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HP Consumer Customer Service: Where the Rubber Melts on the Road

Sometimes in a single interaction with a company you can come across major issues finally expressed in a form you can understand. The PC industry has never been high on the list of customer satisfaction, and if most companies selling through retail are like HP (HPQ), I can now see why. My experience is not one of irritation or anger so much as slack-jawed amazement at how inefficient corporations can be, and how that seems to happen when the issue is customer service.

I had purchased from a major chain store an HP laptop for my daughter at the end of the summer as she was getting ready for college. Then a week or two ago, the computer stopped charging. I checked and the power connector seemed loose in the case, a situation I've seen before with laptops. Because of the way they're built, it generally means replacing the motherboard. And that was fine, because I not only had the original warranty but an extended one as well.

When I brought the machine into the store, there wasn't a problem with agreeing to have the system fixed. But as I spoke with a store manager (who was kind enough to dig up a copy of the original receipt), it became clear how byzantine the warranty service process was for HP.

"What happens now?" I asked. "Is this going to be a four or six week process?"

"At least," said the manager. "We have to fax over the paperwork to HP. They respond in a couple of days, but usually say that they lost the paperwork and ask us to resend it. It's gotten so bad that we've taken to resending it the next day to try to head that off. I'll email out outside tech, who will then decide whether we can send it to them or not. Then we actually ship the product out to HP, but if they don't have the proper paperwork that's dated right, they won't do a thing." That back and forth means that nothing gets done for at least a week. It's not that this chain is particularly good or bad. There's another that boasts its technical expertise that has to do the same thing (as I know from purchasing a Toshiba whose motherboard would crack about as frequently as someone allergic sneezes during ragweed season). Repairs almost never happen in house and diagnostics only occur locally to a small extent.

The result is bound to be customer dissatisfaction. Who thinks they should have to wait six weeks to get a computer repaired? Even if you have to swap out a motherboard, how hard is it to determine that, and how long does the swap take if you're the manufacturer, the product is new, and you presumably are the source of spare parts? Maybe a small investment in slightly better quality -- power plugs not soldered to the motherboard, case designs that don't lead to a tendency for motherboards to crack -- would lead to ever so slightly lower margins, but then highly reduced costs for retailer and vendor when it comes to dealing with (or not having to deal with) warranty issues.

Image via stock.xchng user garwee, site standard license.

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