Friday, September 13, 2013

Lenovo screws up a good thing

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.



David said...

Sorry to hear about your technical problems. They're real time wasters.

But you sure about HP? Perhaps instead it means to be slightly bullish on Apple? The iMac may not move the needle but as the PC industry implodes they are keeping up the necessary investments in R&D (fewer errors) and service.

Yes it doesn't fit a second hard drive for RAID but any external drive will work with their automatic and continuous backup system (Time Machine). And you can afford flash in any case (the high quality kind with few bits per cell that'll last a decade minimum).

And you know all about virtualization so I won't start.

David said...

Oh and I completely forgot. Used to own an IBM Thinkpad - wonderful machine! Great keyboard and screen for its time. Second best computer I ever owned. Completely solid, no driver issues. Nothings really changed to be honest, you still get what you pay for. It's just that the premium game has changed completely beginning with Apple switching to Intel.

Robert in Chicago said...

"As for Hewlett Packard - well Meg Whitman is being given a golden opportunity to take share in a declining industry."

So the 25% of their revenue that is PCs can now die slightly less rapidly, while the rest maintains its slide's pace. Meh.

Tsachy Mishal said...

In a business with 5% gross margins who could afford to give good service?

Anonymous said...

Try AVA Direct.

Anonymous said...

Try AVA Direct.

Anonymous said...

There was a time when you could spend more money and get a better, more solid configuration. HP was always known as an engineering firm; Intel machines were a bit dicey; SUN systems were expensive and a bit RISCy but their customer service (at least in my experience) was top-notch and professional (you could send a core dump to them and get a diagnosis about whether it was in the software or hardware configuration within 72 hours--great for small trading firms).

The whole industry seems to have become a commodity industry at this point, with very little differentiation at all.


Anonymous said...

IMO this experience is becoming, if not already, the standard across many industries. Consumers are increasingly conditioned to expect the product delivered to be inferior to the product advertised. b/c it's so common, i also think its prob one of the most under recognized aspects of customer retention.
Netflix (vs US cable companies)
AMZN is huge in this regard (AMZN provided an unsolicited refund on an instant movie purchase b/c their system reported the video playback was interrupted which was due to my internet service. another personal instance was my wife rec'd a completely different product from the one she ordered at JCP vs timely, ACCURATE, and easy ordering at AMZN)
AAPL (vs MSFT, tho IDK how Samsung hardware compares)
...the list goes on and on; airlines, car manufacturers, banks, etc.

also, as you mentioned, b/c of the inherent difficulty in recognizing the behavioral aspects this is rarely incorporated when valuing businesses.
As a consumer, if I know i'm going to get exactly what i expect when i order something, excl that the companies this focused on experience are also likely to provide a positive surprise (such as product feature that i wasn't aware existed at time of purchase) there is less commoditization risk and implicit upward support on volume/turnover and volume.


Simon C. said...

When I was in college I sold computers for a small shop. One day a former employee set up a brief radio interview to promote us, and as the only native English speaker I was handed the phone. "Why should customers use a local vendor instead of one of the big national companies?"
"Well, sometimes a new computer will have a problem. If you can bring it back to the store and talk to the guy who assembled it, of course we fix it as fast as we can. With a big company you need to box it up and ship it who knows where?"
"So it all comes down to one word..." And of course now I know he was prompting me to say "service". But I was 19, so I thought for a moment and answered "Culpability?"

Anonymous said...

Apple Mac? A bit pricer but considering what you have gone through and the cost of your time you would have a box that works flawlessly (and looks good). Tis my experience.

Anonymous said...

I dont understand why you wouldn't buy a white book?

Anonymous said...

What a frustrating experience.
FWIW I buy my desktops from a guy who puts them together in his garage, sells them on eBay and direct. I've bought 3 so far, for me and family members (and the kids are really intensive users), all work as advertised, no problems.
The guy does huge trade, little wonder.

I contrast this with buying laptops for two family members. Bought big-brand names from big-brand retailers.

The first had issues with the charger and, to be fair, it was replaced quickly.

The next laptop I bought was DOA. The replacement was DOA. The next replacement (this time a different brand) finally worked as advertised. The retailer was great, but I can't think what it must be like dealing with shoddy products (judging by the size in the queue at the service counter).

Anonymous said...

Dude - get a Macbook. I dumped my Thinkpad in 2009 and bought an MBA Air. It still kicks a$$ after 4 years. Never crashed once. I've gone through Dells, Sonys, IBMs, they all wasted my time with fixing various problems.

Anonymous said...

Bought a Compaq in January. Looked like the last chance to get a Windows 7 machine. Working just fine out of the box.

This computer is to replace a Compaq running XP that is a decade old and running without problems.

I have no comment on customer service since I've never needed to contact them.

Anonymous said...

I had one of the Dell XPS genital burners. Thankfully, the m-board burned out.

Note to M. Dell: It's never a good marketing strategy to burn your customer's genitals.

Rick Steele said...

I buy imacs and only need to replace when I'm tempted to buy a better one. Never because they don't perform as expected.

Unknown said...

Agree with comments on Apple. Don't know why anybody would persevere with Dell, Lenovo etc. switched to the Mac world about 6 years & got rid of the problems of PCs/Windows. Also had a Sony once - looked good but when something went wrong it couldn't ever be fixed properly.

Conclusion - get a MacBook Air or iMac or both

C Macdonald said...

+1 on Macs. They never crash and are awesome.

I have heard friends try use rationale like "they're expensive, underpowered, etc". Just put $10/hour value on YOUR OWN TIME, and it will pay for itself in the first year (or first week in your case).

Only reason not to if you are trapped by software that is only written for PC.

Kid said...

not to repeat a few other posters in this comments section, but the experience you had with Lenovo is exactly the opposite of what you would have had with Apple. I have a few good scientific friends who stand by their PCs even today and then periodically run into some kind of freak problem that takes up a few days of time. It's a self-flagellation thing having to do with them holding onto notions that if technology isn't so complicated that only they are the only people who will spend the time to fix it then it's not worth their time. I'm sure you have some program that is PC-only and then have a bunch of reasons for keeping with the old-ways rather than using BootCamp.

Anyway for the cost of $1000 why not try a Mac? Is your time not worth $1000 / 40 hours (plus blog-time) = $50 per hour?

MaysonicWrites said...

Note that Macs can run Windows using Bootcamp. It will be slightly more expensive initial cost, but probably lesser total cost. I have read numerous comments on Hacker News stating that Macs make the best Windows machines available.

Anonymous said...

Had the same issue with a Dell before. Lemons waste more time than the product is worth.

Now I'm on Mac. Switched 2 years ago despite initial concerns about re-learning short-cuts and commands. Turned out it was easy as cake.

You pay more for Mac but it's one of few companies that provide (and can afford to provide) good service and stringent quality control.

fog said...

As a long time Mac user these failings are foreign to me. I only need replace them when the technology is redundant, which can be a long time. I still have an old Classic sitting in a cupboard somewhere.

Anonymous said...

We started a business this year. Slightly sceptical, we went all Macbook Pro.

The experience has been excellent.

Except for the day one macbook mainboard fryed itself. Apple swapped it out with a brand new machine, and timemachine got us back to productivity in 30 minutes.

If you care about your own time, go Macbook.

peace_country said...

E31's aren't a good sample. As a Lenovo partner we see <1% failure on hardware over 3 yrs let alone out of the box. But we only buy\quote for our customers the Think series of business PC's.

A Lenovo partner would never trust the monkey's who pick up the phone at Lenovo to fix anything. They aren't paid to think they are only paid to answer the phone I am sure. What you may need is something more than a Lenovo website and phone number to get your IT together and this problem would likely have lasted a fraction of the time.

John Hempton said...

Its worth noting that Apple has just about abandoned the power-users. Final cut has been down and the MacPro - the once competition to a decent Lenovo workstation - doesn't even run USB3.

Apple simply does not have a machine with enough grunt for all the purposes this machine was bought for.

I do not know why Apple abandoned the power-user - but I suspect for anyone other than someone who needs true workstation capability Macs win.


Anonymous said...


Agree with your comments on the MacPro, but let's wait and see what the new machine is like.

However, I run a quant fund in London and switched to Apple running a virtual machine with VMware. I can run all my stuff on a top end MacBook Air with no real loss in speed. This includes running SQL Server databases as well as quant models.


ralph said...

If you are decent with a screwdriver and plan to run Linux on your desktop anyway, nothing beats ordering parts a la carte and building the rig yourself. With the fastest Intel CPU on the market, 24GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, my last build ran ~$1400, cheaper than all but the most basic Mac laptops, and way cheaper than Mac desktops, which are less beefy anyway. Also, (as I gather John knows,) once you've tried Linux, OS X can feel too opinionated about what a user ought to be doing.

Ross said...

Agree with Ralph - build your own is the way to go if you can manage a screwdriver and get past the abundant acronyms to work out what components go with what.

With a little bit of extra homework you can also build a much quieter machine, which is well worth it if you are clocking up long hours next to the damn thing.

Source components from someone with a good reputation for resolving any DOA issues though (Sydney has a few such suppliers), otherwise you are just changing the type of company you are going to get frustrated with if you do hit a problem.

DD said...

I have good experiences with the combination of 14" Thinkpad + Docking station, connected to a 24" screen. Very good mobile performance and feels like a Desktop. Won't buy another desktop. Apple doesn't have docking stations unfortunately resulting in a chaotic desk with cables all over.

I have very bad experiences when it comes to everything Lenovo outside Thinkpad. Biggest mistake was ordering one of their wireless keyboards. Simply trash, buttons got stuck in the low quality case on two different models and the drivers were translated horribly.

Never buy anything ~designed~ in China.

Edie Jams said...

Great information Agree with comments on Apple. Don't know why anybody would persevere with Dell, Lenovo etc. switched to the Mac world about 6 years & got rid of the problems of PCs/Windows. Also had a Sony once - looked good but when something went wrong it couldn't ever be fixed properly.......

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