Software Support and the deminishing usefulness of search engine results (a rant)

I've written commercial software and I maintain some open source software. I've also helped out with software support in various companies when the support person escalated the support issue to a developer. In the Open Source arena I think I've provided good support for the software I maintain and the company I work for now provides exceedingly quick support which more than often sorts the problem out immediately. All this is done by looking at the problem and provided information and providing a custom response but as far as I can see a descreasing number of companies manage to do this.

I'm probably not a typical software purchaser as I've rarely bought any software (I think this totals 2 products on Windows). However, since my wife got an iPad I've bought a few pieces of software from the App Store. Now I know the typical software purchase from the App store is much cheaper than other commercial software for other operating systems but should "cheaper" mean worse support? In my restricted use of commercial product support I'm increasingly coming across this situation:

o my first issue on Windows is does the link to the software download go to a site I trust - is it just another site which does not use HTTPS and probably contains software which has viruses or malware.

o I install a trail or the freeby restricted version of the software and it does not work as expected.

o first port of call is the software creator which often has some sort of FAQ which is virtually impossible to find useful information in e.g., the search provides appalling results or just answers for commonly asked questions or even worse, provides different pages results when google bot is indexing a site from when you search so google dynamic search results look like possibilities but when you click on the link it is useless. Then there are FAQ questions which are just deleted from product sites for no known reasons. Recent example, bought a Kodak printer and installed on Win64 desktop and shared the printer but laptops running win32 could not install the driver and I could not find a way to install additional 32 bit drivers on my 64 bit system (even though I've done this in the past with Canon printers although with problems). Kodak FAQ is terrible!

o I struggle to find where I get help and resort to google/duckduckgo for answers and particularly on google just get a load of dynamic search results to pages which are blatantly created to get adsense revenue. e.g., search for just about any Oracle ORA XXXXX error - just about all the results on the first few pages are verbatim copies of the ORA error and the text with nothing additional to help identify the problem but with loads of ads.

O perservere with search engines but find loads of pages in forums where it is quite clear (to me anyway) that the answers are from people who haven't got a clue and have floudered their way to a solution and probably misdiagnosed the whole issue. Increasignly I'm becoming really sceptical of anything I find on the web - particularly in forums.

o Go back to the software manufacturer and try and find a way to get help. Most of them seem to hide this information. Why is it so hard to find a support email address - why do so many companies think it is ok to simply provide a customer forum or newsgroup where everyone else diagnoses their customer issues. Do these companies actually employ support people?

o Finally find a support email and email a full description of the problem only to get a response saying your support request has been logged and someone will answer it eventually! What use is this! Sometimes it includes links to help documents or forums or "wizards" which invariably end in we don't know - send us loads of information (or a log file which when you look at it is obvious it is useless) and we'll look at the issue. e.g., my wife was happily printing to a wireless Kodak printer (I don't mean to pick on Kodak but this is my most recent issue) from an iPad and then after the IOS 6.1 update it stopped working. I looked around for solutions and a company providing an Airprint alternative seemed to have a free and pay product. Thought I'd try the free product first and it did not work. Mailed support and got a stock (pasted) answer which contained 12 requirements I needed to test and answer and this took ages! many of the "try this" actions were totally irrelevant to my situation. Provided answers for them all and it goes quiet - no response.

Now, it is quite possible that someone knows who I work for and thinks they've had bad support or someone who uses OS software I maintain and thinks I could have done better. OK, mail me and let me know and I'll address your issues. What I do know is that every support email to my company gets an individual reply based on what the customer (or potential customer) sent. No automated replies with useless information suggesting we'll reply withing N hours and no pasted responses asking for loads of useless information we would know is useless if we'd bothered to read your email. Is that really that difficult?