Readers continue to complain about thick-accented phone support representatives. Several Dell and HP customers we interviewed griped about the language barrier. "When you talk to somebody and you can't understand their thick accent, normally they don't get what you say either," Schwarz says. Vendors, however, have been working diligently to remedy this particular problem. "A lot of overseas organizations have addressed the language question more effectively," says Gartner hardware analyst Ron Silliman. "It's true that you may run into an accent, but it's less likely that you'll run into slipshod call center procedures."
When it comes to support personnel who are based overseas, "you're dealing with, for the most part, a very highly educated and extraordinarily polite and patient pool of people who are doing their best," says Gartner's Fiering. "In all the calls I've made, I've run into only a couple of people who I've had a hard time understanding," she adds.
Vendors say that they've listened carefully to their customers' complaints and are making the necessary adjustments among their support staffs. "We've put in very rigorous prehire screens on voice and grammar," says Dell's Hunter. "We now know that people coming in the door are quite capable."
HP tells a similar story. Resolving the accent issue is "a pretty significant focus on our part," says Kahler of HP. "We're monitoring our partners and our call center sites very closely for language skills, and making sure we're hiring and training for language and cultural sensitivity."
Of the major computer vendors, Dell and Hewlett-Packard received the largest proportion of customer complaints about hold times for phone support. Both vendors report that their studies show they've shortened the wait in recent months. "When a customer waits for tech support more than 7 to 8 minutes, they start getting angry," says Hunter, adding that Dell now averages a queue time of 2 minutes, down from 6 to 8 minutes 18 months ago. HP's in-house stats are similar: 80 percent of customers who phone in get their call answered within 3 minutes, and the maximum wait is 6 to 7 minutes.
Those numbers may be rosy, but our readers beg to differ. Desktop users, for instance, slapped Dell and HP with worse-than-average grades for phone hold time (an average of more than 10 minutes for Dell owners and close to 12 minutes for HP owners). Both Dell and HP laptop users complained that they were left on hold for around 11 minutes on average.