There is no question that e-mail is the best communication avenue for almost every daily activity. On a personal level we have letters...

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There is no question that e-mail is the best communication avenue for almost every daily activity. On a personal level we have letters, invitations and announcements. Unless you are some kind of fuddy-duddy who stands on ceremony, there is no other way.

As for business communication, there are few people who still use regular mail to make a point or issue a directive. Many who consider themselves “busy” would rather use e-mail than the phone for basic communication, as it avoids the endless modern communication byproduct known as “chit-chat.”

But product support is still one place where e-mail falls flat. I would like to live in a perfect world, where every company has 24-hour toll-free no-cost technical support, where everyone on the other end has a sunny disposition and a deep understanding of their product. I also understand reality, why these services no longer exist. Businesses exist to make money and they can’t give away services.

Knowing this doesn’t change my gut reaction when I have a problem. I log onto a company’s Web page for support options. These are almost always hidden. In a perfect world, every company selling anything at all would be required to display its phone number and e-mail address in large type on their opening page. But in most cases, it’s at least three clicks away.

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There is probably a Web-design textbook somewhere that says how this should be. Maybe since the Web is in many ways a free service, they need to find a way for you to pay.

In this way I am the aforementioned fuddy-duddy who stands on ceremony and hangs onto the past with fierce passion. Indeed, my reaction to e-mail support is visceral. If there is something I cannot fix, I need to talk to someone interactively, where I say the problem and he or she will tell me the solution. I will not select my problem from a list and wait for a response that comes out of a knowledge base.

I really want this to work. But it doesn’t. A few weeks ago I had a problem with an online service and sent in a complaint. The folks there sent back a response, where it was clear they had not read what I had written but had only read the selected heading and sent back a relevant paragraph. It wasn’t what I had requested but was good enough. Which is probably the average.

Recently I had the same problem. Sent the same message. Got the same answer. Twice. I finally lost my temper. I called them horrid people. I swore I would never use their service again and would tell all my friends that they were slime. And I put much of this vitriol in capital letters.

Surprise, surprise. I got an answer and an offer for free service to compensate for my inconvenience. No thank you, I meant what I said. Well, not entirely. If I were keeping my word, I would name the company and hold it up to worldwide embarrassment.

The truth is, I would like every company that uses e-mail-based service to clean up its act. Hire people who know what they are doing, and who actually read the letters sent to them rather then send off knee-jerk responses. Provide immediate response. Make it free.

But I’m dreaming. If it could do that, it would never have taken down its phone-support lines in the first place.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field.

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.