Phone support is expensive. An average stupid support call can cost a company easily $20 or more. So companies buy and install automated systems with friendly voices or outsource phone support to overseas. When calling 1-800 WHA TEVR, you are told three times that your call may be recorded for training purposes, asked to enter all sorts of numbers and identifiers only to hear that due to heavy call volume, your wait time is longer than expected. Sometimes the system says "...is over 10 minutes". DirecTV has a new one: "Your wait time is approximately five minutes and three seconds". The information was actually incorrect - the wait was way over 10 minutes, I did not argue about the 27.3 seconds.
If you are lucky you get a more or less competent human on the line, you may also end up with another automated system or a message that says "our office is now closed, please call back during business hours".
Now users may be stupid, but they are not idiots and they find ways around the automated systems - different systems require different tricks and some systems are set up for that and disconnect you when you try to outwit them. Check out a list of methods to get a human being on the line.
Online support is much cheaper than phone support but most email requests are never answered. There are exceptions. My new ISP Mediatemple answers at an amazing speed - any time 24/7 and you may have your own favorites. DirecTV sales is fast, support is slow. Competence is equally low - but this is another blog.
What can consumers / endusers do to encourage companies to provide better phone support? Use the online tools and when calling tell the person why you need to talk to somebody (online system answers only the simple obvious questions, nobody responds to email, Web site is outdated). Insist that you talk to someone who can actually solve your problem and/or make a decision. ( I miserably failed on this with DirecTV three times in a row, of the dozen people I talked to there not a single one could give a correct answer).
Be a repsonsible communication partner - make clear that customers may be stupid enough to buy their products but not complete idiots and providing competent and correct answers is much cheaper than five support calls in a row.
Senior managers of companies using any type of phone support should be required to call in with different questions at least once per week into their own system and publicly blog their experience.