"Award Winning Tech Support"

Ed Foster, an InfoWorld columnist tells the story of a person who purchased a computer form Dell. She quickly discovered that she couldn't receive attachments using Microsoft Outlook and called Dell tech support. Dell support solved her problem by having her change a relatively easy to get to setting -- six clicks by my count. Dell allegedly charged her $149 for this service.

Dell's position, ostensibly, is that the computer was running properly. The support the user needed was for a Microsoft product installed on the computer. Furthermore, it's actually a Microsoft security fix that changes that setting. Even so, $149 seems a bit exorbitant for six clicks.

Regardless, that logic works only up to a point. Microsoft Outlook is distributed with the Windows operating system. Dell provides users with OEM licenses of Windows because OEM copies of Windows are quite a bit cheaper than their full retail cousins. The reason that Microsoft charges less for an OEM license is because Dell is agreeing to support the product.

That's a part of the arrangement PC manufactures make with Microsoft when they agree to bundle OEM copies of Windows with new systems. OEMs -- like Dell -- agree to support Windows in order to save money on each license they sell. We know this because everyone does it. Otherwise, one company's computers would be $100 more than everyone else's right off the bat.

As a computer retail/repair shop as well as an ISP, we've talked hundreds of customers though the same process. Here's how it usually goes. The customer calls up. They ask us why we're blocking their attachments: they really need them. We spend about 30 seconds trying to figure out if they are talking about a virus infected attachment that our server protected them from or the Outlook setting.

Once we've resolved that issue, we tell the user that it's a setting in Outlook that is blocking the attachment. They insist they didn't change it. We spend about a minute explaining that Windows updated itself with a security fix from Microsoft. The security fix changed the setting.

Note: To Microsoft's credit, they had the user's safety and overall health of the Internet in mind when they implemented the security fix. Most viruses spread via attachments and Microsoft Outlook. However, they really really really should have notified users that they were making the change.

Anyway, back to the tech support call. The customer still doesn't believe that it's a setting on our their computer. They can't believe Microsoft would change something on their computer without telling them. That doesn't make sense. We agree and we eventually get past that.

It's been precisely two minutes since we first answered the phone. We now proceed to walk the user through changing the setting. Six clicks and thirty seconds later, the user is able to open attachments again.

They still can't believe Microsoft would change something on their computer without telling them. We agree and ask them if there's anything else we can do. They say no, thank us, and we hang up.

Just then, we realize we forgot to get the user's credit card number! How will we bill them for the last three minutes. We could call them back, but we didn't even bother to get their name. We don't even know for certain that they were customers.

Maybe it was Dell's tech support staff calling us for help. Nah, that would have been a long distance call from India. But come to think of it, maybe they have to charge so much for tech support to cover the long distance charges.

But wasn't outsourcing supposed to make Dell's tech support cheaper/faster/better? What happened?

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