back and I have to get it right for no charge for an unhappy customer : ).
    • Probably not now......

      @Cylon Centurion

      But there were significant problems with IE9 and Adobe flash plugins not too long ago. These were almost exclusively on Vista machines and rolling back to IE8 fixed the problem until Adobe finally got around to fixing Flash.

      The OEM support overseas that you get today is a money machine that breaks your system so you can call them back and pay them more money to still break your system. They use old fixes that are not valid, question software tools, and no troubleshooting, among others.

      Add to that the language barriers, and you have a support nightmare. The really sad thing is that there are too many of those type of support people locally too.
      linux for me
    • RE: Wow. What a douche.

      @Cylon Centurion

      It looks like this douche forgot the first rule of troubleshooting:


      He <b>failed</b> to completely define the problem.

      Now, considering that he is paid by the hour (or procedure), it is quite likely he is trying to <i>pad the bill</i>. The recommendations are an example of that.

      As a Linux user, these days, I can now say to my Windows using friends: <i>"Like the maid says, <b>'I don't do Windows!'</b>"</i> That stops the pleas for help cold.
    • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

      @Cylon Centurion

      Agreed; I love the bone heads that try indirect marketing when someone actually has a problem and is looking for much needed resolve. To me, it is like the prostitution of business driven ethics where the consumer is thrust back into the stone-ages of commerce.

      In addition to the support whores, my favorite incident of little urgency is contacting a support technician only to be directed to a board/forum directly to solutions that have been publicly recognized as incompetent for the given problem.

      I have been told directly that the consumer oriented end of business is going full support -- sounds general enough -- and if the current state is any indication of what's to come in the future we had better stay put. Until we learn how to conduct morale and ethic business on a basic level consumer support as an industry has nothing to gain or even work from. I would really like to meet some of the so-called experts that predict those shifts in business and economics and ask them if they have ever owned a computer. It isn't like lousy support is an isolated case as it's widespread across P.C. platforms from the floor up and often includes third party developer groups.

      It's awesome how the "experts" get to live on Mars while everyone else is stuck on the Earth with real world issues that are evident and accessible at anytime across the web. Maybe they should make reading and comprehension mandatory for a diploma again like the good ol' days.
  • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

    Never trust a tech who tries to sell or install software to "fix" a software issue! Sadly I agree this is such a true story.
    • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge


      That and a tech that asks for money right up front. When customers pay up front they are more reluctant to say no when another charge comes up since they're in $80. Some places would rather hire sales people than techs.
      Anti Fanboy
  • RE: For consumers, finding competent PC support is a challenge

    Ed, how is the tech supposed to know that there isn't a malware infection on that machine? I would have run Malwarebytes (and a full MSE scan) as first steps, though I agree with the rest...system optimizers are junk, along with McAfee.

    I think this is where Linux users have a bit of an advantage, in that they are encouraged to join online forums for their distro, to discuss issues with their device. I trust community support much more than giving it to some tech, as you're right...good ones are difficult to find. Sadly, the typical Windows user either isn't aware of this type of help, or isn't sure where to turn for it.

    It used to be commonplace back in the early days of PC's to consult User Groups for advice, and I always thought that was very effective, even now (if you can find one). Common shared experiences are a big help, in choosing someone to repair your machine.