Which Big Company Has The Best Tech Support? MakeUseOf Finds Out

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tech supportThere are few things in life that bother me more than bad customer service. Between suffering through automated menus, trying to communication with people whose accent is undecipherable (to me, anyway), and voice recognition systems that make me feel as though I must be talking in a foreign language – I dread calling customer support, I really do.

So, when the idea came up here at MakeUseOf to do a full survey of the quality of live customer support for the world’s largest technology companies, I jumped at the opportunity. I relished the thought of proving once and for all that outsourcing your phone support services and trying to answer customer technical issues with robotic systems are recipes for disaster. Some of those automated systems prove that the phrase artificial intelligence is an oxymoron.

In this review, I decided to focus on the top tech companies that everyone can recognize and has probably had dealings with at some point – eBay, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft. I made my best attempt to make contact with a living, breathing technical support person at each of these companies. As part of my test, if I made it through to an actual person, I would simply ask a fairly novice question and call the phone call a success.

At the conclusion of this investigation, I will rank each company in five areas – (1) How easy it is to reach a live person, (2) Overall hold time, (3) Clarity of the person at the other end, (4) Politeness of the support person, and finally (5) Technical ability of tech support.

Testing Big Company Tech Support

To be honest, starting out in this investigation, I assumed that certain companies, like Microsoft and Google, would be very difficult if not impossible to reach an actual life tech support person.  However, I tried my best to set aside those biases and dive into this fresh.

I pretended I was a complete novice, and in each case, I attempted to find tech support access at the company website. Barring that, I turned to a useful online service called Get Human to identify a phone number to call for support.

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Find It At eBay?

Years ago, I worked my way up through the difficult stages of building a successful seller’s account on eBay to eventually become a Powerseller. My focus was on antiques, but eventually I found that between eBay and Paypal, the fees were just too high, and the profit margin was just too low.  However, I always loved the fact that whenever I had any issues, I could just call up the main page of eBay and click on a button to chat with a live person.

It was fast, convenient, and one of the most progressive technical support services I’d ever experienced with any large company. Unfortunately, as eBay grew even more, they did away with that service. So, I did not have a lot of hope for eBay as I began this process. In fact, I had to chuckle when I saw what happened when I tried to visit eBay’s Customer Support page.

tech support

As you can see above, the Customer Support page is simply a searchable FAQ, but it does offer that nifty little “Contact eBay” tab. Pleased at how easy it would be to find the right number to call, I clicked on the tab, and had a good laugh.

apple tech support

Why was this funny? Well, the novice reason I had come up with to call eBay tech support was that I hadn’t logged into my account for so long, I couldn’t remember anything about how to log in. Unfortunately, to access the phone numbers to call for help, you have to be logged in. Okaaaaay……so, right off the bat, I had to turn to Get Human. Get Human provided me with a support number that worked.

eBay did have a somewhat annoying automated introduction menu, but it was fairly easy to navigate with only a few levels to go before discovering the “login problems” issue that I needed help with. After the automated robot told me to “make sure I was typing the right ID and Password” – duh, really? – I was advised that if the advice didn’t answer my question, I could opt to talk to a live person. This was about two minutes into the call.

I was put on hold, and had to endure insufferable circus music (why such horrid music, eBay?) for the entire time that I had to wait.  When I did finally get someone on the line, I noticed a bit of an accent that only became difficult to understand when the tech person started to talk quickly, and I had to ask him to repeat himself.

apple tech support

For the most part though, the tech support person was extremely friendly, and patiently walked me through the entire process of requesting my User ID, and then resetting my password.

Given the simplicity of the problem and the fact that any fool should have been able to figure out how to reset their own password right on the sign-in page, I was impressed with how polite and patient the tech support guy was – easily the most polite support person I had the pleasure of dealing with during this investigation.

Overall Call Time: 18:32.  Overall Hold Time: 9:08

Calling Amazon Tech Support

Trying to come up with an excuse to call Amazon customer support was easy enough, because I actually did need help figuring out how to log into my Affiliate account since it had been so long.

I couldn’t quickly find the customer support number on the Amazon page, so I just went with the number Get Human provided, and that worked. The first time I tried the number, it just rang without any pickup. The second time I tried the number, the automated system picked upon the second ring.

After a very brief intro with the convenient option of “for all other questions, press 3”, I found myself waiting on hold only 2 minutes into the call. After a hold time of less than one minute, I was greeted by a very pleasant-sounding young lady.

apple tech support

No accent, very polite and eager to help. Unfortunately, once I explained that I was calling to figure out how to get into my affiliate account, she started to stumble a little and explained, “I’m not sure what that even is.”

Me (a bit surprised): “Yeah, you know, like how people add product links to their website.”

Her: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that.”

I was about to ask if she actually worked for Amazon, but quickly swallowed my sarcasm, and politely asked if I could talk to someone that is familiar with the affiliate program. I was then put on hold for another 3 minutes and 10 seconds, until a guy named David – an affiliate support person – answered the phone.

He was very helpful – walked me through resetting my password quickly – and even sent a follow-up email after the call to make sure all of my issues were resolved. Pretty cool!  Amazon may want to work a little on that level-one call support though.

Overall Call Time: 11:34.  Overall Hold Time: 3:50

Can You Google Tech Support? Nope.

I can tell you before I even tally all of the scores at the end of this investigation, that Google gets the worst score right out of the gate. In fact, Google doesn’t even try to get a score at all – it does not offer live tech support.

The Get Human number that was listed was for Google Adwords, not for overall Google customer support. When I called the number listed on Google for headquarters, I started to get hopeful when I encountered an automated system that started going through my options.

windows tech support

Unfortunately, the only mention of the topic of customer support was to inform the caller that “Google does not offer live technical support at this time.”

Overall Call Time: 3:25.  Overall Hold Time: Infinite – don’t hold your breath.

Microsoft Tech Support – A Surprise

If Google doesn’t even bother to offer live customer support, I could only assume that such a large company as Microsoft probably wouldn’t offer much of an experience when it came to life support either.

It was actually surprisingly easy to find the “Call Customer Service” number right on Microsoft’s own website. Calling the number, I encountered one of those annoying automated menu systems that tries to use voice recognition and started asking me all kinds of obscure questions, like whether I was calling about networking issues – no – then, whether I was calling about Silverlight issues (say what?).

After I said “no” enough times, the system got tired of probing me for my issue and put me on hold, and next in line to talk to a live person – to my surprise. What would a live Microsoft tech support person sound like?

windows tech support

I was not too surprised to hear the Indian accent answer the phone after about a 1 minute wait time. The guy was somewhat difficult to understand, and I had to ask him to repeat himself often, but he was very polite and patient with me.

I asked him some newbie question about whether or not I could only enable Windows Updates on my PC for critical updates and not “all of them.”  He patiently explained that it was important to make the updates automatic because automatic only installs the critical updates.  He explained to me how to ensure that updates were turned on.

I told him I would be sure to do so and thanked him. Impressively, Microsoft had the shortest wait time and call time of all other companies that offered tech support.

Overall Call Time: 5:14.  Overall Hold Time: 1:00

Apple Tech Support – Tech Savvy

Calling Apple customer support was easy, because I actually needed to talk to someone about an iTunes issue we were having with my daughter’s cellphone. So, I was anxious to see how difficult or not the process would be.

Upon calling, an automated system immediately asked if my question was sales or technical. Similar to Microsoft, the system used a voice recognition technology, but in the case of Apple there were no options – the questions were all open-ended, which surprised me.

windows tech support

Apple Robot: “What device are you having issues with?”

Me: “Uh….iTunes?”

Apple Robot: “Did you say iPad? Are you having problems with iPad or iPhone, or say some other device.”

Me: “Um…..iTunes.”

Apple Robot: “Are you calling about iPad, iPhone. If you are not, just say some other device.”

Me (finally getting the hint): “Some other device”.

Finally, the robot recognized “iTunes” and then patiently asked me what device I was having problems with iTunes. Then it dawned on me that I could have just said “iPhone” in the other menu. It was the first time an automated phone robot had ever been able to make me feel stupid – nice job Apple.

tech support

Once the Apple robot realized I needed iPhone help with iTunes, I was put through almost immediately (maybe a 30 second wait time) to a phone support tech that sounded like the stereotypical, 20-something Apple employee.  No accent. Highly tech-savvy.

He patiently walked me through the process of setting restrictions on my daughter’s phone so that she couldn’t inadvertently purchase non-free apps on her phone. Feeling like I was talking to a fellow IT colleague at work, the job was done in under a minute. I was impressed, and I’m not an Apple fanboy.

Overall Call Time: 7:39.  Overall Hold Time: 0:30

Final Scores

At the end of the investigation, the winners and the losers were pretty clear. Here are the overall scores that I came up with after my experiences with each of these companies. Scale is 0 for horrible, and 10 for superstar.

eBay:

(1) Ease of reaching live person: 3.0

(2) Overall hold time: 2.0

(3) Clarity of the person at the other end: 7.0

(4) Politeness of the support person: 10.0

(5) Technical ability of tech support: 10.0

Overall Rank: 6.4

Amazon:

(1) Ease of reaching live person: 3.0

(2) Overall hold time: 5.0

(3) Clarity of the person at the other end: 8.0

(4) Politeness of the support person: 8.0

(5) Technical ability of tech support: 10.0

Overall Rank: 6.8

Google:

(1) Ease of reaching live person: 0.0

(2) Overall hold time: 0.0

(3) Clarity of the person at the other end: 0.0

(4) Politeness of the support person: 0.0

(5) Technical ability of tech support: 0.0

Overall Rank: 0.0

Microsoft: 

(1) Ease of reaching live person: 8.0

(2) Overall hold time: 10.0

(3) Clarity of the person at the other end: 6.0

(4) Politeness of the support person: 9.0

(5) Technical ability of tech support: 9.0

Overall Rank: 8.4

Apple: 

(1) Ease of reaching live person: 8.0

(2) Overall hold time: 10.0

(3) Clarity of the person at the other end: 10.0

(4) Politeness of the support person: 8.0

(5) Technical ability of tech support: 10.0

Overall Rank: 9.2

Obviously, despite my own incorrect assumptions about how this investigation would go at the start of this, the cards fell in favor in Apple. Microsoft was actually a pretty close second to Apple. eBay and Amazon have a lot of improvements to make, and Google, to my great dismay, is a dismal failure in this area.

Does this investigation align with your own experiences? How do your live support calls usually play out? Share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Image Credits: Businessman on the phone Via Shutterstock, Portrait of a man Via Shutterstock, Health concept illustration Via Shutterstock, Smiling East Indian Via Shutterstock, Old Fashion Telephone Via Shutterstock, Beautiful Young Thoughtful Via Shutterstock, Indian Young People Via Shutterstock

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Affiliate Disclamer

This article may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

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