Computer warranties, technical support and service

Once upon a time computers were bought from very specialized dealers, were incredibly expensive and required a lot of maintenance. Those days are over. Today, just like almost everything else, computers are commoditized as are the services that support them.

Assuming you are using an actual desktop or laptop computer and not a tablet (or more likely, in addition to) the computer you are using was probably made overseas in a high volume production facility. Just like with other things, this has led to products that tend to have fewer failures than previous iterations. Even the cheapest units have lower failure rates today than they did ten years ago.

Most of this change is not them wanting to make more reliable units because they are altruistic, it is because it reduces warranty repairs. Fewer warranty repairs means more money in their pockets. Warranty claims and technical support can chew up a significant amount of profit. This is why what technical support a lot of companies offers is moved overseas where the labor is cheaper.

When you buy a computer, often they try to sell you an additional extended warranty. Many times the cost of the warranty is a significant portion of the price of the unit. My general phillosopy regarding extended warranties is to look at the cost of repairs to the unit versus the price of the warranty.

For example, I rarely suggest people buy an extended warranty on a desktop computer as the parts to repair it are usually readily available, reasonably priced and not labor intensive to replace. Laptops however are just the opposite. Parts are generally far scarcer, more expensive and require substantially more knowledge and time to replace. This makes laptops much more likely to make good use of an extended warranty.

The next consideration is price. If you spend $300 on a super cheap laptop on sale, it doesn’t make much sense to put down another $200 on an extended warranty. Conversely if you spend $1200 or more on a nice laptop then an additional $200 on an extended warranty makes a lot more sense.

Tablets and phones follow the same rule. Spend $800 on a nice iPad, the Applecare warranty extension makes sense. Buying a warranty on the little 7” Android tablet that your phone carrier gave you for free for signing up makes no sense at all.

With the warranty out of the way we come to technical support and service. Modern computers need far less of this today than they did ten years ago. In fact, a large percentage of software problems can be solved by having a technician remote into your computer assuming you have high speed internet. Not only is this cheaper, but since there is no technician in your home or office it is easier to schedule around times you may be busy.

Before we get too far here, never allow anyone to remote into your computer that you did not call for help. No reputable company will call you and tell you there is a problem with your computer and that they want to remote into to fix. Not Microsoft, not Google, certainly not “Windows”. In addition, do not call someone for help that you do not know. If a pop up comes up while you are using your computer and says there is a problem and you need to call support, and conveniently provides a phone number, DO NOT CALL IT.

Many companies offer remote technical support, from your local computer repair person up through international companies such as Kaspersky. For basic PC and networking issues for home Kaspersky charges $169 for up to five computers for a full year. This does not cover virus and spyware infections but does cover a lot of support. Given the fact that if it prevents one two hour on site service call in a year it has more than paid for itself it seems to be a pretty smart investment. They also offer several different service plans for business customers which are very affordable.

Even though today we can solve a large number of issues remotely there are times when you need someone to show up at your door. The trick here is to have someone who is not only competent, but familiar with your equipment. Using a company with excellent technicians who do excellent work but every time sends someone different costs you money as they spend time figuring out what other technicians have done and how your equipment is configured. If at all possible find someone you like and stick with them, even if they cost you a couple bucks more than their competition.

So what do you look for in a technician? You want someone who has done this for a while, nothing beats experience. Even experience in a related area helps. For example someone who has spent years working on servers will be better suited to work on your home desktop than someone with only a few months experience overall, but works exclusively on desktops.

Ignore the fluff; fancy signs, slick business cards, college degrees and certifications are all great but you need to verify experience and customer references over everything else. I can’t count how many techs I have interviewed who had certs and degrees but almost needed a book to show them where the power button was. Don’t just get references, call them, check them, make sure they are happy with the technician.

If the company you want to use has multiple technicians, be sure you verify the references of that specific tech. Sure, the company can be important too but you don’t want to find out too late that the company is hit or miss with their techs. If you find a tech at that company that you really like, don’t be afraid to insist on that technician. Sometimes you may have to wait a while, especially if that tech has a lot of loyal customers, but unless it is an emergency that may be the best way to go.

Once you get a good tech and you like them, be sure you let them know. No, you don’t need to give them big monetary tips (although I won’t object!) but you will be surprised how far a “thank you” followed by a hand shake will go. A card on Christmas or their Birthday wouldn’t hurt either. Remember that you normally call them when something goes wrong and you need help. A few simple kindnesses will ensure that they see you as more than just a paycheck and have a genuine desire to help you when you need it.