Tech Support Matures, You Pay!

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Recently, in researching best practices in tech support for an article for our online-only content, I hit upon an interesting trend: There seems to have been a sea change in computer tech support.

I interviewed Rob Colt, a seasoned IT professional who said that for the last five years, he never wanted to be involved in residential fixing because residential tech support customers expect free, reliable computer repair. But apparently, this has changed.

“Nowadays, people are as dependent on their computers as they are on their automobiles,” Colt said. “Their whole lives are on there — they pay all their bills on there, they do most of their communication on there, they do everything on their computer. So, it’s gotten to where people have to actually pay to repair their computers now.”

In my own experiences with computer ownership and maintenance, I’ve seen a shift similar to what Colt describes.

My first desktop computer was purchased from a small, boutique-type company in North Carolina. Things went wrong with it more often than not — it tended to corrupt its CD drives with every season change — and when it malfunctioned, I had to disconnect it and physically take it to a small shop in Raleigh, N.C., to get it fixed. Opening it myself voided the service warranty (after I moved away, this resulted, ridiculously, in me once taking it on a flight from Chicago to Raleigh).

Later, when air travel was not an option, I took it to a storefront in Chicago. The people there replaced the fan, assured me the computer was fixed and charged me a comparatively small service fee of about $75.

I took it home, and it didn’t boot up (I called the shop and forced it to give me a refund).

Eventually, I bought another computer. After owning it for a little while, it started acting up. Because the company was renowned for its award-winning customer service, I decided to call tech support.

It was a typical story of computer customer support if you’re not buying in bulk: I spoke with a man in India named “Bruce.” After a couple hours on the phone, we still hadn’t fixed the problem, yet he refused to send a technician to my apartment. Instead, he just subjected me to futile long-distance troubleshooting until I was frustrated enough to end the call. Ultimately, I just fixed the problem myself.

The lesson here is that free computer tech support isn’t out there. If you manage to finagle it out of a computer manufacturer, consider yourself lucky. Apparently, what Colt asserts is indeed the case: Computers have become like cars — if you can’t fix them yourself, you pay to have them fixed. And you might pay a lot.

It’s a situation that’s not likely to change, and the reason is offshoring. Since the ’90s offshoring craze swept the American business climate, many industries have abandoned the practice.

The manufacturing industry in particular saw that offshoring production led to substantial supply chain, legal, financial and proprietary concerns. Negotiating shipping, trade tariff and inventory complications proved not as easy as it looked, and meanwhile, sophisticated products manufactured overseas were widely bootlegged in regions where copyright concerns are more of a murky issue. Many manufacturers recognized this and quietly moved the production they had offshored back to the States.

Not so in computer tech support, where offshoring has been a slam-dunk. The only real problem with moving tech support overseas is the drop in level of service, and who cares about customer service?! Meanwhile, by moving tech support into developing countries such as India, computer companies gain a foothold in booming IT markets.

So, if you want your computer fixed, and you don’t know how to fix it yourself, it’s probably headed for a service shop. Luckily for IT professionals, do-it-yourself computer repair isn’t really much of a problem, and computer companies’ failure to stand behind their products results in a market for your skills, as less-tech-savvy folks in need of tech support apparently are now willing to pay for it.

In the meantime, there is one place where people can and are going for free tech support: forums.

Even the most skilled techie can get stumped from time to time. In those instances, turning to online forums to run down a problem can quickly produce a solution.

We run such a forum ourselves, and we frequently see IT pros there assisting one another in troubleshooting. So, if your computer’s broken, and you don’t know why, don’t board a plane with it — head over to

–Daniel Margolis,

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