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Computer Company Customer Support Forums Vary Widely in Usefulness

By Charles Miller

A question I received from a client is prompting me to write about something I do not believe I have previously addressed in this column, and that is the subject of support forums.

When I am trying to solve a computer problem, the first place I usually turn to is a company support forum. Most major makers of hardware and software have these “official” forums available as a part of their website, but sometimes this is outsourced to Twitter or Facebook.

Apple’s page, for example, is located at and says “Find answers, ask questions, and connect with our community of Apple users from around the world.” Microsoft’s page at says, “Ask the Microsoft Community. We’re here to help! Post questions, follow discussions, share your knowledge.”

Back to my client: he complained that the Epson printer support forum was no help at all in solving his problem. He wrote “One person asked the community how to solve it, and 137 other people said they had the same problem. Nobody had an answer.” That was unfortunate for my client, but it might help to understand why companies set up community forums in the first place and the different ways these forums get used.

Of course, the ideal way any support forum should work is that you could search the forum to see if someone else has already asked your question and, if not, you should be able to post your own question and have someone eventually come back to you with an answer. Not all forums work exactly that way, though.

A company might set up a support community as a way of washing its hands of product support, leaving customers to fend for themselves by helping each other out. Thankfully, it is much more common to find that discussions in the forum are monitored by a company employee who jumps in to help with expert answers. Other companies just read the posts to monitor the mood of their customers. This is one of several ways the company can get feedback, and if a lot of customers on the forum start asking for the best place to buy torches and pitchforks, then the company might realize it has a problem and be moved to do something about it.

What a company actually does with its support forums differs widely. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of companies assign some of their employees to participate in forums on a continuing basis to offer advice and help customers find answers. Unfortunately, some support forums are managed by the company PR department, which tries to control the company image by censoring critical content. There are some companies that use their support community as an integral part of a layered support structure. If you cannot find an answer to a problem for free by asking the support community, you might be able to go up to the next level, which is paid support.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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