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Tech Customer Support is in Need of Repairs

USA Today reports on the findings from a new survey of 2,551 Americans, released by Harris Interactive and software firm RightNow Technologies.

About 85 percent of those polled said they've become so flustered, they've ended up swearing, shouting, experiencing chest pains, crying or smashing things. Slightly more than half said not being able to get a live person on the phone was their greatest frustration, according to the survey. Seven out of 10 people polled said representatives weren't trained adequately.

The findings illustrate the growing anxiety of U.S. consumers as they buy more gadgets for home use and expect them to work out of the box. And they reflect the challenges vendors will face during the holiday shopping season, when they are typically deluged with customer-support phone calls.

The potential financial consequences for the multibillion-dollar home-PC and consumer-electronics industries are huge, say tech analysts. The difference between companies boasting superior support and those who stumble translates to revenue and market share during what is traditionally the busiest quarter for tech vendors, says Roger Kay, president of technology consultancy Endpoint Technologies Associates.

If support problems fester, companies face the danger not only of losing customers but of those disgruntled users warning others, Kay says. "As the Internet has sped up the consumer experience, customer expectations are higher," says Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, a company that helps Electronic Arts, Nikon and others provide better customer service. "Customer service is not always worse, but that's the perception."

Products provoking the most frustration: PCs, digital cameras and DVD players. Consumers typically have trouble getting them to work together.

Key Findings of the 2,551 People Surveyed:

- 90 percent say they've had a bad experience.

- 85 percent admit to swearing, shouting, crying or hitting something in frustration.

- 71 percent think customer-service representatives aren't sufficiently trained.

- 53 percent believe the inability to reach a service representative over the phone or Web is the No. 1 complaint among consumers.

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