In January 2006 Jeff Matthews wrote a blog post titled "Dell Screws Up a Good Thing". It was a tale of woe about service/build quality at Dell which presaged a major decline in Dell market share and profitability.
Jeff's experience resonated with me (and it seems with hundreds of his readers). I purchased one of Dell's laptops - an XPS 13** that had a well known and well documented problem with the cooling for their graphics chip. The repair guy Dell eventually sent out to fix it knew what it was before he even opened the box (they all had that problem) and yet at the time the Dell management seemed to be denying their problems.
Cognitive dissonance is never a good thing in a consumer-facing company.
I became - seemingly irrevocably - a Lenovo guy. The ThinkPads might be ugly but they had great keyboards and they worked.
Well now I am reconsidering. I purchased an E31 - a mondo-grunt desktop marketed as a low-end "workstation" and configured it to be robust. All the discs were RAID (ie the discs all duplicated) and I chose all the other features that made it bombproof.
It arrived broken.
Lenovo kindly offered me a replacement machine - their "dead-on-arrival" service.
I should have taken that offer. Lord knows I should have taken the offer.
The DOA service was going to take seven or eight days and I wanted the machine faster than that - so - presumably with lower cost to Lenovo - they sent someone out to fix my machine. They replaced the motherboard.
The machine worked OK then provided I used the onboard graphics card. The graphics card though was stuffed - and so they were going to send me a replacement which I would happily put in myself.
A week later and no graphics card. No phone call from Lenovo either.
So I rang them.
An hour on the phone, dropped calls, blood pressure rising. And eventually they discovered they were out-of-stock of requested graphics card so their solution was to do nothing. No need to tell the client. Just let them stew it out. Michael Dell - even your company was better than that!
I think I spent over two hours on the phone sorting this out - and eventually got some satisfaction. A graphics card one step upgraded arrived in the mail, and when inserted the machine worked.
I was relieved and thought my bad experience was a one-off - the sort of thing that all companies have - a glitch sent to try me.
Then, after three days work, the computer wouldn't start at all. It could not find the boot mechanism.
So - more in sorrow than in anger I rang the Lenovo support team again. The woman I spoke to was patronizing, rude. She was just appalling. At this point I was furious and asked to speak to someone else. The phone call was dropped and I am not sure whether it was deliberate or not. This was service worthy of Dell at its worst.
In resignation I rang again and this time I hit the jackpot, a calm, competent woman called Danya who talked me through a range of problems. It appears that the new motherboard installed earlier had the wrong BIOS on it. (This sort of thing happens and I am guessing the system was not consistent with the RAID that was set up. At least that seems to be what happened but I am not sure. Ultimately I suspect Danya was as clueless at fixing the problem as me.)
Whatever, Danya walked me through the process of flashing the right BIOS. For some reason we could not solve this from a dead machine - and without any acrimony I was offered the DOA service.
Its a month now - and I don't have a machine fit for purpose. But I am not outright angry. I will probably send the old machine back minus the hard drives (they have financial institution data on them now so I can't reasonably give them back) and - at least in the end - I did not find the cognitive dissonance that led to the total reputation trashing at Dell.
But it was not a good experience. And it was hardly profitable for Lenovo costing them a few hours of service time, an extra machine plus an extra graphics card and motherboard.
Maybe the next machine will be a Dell.
Michael Dell it seems may have got a very good deal regardless of my skepticism of this industry.
As for Hewlett Packard - well Meg Whitman is being given a golden opportunity to take share in a declining industry. Ebay under Meg Whitman was hardly known for its shining customer service - but it was better than Dell - and better than everyone at Lenovo except the wonderful Danya.
I have been skeptical of HP for a long time now... but the best bull case I have heard is that the competition are so much worse. That is not a great bull case - but for HP it is an improvement.
The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Hempton. Mr. Hempton may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Hempton's recommendations. The commentary in this blog in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. In fact, it should not be relied upon in making investment decisions, ever. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author. In particular this blog is not directed for investment purposes at US Persons.