Exercise Caution When Calling Computer Help Hotlines

December 31, 2006 3:48am CST
Many computer manufacturers sell service plans with their PCs and laptops, usually covering the legal warranty period of up to two years. For an additional sum, customers can get a service that will pick up defective hardware. There are hotlines where users can get advise and help. And for all these services, users need to make sure they understand the fees. "Almost all major PC and laptop companies offer a variety of service packages," says Juergen Rink from the Hanover-based magazine c't. Many offer a home pick-up service for broken computers. Bring-in services require the user to send in the computer notebook. On-site service is the most convenient ­ and expensive. "A technician comes right to you and inspects the device right there to see if he can repair it," explains Rink. Computer maker Acer offers an Acer-Advantage package to customers. The extended guarantee program offered throughout Europe is valid for up to three years. Options include an onsite repair service, says Gila Finkel, a spokeswoman for the company based in Ahrensburg in the German state of Schleswig Holstein. Customers are also allowed to designate the timeframe in which the company must respond to their calls ... anywhere from four hours to two days. Costs vary for such services. The three-year plan with computer maker Dell costs around 150 euros (196 dollars) per notebook, but only 35 euros for a PC. Extended guarantees for laptops usually cost more as they often have to endure more than stationary PCs, says Rink. But experts say costs are often not clear to customers. Of course, Stefan Boettinger of Dell in Halle thinks a service packet is a good investment. "With on-site service, for example, you usually get someone in your home on the same day to repair your machine." People who don't opt for on-site service usually get a year's pick up and repair service for a fee. "Most problems can be taken care of over the telephone." Most companies also offer a hotline. Consumer advice group Stiftung Warentest has tested many of these numbers repeatedly. In general, the experts were disappointed, said Simone Vintz of Stiftung Warentest. Time after time, the group had performed the tests to find that hotline workers knew too little and usually charged too much. Most of the hotline workers did not show any specialized computer knowledge, said Vintz. Many of them had no more training than regular computer users. Rarely do these hotlines set up graduated systems that allow more seasoned professionals to take over, if the first contact cannot handle the problem. Reaching many of these hotlines can also be frustrating. Customers are forced to spend long periods on hold until they are put through to the right person. According to the group, the Dell Hotline was the only one that managed to answer all its questions. "The technical support there is really good," praised Vintz. There is one problem though: the service can be expensive. Customers could expect to pay about 18 euros for telephone assistance in 2006. Complex problems often meant additional fees, adding up to 50 to 80 euros. Rink said Toshiba used to charge 20 to 30 euros per call until recently. Vintz advises asking about fees up front. Rink advises on-site service for all computer users, "preferably with the option for a replacement device" and at least a two-year guarantee. By Stefanie Zenke, Dpa
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