February 10, 2009

Acer’s Technical Non-support

Consumer technical support for computer equipment has always been difficult and expensive to deliver. This is especially true of support involving computers themselves, since every day a person uses the computer, the device is being customized and made different from every other computer in the world, even if the user is not adding devices or changing components in the machine. Technical support for more specialized equipment—printers and routers come immediately to mind—has generally been better, presumably because it is less open-ended.*

When I purchased my first computer running Windows (3.1 at the time), I was promised lifetime technical support, by telephone, e-mail, or bulletin board. These days, however, support can be limited in many ways, including duration, medium (e.g., e-mail only), and accessibility (support from badly coached non-native speakers of English can make technical support virtually useless). We learn to adapt, and most people, particularly in the present economic circumstances, are probably willing to trade a bit of convenience in technical support for a low purchase price.

I was nonetheless infuriated by a technical support experience I had yesterday with Acer America. I had purchased and set up a relatively inexpensive Acer computer for a client. The computer was well-supplied with external connectors of all kinds, but I found myself short of USB ports on the back of the machine. (I preferred to leave the USB connections on the front panel available to the user for temporary connections.) With most keyboards, mice, and printers using USB connections these days, my problem is an increasingly common one.

I happened to have a USB mouse that came with a USB-to-PS/2 adapter, and I thought I might free up a USB slot by plugging the mouse into a PS/2 port. For whatever reason, this did not work, so I decided to contact Acer, particularly because there could be a hardware problem with the PS/2 port. Reading over the characteristicly useless “documentation” that came with the computer and visiting the Acer Web site, it seemed likely that my only support option was via e-mail. I filled out a Web form, describing my problem this way:
Because I would rather not use a USB port on the front of the computer for my mouse, I tried using the mouse with a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. This does not seem to work, however. Is there something special I have to do, or is there a possibility that the PS/2 ports are defective?
In response, I received a note explaining that my question was received and that questions are answered in the order received. My work was not being hampered by a failure to receive an immediate answer, so I went on with my business.

As it happened, I found that I needed to connect even more USB devices to the computer, so I decided I simply had to buy an external USB hub. This was a fine solution that still left me with two open and accessible USB ports and did not cost very much.

About 10 hours after I submitted my support request, I received the following message from Acer:
Dear Lionel Deimel,

Thank you for contacting Acer America. I’ll be happy to assist you.

As Acer America does not test third party hardware we are unable to provide technical support or recommendations regarding this issue. For assistance with this issue, it will be necessary for you to contact the manufacturer of this device.

Respectfully,
Acer America
Online Technical Support
Almost everything is wrong with this kiss-off response. To begin with, if Acer America is so “happy to assist” me, why doesn’t it? The message, clearly a boilerplate response that acknowledges nothing specific about my inquiry, is cold and impersonal. Acer would do well to have support people sign such messages by name, even if the names are made up. Instead, I received e-mail from “Acer America.” Someone should tell Acer America that customers need to feel that their concerns are at least being heard, even if the company, for whatever reason, is unable to help them. Empathy (or at least the appearance of empathy) is cheap.

The message actually was helpful in the sense that I had not considered that the adapter I was using might be defective. (What, after all, can go wrong with such a simple device?) I had assumed that it had actually been used with the mouse to which it was attached when it was given to me, though this proved not to be the case. Acer did not even directly suggest that there might be a problem with the adapter, which they could have without putting themselves out or “supporting” third-party hardware. I wonder what Acer’s reponse would have been had I told them that I had connected a PS/2 mouse that had been used successfully on another computer to the Acer. Would I have been told to contact the Mouse vendor? Wouldn’t the mouse vendor have told me that the mouse clearly worked and that the problem was likely with my computer? Acer completely ignored even the possibility that their computer might have been at fault.

Acer could have been even more helpful without getting bogged down in problems related to non-Acer hardware. They could have suggested that I try the mouse and adapter on another computer or that I try a PS/2 mouse on the Acer PC. Perhaps I should have been directed to look at the Device Manager, where it was not immediately obvious what settings applied to the PS/2 ports. Instead, Acer simply responded with not-our-problem arrogance.

The message from Acer also contained this statement: “If this issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may reopen it within the next 7 days.” Do I lose my right to even ask the question after a week?

I actually rather like the Acer computer and monitor I bought, and I don’t rule out buying Acer equipment in the future. I will advise clients that they should have low expectations of Acer technical support, however. My grade of Acer’s technical support for this incident is definitely F.



*I have to express my appreciation here for the telephone support I have received for my Oki color LED printer. It has always been knowledgeable, friendly, and readily available. This is a very complex printer, but Oki technical support folks have invariably solved my problem, even when that problem was, in a sense, not a printer problem. (I was once advised how I should change what I was doing in Microsoft Word to get the printer output I was seeking.)

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