Things To Look For

Someone pointed this out to me:

With this review we are introducing a new addition to our individual motherboard reviews here on AnandTech – Manufacturer Tech Support & RMA. These sections will talk about a motherboard manufacturer’s Technical Support and RMA processes.

The way it works is first we anonymously email the manufacturer’s tech support address(es), obviously not using our AnandTech mail server to avoid any sort of preferential treatment. Our emails (we can and will send more than one just to make sure we’re not getting the staff on an “off” day) all contain fixable problems that we’ve had with our motherboard. We then give the manufacturer up to 72 hours to respond over business days and will report not only whether they even responded within the time allotted but also if they were successful in fixing our problems. If we do eventually receive a response after the review is published, we will go back and amend the review with the total time it took for the manufacturer to respond to our requests. The idea here is to encourage manufacturers to improve their technical support as well as provide new criteria to base your motherboard purchasing decisions upon; with motherboards looking more and more alike every day, we have to help separate the boys from the men in as many ways as possible.

While the author certainly deserves full marks for good intentions, there’s an inherent problem with this approach.

A reviewer gets a particular motherboard before it is available for sale. If a reviewer sends a request for technical assistance for a motherboard that isn’t generally available, it shouldn’t take the technical support people very long to figure out who is likely to be “anonymously” sending it.

A reviewer can of course not identify the motherboard in the subject of the email, in which case, you might get some idea as to response, but again, you can’t hide a request coming in before it “should.”

Is This A Realistic Test?

It’s kind of unrealistic to expect a lot of handholding when the company makes so little profit on you.

This isn’t a statement against tech support, just individualized tech support. The company’s website should be the main and primary source of tech support information, and when that’s the case (and it’s organized enough so that you can actually find what you need), it boils down to “RTFM.”

It seems to me inquiries to tech support should be more a tripwire than anything else, to tell the company of problems, and to alert them that they need to get some new guidance up on their website.

As someone who basically provides tech support for a handful of computer-challenged people, and who at least tries to answer support questions to those who write me; it’s pretty damned difficult to solve a lot of problems without working with the machine.

It’s like trying to be a doctor diagnosing a patient over the telephone. Sure, it’s not hard to spill out the most likely causes of a particular problem (and I’ve found Joe Sixpacks tend to think I don’t know what I’m doing if I mention multiple reasons why their machine isn’t working right). Maybe 50-75% of the time, that’s good enough.

I’d say, though, for machines that I’ve worked on, the eventual answer often wasn’t in the list of suspects, and if I didn’t have the machine in my hands, God only knows how long it might have taken to figure it out over the telephone.

I’ve also found it helps greatly to know the customer. I have one relative, the first question is, “What did you add to the system?” Despite having gone through this a number of times, still hasn’t dawned on him that when you add something, and it stops working, maybe the thing you added caused the problem.

Have another where the usual problem is, “Is it plugged in?” Hey, that’s been the problem about half the time.

When I go to forums and look at the problems people have, I’d say the proportions are about the same, and I suspect those who answer those questions in the forums would agree that maybe 40% of the time, you can’t figure out the problem within a reasonable period of time without actually looking at the machine and working with it yourself.

No doubt sometimes the machine is actually broken. No doubt other times the person did something wrong or stupid, and the diagnoser doesn’t hear the problem.

It’s a tough task, and I’m very hesitant to suggest some measurement of user experience because you don’t know how good or bad the owner of the ailing machine is, and there’s no easy quick surefire way to figure that out.

If you have some thoughts on this, the address is right below.


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