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It pays to call customer service, sometimes

Cynics, take heart: sometimes all your effort isn't for naught.

My Etymotic hf2s, restored. Scott Stein/CNET

I'll be honest with you: I hate customer service as much as you do. The long waits, the anonymous feeling of phone calls, the's like a doctor's appointment. Maybe that's why many people I speak to simply don't bother. My dad always calls me before bothering to spend time trying to reach Apple. A friend let his bricked Xbox 360 sit in a drawer for two years rather than try to call for a repair.

As for me, my fear comes from broken headphones. At least once a year, it seems, some pair of earbuds finally dies on me. It could be a relatively disposable pair I have no affections for, or it could be my Etymotic hf2 headset, a pair I find to be fantastically clear in its midrange and treble, with cords that are softer and more compact than my Shures and an in-line microphone that's not half-bad (read the CNET review). On a recent vacation, for no reason at all, one ear suddenly went dead. I considered repairs, and I considered buying a new headset. Instead, I called Etymotic customer service.

Shockingly, I got a live human who seemed to be in front of a desk at the location I was calling. I described the problem, said they were a gift (I didn't even have a receipt), and sent the naked headphones in a padded envelope. A week and a half later, Etymotic replaced them with a brand new boxed set, complete with the zipper pouch I had lost months ago.

I'm writing this to remind those of you who are hesitant to call that good things can happen with customer service. Another case in point: an Apple store swapped out my iPhone 3GS because it was getting dust under the screen. Sometimes, we live with tech problems and assume they're our worries to bear. How about you? Are you sometimes as pleasantly surprised by customer service as I was? It's a breath of fresh air that can wipe away a little of even the most jaded tech cynicism.

Now, I've got customer service horror stories, too...tons of them. It's just nice to see the pendulum swing the other way once in a while.