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

Ryan Dube 02-11-2012

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.


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.


(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


(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


(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


(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


(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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  1. Swizzle 1
    April 30, 2013 at 8:20 am

    great subject (I laughed throughout reading the article) and surprising results - with the exception being Google; I don't believe they will ever offer live support. Myself, I never try to call any support for the simple reason that I cannot understand the accents of the people that work in countries that the big companies outsource to. I have found chat to be the alternative that works for me. If chat isn't available I'll use email. Although the disclaimer can be as many as 7 working days most companies are back to you within 24 hours. I once had an issue with Soluto where support was back to me in just over an hour... and the issue was rectified in less time than that even though there were multiple emails exchanged.

  2. Christine St Syr Griffin
    March 24, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I know right? the whole google no phone thing is bewildering, sometimes OK twice, I call the number they leave you on google voice and it actually let's you leave a message. I did, not sure if anyone actually listens to the voicemails at google but it made me laugh just doing it. apple is good also at hiring at home tech people to answer the phones, the pay looks OK and I hear your eligable for benefits. thanks for the insightful article.christine

  3. elaine clarke
    January 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

    The technical support I received from Apple was absolutely superb . We had multiple problems and we were assisted in a friendly knowledgable way. Thank you Apple. Elaiine

  4. Griffin
    December 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    In my experience Windows makes me want to kill myself because nobody knows what they're talking about and when I called about dual booting 1/2 of them thought it was a product and the other 1/2 didn't know what it was (i called and chatted many times sometimes at the same time to attempt to get some type of answer). Origin's customer support I actually have found to BE THE BEST BY 1000000%. I love them because they aren't like your average customer support where they talk to you in a monotone voice, they don't have accents I can't understand, and they don't vary in sound levels (they aren't screaming at me and they aren't whispering in terms of volume). My biggest love of them is that they don't talk to you like your just another person in their dull life of answering idiots questions (this might be true because their actual product sucks so every question / problem is actually not the user being stupid) instead they talk to you like your asking your close uncle for help. My favorite part is that they fix things. Fast. 1/2 the time I don't even touch anything and they just change something on their end (it was a validation problem and I thought it was my fault but they did something) and when they do make you do something they make easy easy and effective. This is just my experience but because of their support I stick with their HORRIBLE product.

  5. Christopher Webb
    November 15, 2012 at 9:35 am

    You know who have the worst tech support? Verizon Fios, they actually yelled at me after I complained that a salesperson scammed me. Meh...absolute nightmare.

  6. Rajaa Chowdhury
    November 6, 2012 at 3:36 am

    If you want to drive yourself MAD :), just call up any of the Indian Mobile operator's helpline. :P I assure you, you will forget the term HELP or rather that is the only word you will remember. Hahaha!!!!

  7. Terafall
    November 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I never use a tech support before so I don't know what it feels like

  8. Douglas Mutay
    November 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    The only good support I have ever get was from Bestbuy companies

  9. James Bruce
    November 5, 2012 at 8:59 am

    In fairness, affiliate support is actually a different phone number (uk one is listed here: ) so shouldn't be too harsh on that girl.

    My own experience with Amazon and Apple have both been superb; can't say I've ever wanted to phone Microsoft. And echoing what you found, Google are pathetic; even their email support is horrendously robotic. I appealed my adsense ban and got the same generic response back - "we reviewed your case, and you're still banned. You cannot reply and there is no recourse".

  10. Zhong Jiang
    November 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    What I found in most tech support was their methodical language, what I've experience with Sony was the agent never seem to be a person and just a robot.

  11. Miles Cannon
    November 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Windstream is spot-on anytime called...McAfee, too

  12. Anonymous
    November 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I am surprised at google's result.

  13. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    From my own experience, I found that the best tech supports are mostly from small companies, or even one-man teams. This article restores my faith to the 'big boys'. I'm somewhat surprised Amazon even hire that woman, but maybe she's a newbie, or a part-timer. On the other hand, I initially thought Microsoft's would be sub-par, but this is over my expectations.
    If you have patience, try Facebook. I haven't try calling them, but email support is bad so far. I've asked them five times to block my email address so no one can use it to sign up, but no response even until now. The automated email doesn't help and I can't reach real person.

  14. Shep Hyken
    November 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Really an interesting article. One of the fastest way to erode online customer confidence is through bad support. Everyone should take lessons from

  15. John Doe
    November 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    This is an interesting article.

  16. Boni Oloff
    November 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    I use amazon many times, i am never call them, but i have many experience with the support via email. Their answer is very good. And many times, they are not talking about money because of their fail. They late sending may package and they refund the money directly as compensation. Amazon is the most awesome customer service i have try.

  17. Mac Witty
    November 3, 2012 at 7:59 am

    I have also got good support from Adobe, at least as good as Apple

  18. Koshy George
    November 3, 2012 at 12:35 am

    I thought Tech Support was myth.

    • Koshy George
      November 3, 2012 at 12:35 am

      typo : I thought Tech Support was a myth.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        November 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm

        And why is that?

  19. Charley Rouse
    November 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Whenever we have 'phoned a help-desk (usually hardware warranty issues) Apple have always offered the Best Experience, highly knowledgeable, empathetic and friendly - and always willing to place to the next level support if necessary, others could/should learn : )

  20. Adrian Rea
    November 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I often find tech support is an individual experience. It depends on the technical ability of both user and supporter, it depends on the method of communication, it depends on the preconceived ideas of both parties, the systems in place to handle and escalate issues, and finally the nature of the actual problem. I tend to have good encounters with various IT support teams but it is an art and mutual respect helps.

  21. Shon
    November 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    A slight correction in grammar needs to be made....

    From the first paragraph of the Microsoft section:
    "Microsoft probably wouldn’t offer much of an experience when it came to life support either."

    I was not aware they offered life support ;-) Not a product I would like to try out from this company.... to many crashes in their past....

    No rub intended, just wanted to point it out.
    Thanks for a good read.

  22. Lp
    November 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I have received excellent customer support by sony a couple of times.

  23. Efi Dreyshner
    November 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Microsoft support is great (In israel (:)

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      November 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      They should make some sort of standard so everyone, no matter in what country, would have the same experience.

      • Chaos Emperor
        November 6, 2012 at 6:50 am

        yeah you right.

  24. carie
    November 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I have found the online support very effective for Amazon, never tried to phone them directly though, just tried the support on the site, spoke to a helpful person within seconds and had the matter resolved (lost book) within minutes.

    Also had excellent support from microsoft, phoned the support line, followed the numbered options, then spoke to a very friendly man based in India who assisted me with an activation issue and afterwards, even sent an email to follow up.