Friday, December 28, 2007

Tales of Terrible Tech Support

I've had more than my share of tech support ordeals this year. I can't resist ranting, but I'll try to keep it brief.

I switched our DSL service provider from SBC to Earthlink back in July, 2006 because SBC pulled a bait-and-switch on us (the initial inexpensive DSL suddenly doubled in price) and because Earthlink offered a good price on phone service and high-speed DSL combined. Ironically I had heard that Earthlink had excellent customer support, and that made me more inclined to switch.

I'll spare you the details: after months of our DSL not working periodically for days at a time, way too many phone calls and several appointments with technicians, they finally dialed back the "high speed" service to plain-old DSL and it became (almost) reliable. But the experience left me bitter. Earthlink didn't actually provide the DSL, but contracted to Covad who would come out and "fix" it, but then it would stop working. And of course every time I called Earthlink I had to explain the problem and repeat the history of the problems to a new technician, who would usually have me try the same thing I had tried each time without success before finally escalating it. Sadly, I think this kind of technical support is average. For Earthlink to provide above-average technical support they would need to identify customers with chronic problems and assign a technician to the case whose job is be a contact person and do what it takes to provide satisfaction. (I think this would probably save them money in the long run and would certainly buy them a lot of valuable good will.)

So I decided (after letting the Earthlink contract expire) to switch from Earthlink to Comcast to get a higher-speed cable-modem, and Comcast could also provide phone service (and continue to provide our cable TV service). Hopefully this won't prove to be a mistake, but it has been another painful transition.

It took a couple months before Comcast actually came to do the installation. We booked two appointments that were cancelled because Comcast could not coordinate the porting of our phone number from Earthlink.

After everything was finally installed, it all worked for a week or so and then stopped. I seemed to be having problems with the cable modem and my old Linksys BEFSR41 router. (Don't take this link to be an endorsement--do not buy it--and keep reading if you want to find out why I recommend you think twice about buying any Linksys products.) It just stopped getting an IP number from the modem (even though my computer could when connected directly to it). I tried upgrading the firmware, but couldn't through its web interface and couldn't when I tried their Windows software (no Mac software provided) on my PC at work.

Finally I called Linksys tech support. To their credit, I was not on hold for long (and they provide 24-7 support). But I was told the product is out-of-warranty (I've had it for 2 1/2 years) and I had to pay $30 for "extended warranty" tech support. The "specialist" technician I then spoke to had me press the reset button for 1 minute (I had tried 30 seconds as the manual recommended) and it worked. I should have had him help me upgrade the firmware, but sometimes I actually do practice "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and I figured I could always call back.

Everything worked for a couple days, and then the cable modem stopped working. I called Comcast and was told something confusing about the modem being activated but my account wasn't, or maybe it was the reverse. The technician couldn't fix that: I had to wait up to 3 working days for it to be fixed in their big computer in Colorado. And since it was the Friday before xmas, that meant we'd have to go almost a week without the Internet.

Yesterday afternoon I tried the cable modem again and it worked, and after some fiddling I got the router working. But then last night our connection died again. The modem wasn't responding, so I called Comcast and spoke to a technician without any time on hold. He had me disconnect the modem and ground the coaxial cable. Then he reset the modem and everything worked. (We'll see how long that lasts.)

But then I couldn't get the router to work. So I was back on the phone to Linksys. But the technician told me the $30 "extended warranty" had expired after 7 days! She wanted me to now pay another $33 for another 14 days of "extended warranty" service. I refused, and tried unsuccessfully for some time to talk her into escalating my case without the extra charge. Finally it became clear that all she could do was keep reading for her script and that she was trained not to hang up, so I finally (politely) said "good-bye".

I'm disputing the $30 charge on my card--I'll get some satisfaction knowing that even if I don't get my money back that it will cost Linksys (Cisco) more than $30 to deal with my dispute.

Ironically I emailed a complaint to Linksys at the email address provided in the receipt for the $30 charge, and received a response saying they have "discontinued the e-mail support channel for Technical Support Inquiries."

I'm going to buy a new Apple AirPort Extreme. Apple is the one company that has provided me only positive tech support experiences.

My rant is long enough, so I'll save the details on my problems with Popcorn, Toast and Spanning Sync for another time.


Charlie said...


I'm distressed to hear that you had a bad experience with Spanning Sync and want to make it right. Please email me at and I'll work with you to get you problem fixed immediately.

Spanning Sync

Michelle said...

Hi there,
I was searching online for info regarding Linksys and just saw this older post of yours. I am annoyed with just the $30 tech charge they are claiming I have to pay. How did the Airport Extreme end up working for you? I'm considering ditching Linksys altogether and just buying that. How is their tech support?

yacitus said...

Sorry it took me so long to reply Michelle.

The Airport Extreme has been completely reliable. Apple's tech support is not perfect, but it's probably the best of any I have experience with.