My adventures with Toshiba support services.
It all began several months ago when I was lingering in the technology section of a local office supply store while my wife was shopping for … well … office supplies. There on display were some new flashy units with more features than you could shake a wireless mouse at [or a regular mouse for that matter, but don’t tell PETA, I have enough problems.] Particularly alluring were the 17” screens with the numeric keypad … on a laptop! It was window shopping … wishful thinking … pipe dreaming. Ladies, you know how husbands are … once they start wanting something it becomes almost obsessive [you know, the way they used to think about you, but that’s a different session with the marriage counselor.] Needless to say, last week I went over to Circuit City and bought me a shiny new Toshiba P206. It was a dual core mega-giga-super-seventeen Vista dream. The coolest thing was ordering it online [with a hefty online discount] and picking it up at the store 20 minutes later without the pimply faced salesman looking at my graying whiskers and thinking he’s got a techno-clueless fogie to buffalo.
For anyone who’s ever had a laptop full of years of stuff going to a new unit with an OS upgrade, you know what it’s like. Late nights with two glowing screens connected with a cat-5 umbilical cord while “Leave it to Beaver” reruns drone on in the background. Reinstalling every application, or downloading the new Vista compatible ones, copying hoards and swarms of miscellaneous files, settings and preferences was followed by reactivation and re-registering and re-re-re-re … etc, ad nauseum in perpetuity.
Aaah, but then there was bliss – new techno-toy with freshly installed applications and cleanly copied data in the peace of early Saturday morning, while the rest of the family slept, with a loyal dog at my feet and a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Alas, there is no joy in Geeksville. The soft strain of clickity-clicks on a new keyboard was interrupted by the ominous clack of something going awry. I wanted to type “can’t” but got “cant” instead. On the keyboard, the apostrophe key was slightly akimbo [or perhaps a kilter, I didn’t have the foresight to measure the angle.] I pressed it gently back into the right orientation, but it refused to stay there. The key was detached. Upon closer examination [okay, I got out my loupe] I found that the small nylon mechanism that held it in place in the keyboard was missing a single pin. Sigh.
I called the Toshiba toll-free warranty number and explained the situation. I was referred the nearest authorized service center, which was 30 miles away and not open on weekends. (deeper) sigh. Oh well, the bloom was off the rose, but no matter. After all, it was only a few pennies worth of nylon. A minor inconvenience at best and a weekend worth of household chores to keep me occupied.
AU CONTRAIRE! This morning I called the service center with my Toshiba authorized warranty case number and was told that keyboard problems might not be covered under the warranty. If that was the case I would be on the hook for not only the part but the labor and service call fee. Service call fee? I had to take it there! I don’t think so.
Back on the phone to the warranty line, I expressed my concern with the service center and asked for other options. “Let me connect you to technical support.” I was told that I could always send it to them directly for repair … via UPS ground, or was that strapped to the back of a three-legged camel? I can’t recall which. After a week or two, they’d get around to sending it back … tied between two European Swallows … once they dropped the coconut on the French castle.* Please … it’s only a little plastic part, couldn’t you just send me one? No, of course not. The parts department doesn’t sell them, only complete keyboard assemblies … to authorized service centers only. (sigh so hard I blew a Styrofoam cup off my desk).
*See: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
I know, why not just return the laptop to the place I bought it for a replacement? I was, after all, well within the 14 day return policy of Circuit city. Sure they could exchange it for an identical model, but there was all that pesky data. The assistant manager put me through to their in-house tech division “Firedog” [circuit city’s answer to Best Buy’s geek squad]. They could migrate the data for me … for a hundred bucks and the applications? Sorry, they couldn’t do a thing with those. I’d have to re-install and re-activate and re configure … I RE-ally don’t think so.
Toshiba warranty call number three while breathing into a paper bag to prevent hyperventilation from all the sighing. It really comes down to this: “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience sir, please allow me to inconvenience you further.” I had three options, send it to Toshiba and wait for Spring, take it to the service center and hope they have the intelligence and integrity to acknowledge a factory defect, or return to the scene of the crime for a replacement and lose four days of work … not to mention another four days to re-re-re install everything all over and over again. I’ll take door number two. Oh, btw, who do I speak with to register a complaint about your customer service policies? “I can transfer you to that extension” should have been accompanied by the theme from The Twilight Zone.
It was forty five torturous muzak-filled minutes later when a customer satisfaction specialist picked up the line and asked what the problem was. At that point, the primary problem was being treated as a nuisance rather than a customer, but the issue at hand was trying to explain how a minor issue was turning into a terrible consumer experience. After being lectured as to what the warranty did and did not cover, I was told no less than five times that an authorized technician must examine the unit to assure that the problem was not a result of “physical damage” as if I had violated protocols of ordinary care. (For heaven’s sake, I was typing at the time. I didn’t jump up and send the laptop crashing into that huge pile of gold bars I keep in my mahogany paneled reading room when Eve Longoria walked in naked with a six-pack and a pizza.) I did get the opportunity to amend my complaint to include being accused of trying to get my alleged clumsiness remedied by abusing their generous warranty. I also pointed out that I knew what my options were and that I now only wanted my dissatisfaction passed along to the appropriate marketing personnel so they knew where their problems lied.
One thing that usually gets a company’s attention is being outdone by the competition. I ended the call with an experience I had with Dell. One of our company laptops was having issues with power management. Dell sent a box and a DHL pickup tag. DHL returned the laptop, with a new motherboard, in two days. E-mail to Dell Monday afternoon, repaired computer on my desk Thursday morning, and I didn’t even have to get up off my ass. I don’t think he got it.
So I took a half day off from work and drove for an hour to get to the service center. The tech who looked at it said it was a simple fix and guessed it would only be a few days for the part to come in. Yes, you guessed it, for a few cents worth of nylon, they are replacing the whole darned keyboard. I signed the form acknowledging my financial liability should they determine that the problem was damage not defect and waved goodbye to my 6 day old laptop, but not before asking for them to let me take the hard drive. There’s a lot of work involved in those files, not to mention personal information that I’d rather not risk strangers having access to. It’s not that I don’t trust them not to do something stupid like mistakenly return the hard disk to factory configuration, but frankly, I don’t trust them.
Toshiba had one last chance to restore any sort of brand confidence and that would be in the swift resolution of this problem accompanied by some sort of follow-up contact. I was cautiously hopeful.
Episode II: "Straw, camel, back. 'nuf said."
Unfortunately, just like the Energizer® Bunny™, the frustration kept on going and going and …*sigh*.
In the last episode, our hero was seen trusting the well being of his six day old laptop to the care of strangers … or in their case, strang-est. I putzed and paced all weekend, and for the first few days at work. Good thing it was the week I had to install a new e-mail server which kept my geek gene occupied for several days. I promised myself that I would show trusting patience and not bother the poor warranty repairman who just happened to catch the tail end of my frustration with the off-shore customer "support" [Now I know why they call them supporters … they got you by the balls.] I waited until Thursday to call, being that Thursday was my day at home and if by some miracle, the part had come in, I could pick it up.
I called mid morning and spoke to the same very curt receptionist that I had spoke with a week earlier. I told her that I had dropped off a laptop for a warranty repair last Friday and was wondering what the status was, seeing as how the guy I gave it to said he’d order the part as soon as he got back to his desk. In a very matter-of-fact tone she informed me that they hadn’t even looked at it yet and that warranty repairs, on average take 10 to 14 days.
“Excuse me? The gentleman, who took the machine on Friday, said he was going to order the part right away.”
“May I speak with someone in the service department?”
“I’ll have someone get back to you.” *click*
At that point my blood pressure needed some sort of release, or else there was going to be a big Charlie-sized stain on the carpet from the explosion. I called Toshiba’s customer service department [again] and went through the drill … press 4, press six, wait on hold, press two … give them my case number … transfer to the warranty line … wait on hold … transfer to a customer service agent … wait on hold with incredibly irritating looping music. After about twenty minutes on hold, my cell phone rings [I gave my cell number to the repair shop] and spoke with the technician. He told me that the part was, in fact, on order and should be in the next day [Friday] and since it was a simple swap I should be able to pick it up the same day. However, he said that there was a problem … the warranty was not going to cover this. I had to pay for it myself if I wanted it back. The conversation after that went something like this:
“How can a four day old laptop whit a defective key, NOT be covered under warranty?”
“Toshiba told us that the warranty does not cover it.”
“But, Toshiba told me that a certified technician must look at it to determine if it was defective or damaged and then they would issue the warranty coverage.”
“That’s what they told us, sir.”
“Who there made the evaluation that this was the result of damage caused by me as opposed to it being a product defect?”
“Nobody here made any type of evaluation, Toshiba simply informed us that the warranty did not cover it.”
“But Toshiba told me … *sputter … fume … sputter* … if they aren’t going to pay for it, they are taking it back *… spume … futter … spume.*”
“Would you like us to proceed with the repair?”
Dial, dial, FRIGGIN’ dial. Press two, press six, wait on hold, press ever-lovin’ 3. Before the poor customer service person could finished their memorized greeting …
“I need to speak with someone who can actually make decisions and get results!”
“May I have your case number, please.”
*sigh* “which one? I have seven.”
“The first one, if they are all about the same issue then they will be linked together in one case.” Tell him the original case number. “I see you are having keys fall from your keyboard … let me transfer you to the service department.”
“Thank you for calling Toshiba, etc. How may I help you?”
Explain again, give the case number and then …
“Let me transfer you to a customer satisfaction specialist.”
“The first time I was transferred to customer satisfaction, I was on hold for 45 minutes, the second time I hung up after being on hold 20 minutes because I had to take another call. Can I speak with a supervisor?”
“If you don’t wish to wait on hold, you can leave your number and someone will return your call in two or three days.”
*eye starts to twitch, teeth begin to crumble*
“I’ll wait on hold.”
Fortunately, this time I was on hold only for about 5 minutes when yet another off-shore representative picked up the line. This one, however spoke English relatively well. Of course, I still had to give him the case number and explain the whole thing all over again. He was about to give me the lecture about the limited warranty not covering cosmetic damage when I interrupted him and said:
“I understand that the warranty does not cover any damage to the unit. Explain to me how typing on a key after only four days constitutes damage?”
“An authorized service center would have to evaluate it, to determine …”
“An authorized service center HAS IT RIGHT NOW, and they are telling me that Toshiba told them that the warranty was not valid.”
“Did you register the unit?”
“The day I bought it, and confirmed on my fist phone call to Toshiba that the warranty was in effect until October 2, 2008.” So I give him the serial number of the laptop, the name of the service center, their phone number and the contact there.
“I will fax over the warranty confirmation to them within the hour. You will be covered.”
“Thank you. What is your name? You are the first person I have talked to, who’s actually been helpful.”
At this point I could just wait for the hour to pass, so I went out and ran some errands ... shop for groceries, stop at the post office, pick up more tranquilizers. This all happened around 11:30 a.m. At 2:30, while I was still in the parking lot of the grocery store, my cell phone rings and it’s the service center.
“We checked our records and it seems we made a mistake” [mind you, they never really told me what that mistake was, and at this point I didn’t really care] “this is covered under your warranty.”
“Did Toshiba fax the warranty information to you? I spoke with them this morning and they said they would.”
“No. But I haven’t checked the fax machine in a while, it could be there.”
“So this means that the part will be in tomorrow and I can pick it up? And it’s covered under warranty?”
“Yes. I’ll call you as soon as it’s ready. You can pick it up any time before 5:00.”
Not ten minutes after I get home with the groceries, my home phone rings and it’s someone from Circuit City asking my how I was enjoying my new laptop. I almost burst out in laughter, but I told them that I wasn’t actually enjoying it at the moment, seeing how it’s been at the warranty repair center for the past week. Without taking a breath the person then asked me if I’d be interested in extended warranty coverage. That time I did laugh.
They actually did call on Friday around 2:30 to say it was ready. Seeing as this place is about an hour away from work, I figured if I left at 3:30, I’d get there in plenty of time. But the fates are pranksters. They threw a monkey wrench into my afternoon so I couldn’t get out until ten minutes to four. All the way down the highway I pictured me showing up at five minutes to five and finding the doors locked and the lights out.
I got there at ten til, and they were still there and my laptop was ready, and I popped in the hard disk and it booted up fine. So far nothing else has fallen off [either the laptop or me].