For this article, Tech Support is the service provided by a company when you contact them about a problem with one of its products. Although my focus, of course, is computers, the information discussed can apply to almost any product or service, Geek Squad Tech Support from defective televisions and appliances to magazine subscriptions and cable companies.

Why does the current state of tech support so often leave something to be desired? Answering this question won't change anything, but it might make you feel slightly better if you understand the dynamic involved. The one-word answer is Money.

Providing tech support costs money. You may not have noticed, but the economy is having some difficulties right now, which makes most companies even more parsimonious with their resources. Every time companies try to save money by reducing the amount, or the quality of tech support, it sucks a bit more. "But wait!" I hear you cry. "Doesn't it ultimately cost a company MORE money to lose a customer through poor tech support?"

Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn't. Most of these companies use complex formulas to determine how many clients they lose to poor tech support, how much that tech support costs to provide, and how many new customers could be acquired if the same money is applied to the advertising budget. If the equation tips even one penny towards advertising, you know how the company is going to proceed. It also should be noted that many companies don't take a long-term point of view, often sacrificing long-term gains for short-term ones, because they are responsible to shareholders today, and their jobs depend on immediate results, not longer-term ones.

How do some of the different computer companies look in the Tech Support derby? According to surveys conducted by Consumer Reports, Forrester Research, and LAPTOP Magazine, Apple has the best tech support, being the only company with decent tech support and moderately happy customers. The worst offenders were Dell and HP, with the other guys falling in between, but closer to the horrible end of the scale.

So How Do I Get Help?

What do you do if your computer (or other product) is defective, or broken, or misbehaving? How do you proceed? Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge my primary information source. Although I've researched a variety of sources and combined that knowledge with some hard-earned life experience [I'm looking at you, Dell] the most useful source of information for this column is an excellent website run under the auspices of Consumer Reports called It is an excellent consumer advocacy website. I wish I could claim many of these ideas as my own, but if it's clever, it probably came from them. I don't think they'd mind me passing this information on since we share the mission to cultivate an informed and empowered bunch of consumers.

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