Dealing With Companies

The first thing to understand is that most companies in most industries have somewhere between zero and strong-negative incentive to help you fix their products. So they’re somewhere between actively hostile (Apple, Tesla) to merely grudging in their help.

In their defense, companies are besieged by waves of lazy, uninformed, self-righteous assholes who won’t RTFM and/or make unreasonable or fraudulent demands. And helping someone make a repair that later fails and gets them sued isn’t good business either.

This is why “first-line support” exists. CSRs and tech support folks are (under-) paid to get your query “resolved” as quickly as possible, where “resolved” means you go away, regardless of whether your problem is solved or not. Specifically, their job is to protect the engineers/experts/smart-people from having to talk to the hordes.

The truth is that those smart people are often perfectly willing to help, but only if you’re competent, respectful of their time, and not a jerk or a nutjob. Reaching such a person-who-can-help-you can be difficult, and it’s often down to luck. But you can greatly increase your chances of success if you:

  1. Do your research. Do not call in with a question that 10 minutes of Googling would answer, especially if the answer is available on the company’s site or in the manual. Doing so immediately identifies you as someone who does not deserve to talk to someone smart.
  2. Know every possible thing you can about the thing you’re trying to repair. Model numbers, serial numbers, date of manufacture, options, configurations. Sometimes you’ll find some other more popular model/configuration that’s similar but not what you have. Be prepared for the rep to assume you have the common thing, and to politely correct them.
  3. Use the knowledge from #1 and #2 to shock and awe whomever picks up the phone. You want them to be convinced within the first 30 seconds that you deserve to be connected to someone smart. What you’re going for is a deer-in-the-headlights moment of silence from them, followed by “Umm…let me connect you with [engineer/supervisor/expert/old-guy-who-knows-everything].” Note that saying you deserve to be connected to someone smart is the exact wrong thing to do. A person who would say that is probably wrong and definitely an asshole. You need to show them, with your knowledge and politeness.
  4. If and when you get connected to someone who knows their stuff, DO NOT waste their time and/or be a jerk. Every minute a competent person is talking to you is money out of their pocket, because it’s a minute they’re not getting their own work done. Get your specific, well-thought-out question out right away, tell them what you’ve done so far, then shut up and let them talk. Bonus if you can make your project sound cool or interesting (without lying).
  5. Often times a someone is willing to help but just comes up empty. Try to probe what they know. Is there a service manual, maybe for a different but similar device? Drawings? In one case I read off 4-5 company part numbers from a circuit board, and one of them matched a schematic in the rep’s database. He said “it just looks like a bunch of circuits and stuff” and assumed I wouldn’t be interested, but agreed to send it anyway. Score!