Why consumer IT support sucks


Photo: bdtyre

Working in an IT shop, sometimes you have the luxury of forgetting just how bad consumer-grade hardware support has gotten. I’ve been absolutely spoiled by our Dell team, so the past few weeks have been a serious reality check.

About a year and a half ago, I bought a Toshiba laptop for my wife after her desktop computer’s power supply had unleashed its magic smoke. She was needing an upgrade, and we opted for the laptop since she was going to be starting school. After shopping arond, we found a good deal at Costco which included a color laser printer. Added bonus of buying at Costco is that on computers (and TVs) they extend the standard 1-year manufacturer warranty out to two years.

Somewhere around the middle of the fall semester, Andrea noticed the power connector inside the laptop was getting loose. Having encountered this sort of problem before (and I understand it’s actually quite common on consumer laptops), I suspected the plastic shell of the connector had come loose. They typically have three or four plastic pegs that secure the body to the circuit board, taking the mechanical strain off the soldered electrical leads. It’s not uncommon after repeated plug/unplug cycles for one or more of these pegs to break off, causing the connector to come loose. The long-term risk is that metal fatique will then break the electrical connectors. If you’re lucky, it won’t short out in the process. Business-grade laptops usually use much better connectors and methods of securing them. It’s just one of those corners you have to cut to sell $500 laptops to the masses.

Along the way, her touchpad started acting flaky as well, so we figured we’d call Costco and get this fixed while we still had some time left in the warranty. After trying to explain to someone in India for 45 minutes that the problem was not in the external power adapter, I got tired of him sending me on hold to talk to his supervisor, and asked him to transfer me. I spoke with Wade, who was quite helpful, and got the dispatch sent out to their service provider, an outfit in the Orlando area called “Encompass Service Solutions”. They sent me an empty box with packing material via 2-day air. That was two weeks ago.

Since I was sending the computer offsite to some company I’d never heard of, there was not only a high likelihood that they were gonna wipe the system and do a factory reload (crapware and all), there was absolutely no way I was trusting them with the security of our data (even with backups, I’d rather they not have access to my banking data, thankyouverymuch). So I picked up a blank hard drive at Micro Center and shipped it off with the blank.

A week later, it comes back, with the technician notes that the system was cleaned and the CPU “repacked”, and the OS reloaded. No mention of either of the original problems on the service ticket. Sure enough, the power connector is in even worse shape than it was when we sent it off. I call Costco and gripe. They’re not amused. A little later, I flip it over to put our hard drive back in and discover that someone went crazy with stickers. There are 4 new stickers with barcodes, and “Inspected by” sticker, and half a dozen “Warranty Void if broken or removed” stickers over the chassis screws, as well as those to the hard drive and memory bays. I’m a geek, so I’m genetically predisposed to ignore such stickers, and I carefully removed the ones on the drive and memory bays, and put our hard drive back in.

Then things got interesting. I power the machine on, and the display remains dark. No backlight, no image, nothing. I check das blinkenlights, and they’re behaving like a normal boot process. After some fumbling and troubleshooting, I hang an external monitor from it and fire it up again. That part works. It seems that the people in QA at Encompass were sleeping that day, because I’d imagine that a non-functional display normally would cause QA to kick it back to the tech who forgot to plug in the ribbin cable feeding the display. Apparently at Encompass, this is not the case.

So now we have a laptop that is effectively a compact desktop. A couple calls back and forth to Costco, and Encompass wants me to send it back to them for repair. Only here’s the problem, guys, I don’t trust you to not break it worse this time, and Andrea needs her laptop this week, that’s why we sent it to you when we did. Even better, you can’t e-mail me a UPS label for me to use the existing box, you insist on sending me another empty box via UPS. Not only is that insanely wasteful of diesel, jet fuel, and cardboard, and it adds 3 days to the process. Andrea can’t be without the laptop any longer than she already has. She has interviews this week and school starts up next week. I don’t care how fast you expedite it, you’ve proven already that you half-ass the job when it’s a rush. If I wanted that kind of shoddy work done on my laptop, I would have handed it off the the Geek Squad at a local Best Buy.

Wade, the guy at Costco, is trying to come up with alternatives. At this point, acceptable outcomes are that we get an onsite tech to do a motherboard replacement, find me a local depot in the Kansas City area, or you give us at least partial credit toward a replacement system at the warehouse.

When you buy a laptop, spring for the onsite support. If anything happens, it will save your sanity. Next time, I’m buying a Dell.

I’d love to hear your depot repair horror stories.

4 Comments On “Why consumer IT support sucks”

  1. When I was 16, I brought in my family’s desktop computer to Best Buy. We had purchased a 3-year extended warranty for it 2 years prior. The power supply had burned out. The Geek Squad told me that they were not trained to fix power supplies in store. They said that it would be shipped to their computer repair center. I asked the duration it would take, and they said 3 months. My hard drive was also guaranteed to be wiped. I told them that they sold all the parts I needed in store, and I could change it out in 3 minutes at home if they gave me the parts. They said this was the warranty guidelines. Went home, ordered a replacement supply from Newegg for 30 bucks, and was back up and running 2 days later. Needless to say, I have not made any other major purchase at Best Buy since. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I even went into a Best Buy, let alone purchase from one.


    • It does kind of defeat the purpose of having a “geek squad” in-house when all the parts are there and none of the supposedly A+certified technicians knows how to do one of the simplest PC repair tasks there is. When “corporate policy” gets in the way of actually getting the job done, you might as well pack it up and go home. You’re not helping anyone then.


  2. I’m sitting here writing on my Toshiba laptop. The VA actually purchased this for me through the Vocational Rehab program. I’ve had a number of keyboard and touchpad issues that I want to have fixed but as this is my only computer at the moment, I don’t have time to ship it off and wait 2 weeks to get it back. I’m in school for gods sake.


    • So you’re pretty much in the same boat as Andrea. We’re rapidly getting to the point of buying another laptop, sending this one in for repair and when it gets back, either keeping it as a spare, or selling it.


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