Minutes 2 Midnight

"Do you remember where you were when?..." That question sums up the purpose of this site. When reflecting upon any occasion of great importance, most people remember vividly where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred. Am I the only one who finds these reflections fascinating? I'm thinking "probably not", but let's see if you agree. Take a look at the topics below (in the "Categories" or "Recent Posts" sections), choose one of interest to you, and add your story.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Customer Service is Comatose. Where Were You When You Finally Decided You'd Had Enough?

Updated as of 8/4/07) So here's the deal: It seems that I have in my possession both a laptop computer with a faulty part, and a warranty that the maker refuses to honor. It further seems that, although the maker does have a website where customers can post complaints and concerns, there is a limit on the number of words that can be posted....and my carefully-crafted letter to them exceeds that limit. It finally seems that said company has made it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for customers to find a bona-fide e-mail address to which to send complaints. So here's a thought: Since I can't post the letter to them, why don't I just post it to everyone else? Maybe then, someone from the company might run across it and cross reference it with the version (with my contact information) that I will most likely be forced to send via snail mail.

You know...I think I will.

Below is a letter of complaint that I have penned to Toshiba regarding my Qosmio G15 laptop. Think I have a valid gripe? Then please link to this page. Pass it on! Strike a blow for the little guy! (or the little woman - whichever the case might be). Even if nothing gets done, it'll sure feel good to vent (note: based on a suggestion from "YP5 Toronto", over at notebookforums.com, I've changed my original post to make it less wordy and more readable. Hope this is a bit better. Thanks, YP5!).





I would like to register a complaint regarding case. No 1-398-932960. Below is a re-cap of the events that have occurred since the purchase of my machine.

Qosmio G15 – Timeline of Customer Support

Event #1 – Purchase of Qosmio G15

  • Qosmio G15 purchased from Circuit City after significant research into the type of computer that I should buy. The system came with a 1 year on-site warranty.
  • Initial impressions: I loved it. Two disk drives (perfect for a dual-boot system), a fast processor, and Windows Media Center were huge upgrades from my previous laptop. I was in heaven.

Event #2 – The Honeymoon is Over

  • Around November of 2005, I was watching TV via Media Center when I noticed a series of green lines and blotches on the screen. I rebooted. Several minutes later, the lines appeared again. I rebooted. The lines disappeared until I shut down the system. Later that night, I launched the instant DVD player. The green lines re-appeared, and I realized that the problem was hardware related, since the DVD player had nothing to do with Windows.
  • I called technical support and was told almost immediately that I needed a new motherboard. I should have been suspicious at this point: The tech hadn’t needed much input from me to make the diagnosis. Had this problem been seen many times before?
  • The tech arranged an on-site call for me and sent the new motherboard to my home. A few days later, the board arrived and I scheduled a time for a Toshiba repair technician to install it. On the appointed day and time, the person arrived and installed the new motherboard without a hitch. I was a very satisfied customer.
  • Still a little concerned, I began to search forums and discovered that (as I had begun to suspect), the Qosmio G15 does have an issue with motherboard problems. The symptoms that I read about were exactly the ones that I had encountered. To ensure continued support, I purchased a 2 year on-site extended warranty.
Event #3 – Fire in the Hole
  • In February of 2006 (almost a year since I’d purchased the Qosmio), I noticed a short in the power cord. I was just about to leave for the airport on a business trip, so there was no time to address the problem via technical support. Instead, I wrapped the cord in electrical tape. That seemed to stanch the bleeding, and I went to the airport.
  • Three days into my trip, the electrical tape fix stopped working. I tried to tighten the tape along the shaft, but the cord began to spark. A little later, flames started to shoot from the cord. Flames. I unplugged the cord and wrote it off as a total loss.
  • After returning from the trip, I called technical support and asked for a replacement cord. Following is the gist of the ensuing conversations that I had during that, and subsequent calls:

    • Asked technical support person for part no. PA3237U-1ACA.
    • Technical support said they would send it to the house. I thanked them and then waited for the part to arrive. On the assigned date, no part appeared.
    • The next day, I called technical support to ask where the part was. I was told by the tech that part no. PA3237U-1ACA was no longer in stock. I asked when it would be in stock. “Never”, I was told. Toshiba had stopped making the part.
    • I expressed shock, since my system was less than a year old. How could Toshiba no longer be making the part? How was I to power my machine?
    • No answer. Just a dead-pan statement that the part was no longer available.
    • Went to Toshiba’s website and found that the part in question had indeed been discontinued, but that a replacement part was now available. That replacement was part no. PA3237U-3ACA.
    • Called technical support to request the new part: PA3237U-3ACA. Was told by technical support person that that part wasn’t in stock either.
    • Informed technical support person that, according to Toshiba’s website, part number PA3237U-3ACA WAS in stock. It was, in fact, a NEW part.
    • Too bad. The technical support person informed me that he didn’t have access to the “Parts Department” database, and that therefore he couldn’t order it through them. I would have to do that myself and PAY for the new part – despite my warranty.
    • I asked to speak to a supervisor, and was granted the privilege. However, the supervisor told me there was nothing he could do. I told the supervisor that it was his job to do something, and he told me to escalate the matter to the Customer Relations department.
    • I hung up with the supervisor – fully intending to call Customer Relations the next morning when they were again open.
    • Got home that night to find a box from Toshiba. I opened up the box and found part no. PA3237U-1ACA – the original part – sitting inside. The part worked, but I found myself wondering why I had been told that it had been discontinued. Why, also, was I told to contact Customer Relations if the part was already on its way? Questions were never answered.
    • Update (12/03/06): Well, it's been less than a year since I received the PA3237U-1ACA AC adapter, and the part has developed a short in exactly the same spot as its predecessor. Knowing the flaming future that awaited the cord, I wasted no time and called technical support - thinking that my extended warranty would cover shipment of a new part. Silly me. Shortly after explaining to the tech that I needed a new adapter, she informed me that the part carries a one year warranty from the time of the purchase of the machine. So, unbeknownst to me, when my current adapter arrived in the mail, its warranty was only about 2 weeks - since the laptop itself was about 2 weeks shy of a year old. Ain't it grand? 2 weeks! Oh, and forget about the extended warranty: The adapter is not covered by it, at all. Realizing that this was a policy issue (albeit an exceedingly asinine one), I bit the bullet and ordered a replacement from the parts department. Grand total: $103.27. So just out of curiosity, has anyone else out there ever experienced these types of problems with power cords? I mean, a consistent shelf life of less than a year is a tad ridiculous, isn't it? My previous laptop was a Sony VAIO that is now about 8 years old. I've never had a single problem with it - power cord included. I would be curious to read your comments. Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that I will never again purchase a computer made by Toshiba. It's a shame, really, because my Qosmio (when it is functioning correctly) is a marvelous machine: It's ergonomic, powerful, and a joy to use. Unfortunately, its failure tally so far includes 1 motherboard, 1 system fan, and 2 power cords. And the machine is less than 2 years old. The truly sad part about all of this is that I could honestly put up with these failures if Toshiba's level of customer service was halfway decent. (Case in point: My cellphone carrier is currently Cingular Wireless. Despite their commercials, I have experienced more dropped calls with them than with any other carrier I have ever used. And yet (for now, at least), I still dutifully pay them my monthly bill. Why? Because they have amazing customer service. Their technical staff actually knows what they are talking about and can answer obscure questions, their troubleshooters are exceedingly helpful, and everyone I've spoken with has always been polite. In today's world, where the business mantra seems to be "the customer is usually wrong - and their first mistake was purchasing our product", that kind of customer service is invaluable. Would that it were more prevalent).
      Event #4 – System Fan Failure
      • June, 2006. I started to notice a high pitched noise coming from my Qosmio. I bent down to listen, and figured that it sounded like one of the system fans.
      • I called technical support and was told that I was probably right, and that a fan would be sent to my home, along with a technician to install it.
      • Before the order could be set up, however, the tech suddenly informed me that my warranty didn’t cover on-site repairs.
      • Yes it did, I said.
      • No it didn’t, she said.
      • I found the documentation for the warranty and read it to her over the phone.
      • “Oh”, she was finally convinced. It did. The tech then said that their database was out of date, and I would need to call Customer Relations to get it updated. Then I could call back.
      • I called Customer Relations the next day. I was told by the “Relator” that she knew that I had an on-site warranty. The technical support database was not up to date.
      • The Relator then said that my warranty didn’t matter: Toshiba had determined that the Qosmio G15’s had a systemic motherboard problem, and that no on-site repairs could be performed on any machine until that machine was sent back to Toshiba for a motherboard repair.
      • I told the Relator that I had already had a new motherboard installed.
      • That didn’t matter, she said. This was an upgrade that had to be performed at Toshiba
      • I informed the Relator that I couldn’t send in the machine because it had been utilized as a company laptop (ie: the company that I work for). As such, and as an employee, I couldn’t send it away to a non-company approved facility. Repairs needed to be performed on-site so that I could ensure that no tampering had occurred. I therefore had no option to send it off to Toshiba.
      • The Relator told me that that didn’t matter. Toshiba had to repair the machine at their site.
      • “So my on-site warranty is useless?” I asked the Relator. In so many words, the Relator said that it was, since Toshiba would not relent – despite the fact that all I need is a new system fan.
      • Realizing that my warranty, which cost $224.10 was now useless, I ordered two fans (not knowing which one in my system was bad) – intending to repair the system myself. Later on, I realized that this wasn’t a good solution. If I open up the machine, I will never again have a claim on my warranty. What really needs to happen is described below. Toshiba should:

        • Perform the on-site service, as requested, for the duration of the extended warranty period. This service will not require that I send the Qosmio G15 in question to the Toshiba Depot for a motherboard upgrade.
        • If the on-site service cannot be granted, then I expect to be reimbursed, in full for:

          • The cost of the warranty ($224.10)
          • The cost of the system fans that I purchased to affect a repair of the current defective part ($100.66 – I decided to purchase both the VGA and the CPU fans, just in case my original diagnosis was incorrect and the other fan was actually the one experiencing failure).

      Given the above synopsis of my continuing issue, I would appreciate it if you would please contact me immediately so that we might come to an agreement regarding which of the above remedies should be employed. My contact information follows this communication. If I cannot receive satisfaction, I will escalate the issue to the Better Business Bureau.

      Thank you for your attention.





            Updates (7/6/07):
            1. I finally got hold of someone at Customer Relations who gave me the e-mail address to which I can send my complaint. In case anyone with similar problems wants to know, it is:

              support@globalservice.toshiba.com

              Caution: I haven't yet sent the letter, so I have no idea whether this address is really just pseudocode for /dev/null (for all you Unix geeks out there. English Translation for non-Unix geeks: /dev/null = Black Hole). We'll see...
            2. There's another individual out there who has been having problems withToshiba customer support, and who has been blogging his experiences. Check out his posts at: Paucity of Support.
            3. spybyscript: Thanks for the link!

            Updates (7/7/06):
            1. I received a couple of additional e-mail address from a poster over on Notebook Forums. They are:
              CSD.Customer.Service@tais.toshiba.com
              and
              heather.hillewaert@tais.toshiba.com
              The poster indicated that these addresses might be old, but I will try them out just the same. Thanks, Banana19!
            2. I also received a response from an administrator over at the Laptop Magazine Forum. To quote the poster: "We recently did a review on tech support from all the major notebook manufacturers and Toshiba was the worst."

            Updates (7/9/06):
            1. Here's a very interesting article that was posted on Digg the other day. Given all of the above, it certainly makes for interesting reading.
            2. I have sent the e-mail to Toshiba (actually, to all of the e-mail addresses listed above). I will post more as progress is made (or even if it is not).
            Updates (7/11/06):
            1. I received a call from a Toshiba rep (Heather Hillwaert) last night. Unfortunately, she called when I was in the middle of a meeting, so I couldn't get to the phone. Fortunately, she left a message that indicated that she would call back today. I am waiting with baited breath to see if anything productive comes of the call, and will post the results here.
            2. It is interesting to note that I have not received anything other than an automated response from the "support@globalservice.toshiba.com" e-mail address that I was given when I contacted Customer Relations. I am glad, therefore, that I was tipped off to Ms. Hillwaert's e-mail address from a poster over at notebookforums.com, and also from the article on Digg.
            Updates (7/12/06):
            1. Looks like we may have liftoff! I spoke with Heather Hillwaert yesterday and again reviewed my situation (something I was beginning to tire of, as I've had to repeat the same thing over and over to a long parade of techs and reps). Initially, Ms. Hillwaert's response was annoyingly reminiscent of what I had encountered from everyone else I had spoken with up until then: "The repair has to be done at Toshiba", "A motherboard upgrade is necessary", yada yada yada. As she continued to talk, I realized that she simply didn't understand that I couldn't send the system back to Toshiba. I also realized that the reason why she didn't understand had a little something to do with the fact that she was doing most of the talking - so much so that there was virtually no way that I could wedge a word in edgewise. Finally, I became frustrated and brought her up short. I told her that she needed to be quiet for a few moments and let me fully explain my situation. Perhaps then, I continued, she might be able to fully understand where I was coming from (aside: I am convinced that Toshiba rep training includes verbal stonewalling as a technique to try when encountering a "difficult" customer. I ran across non-stop talkers on too many occasions for this to be mere coincidence). At any rate, once Ms. Hillwaert finally gave me a chance to participate in the conversation, she seemed to understand where I was coming from. Either that, or she was just sick of talking to me and wanted to find the most expedient way to get me off the phone. Either way, it matters not to me. The only thing that's important right now is that I have an on-site repair scheduled!!!! Yup. Ms. Hillwaert agreed to speak to the Powers That Be and arrange for a new system fan to be installed for me on-site and under warranty. I keep pinching myself, because this is all I ever wanted in the way of a resolution to the problem - and yet it seemed to be more difficult to attain than a cool drink of water in the desert. The repair technician is scheduled to come out to the house tomorrow, and hopefully, everything will go smoothly. I'll follow up with (hopefully) one last report tomorrow.
            Updates (7/13/06):
            1. Well, it may have taken awhile, but I'm finally typing this entry on a laptop with two brand spanking new system fans. Yes!!!!! Today, the technician came out and I sat and watched while he spread the laptop and all its inherent parts all over the kitchen table (on this model, one has to do such things to access the system fans). Fortunately for me, the tech was the same person who had replaced my motherboard, and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability. This guy is smart - very smart - and he knows exactly what he is doing. Within 1-1/2 hours, the tech had the fans installed, and humpty-dumpty was all back together again (with no screws left over!!). After buttoning things up, the tech fired up the laptop and had me check things out before he left - just to make sure that everything was in tact. All I can say is: so far...so good. So! It looks like my saga will actually have a happy ending. I suppose that one of the morals of my story is: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Sometimes you just have to keep bugging people to finally get the bowels moving, and once in awhile the trick is figuring out just who to bug. In that regard, I have to thank the poster on notebookforums.com who pointed me to Ms. Hillwaert's e-mail address.

            Over and out...

            Update (5/21/07):

            Well, I've finally decided that it's time to retire the Qosmio after slightly over two years of use (er...subtract about 2 months from that two years of "use" comment). Have I made this decision because I'm ready to chuck an XP has-been for a bright new Vista model? No. Have I made this decision because my laptop is no longer powerful enough to meet my needs? Definitely not. So, why then have I suddenly decided to throw up my hands and graduate to Beyond Qosmio? Well, it's simply because I've come to the painful conclusion that (as much as I love the machine when it's actually working), the Qosmio's downtime is beginning to exceed its uptime. Uh, that's a nice way of saying that it's a steaming pile of crap that is now exhibiting too many failures to reliably repair. Repair at this point would have to consist of stripping it naked and re-dressing it one article of clothing at a time. So what happened?! you say. Well, about two months ago, one of the two hard drives started on a slow spiral towards death. It didn't fail immediately. Just got more and more annoyingly slow - coughing and sputtering during boot-up and any other meaningful operation. So, I had the drive replaced. Less than two days after I had the Qosmio back in my hot little hands, I started hearing a high pitched squeal coming from the speakers: While playing music, the combination of screech and music sounded much like the static one would get by turning up the volume on a pair of cheap speakers. Magnified by about 10 times. I was pretty sure this was a driver problem, and was in the process of tracking it down when suddenly a single vertical green pixel-wide line appeared on the screen. Oh crap. I was sure it was the motherboard barfing again. But then I hooked the machine up to my TV and the line wasn't there. So my guess is that the LCD is about to go belly-up. This lasted for about two days. Then tonight when I turned the machine on again, I found the single green line had been happily joined by a riot of additional thick vertical lines...the old familiar motherboard problem. That would be the REPLACEMENT motherboard that began my entire foray into the wonders of Qosmio-land. So, let's recap. In its short two-year life span, my G15 has had the following problems:

            1. A burned-out motherboard
            2. A broken system fan
            3. A burned-out power cord
            4. Another burned-out power cord (did I mention that a second one blew out?)
            5. A failed hard drive
            6. A failing LCD screen
            7. A second burned-out motherboard

            Amazing that one can fork over a $3,000 wad of cash to the local computer store - confident that they have purchased a quality machine worthy of said wad - only to discover that what they have really purchased is a very expensive turd. So, I'm done. I close out this chapter of my blog and lay it to gentle rest. But I will end with one admonition. Take my advice: Never NEver NEVer NEVEr NEVER by a Toshiba computer product!!!!!!!!!! Unless, of course - like me - you wish to be jerked around like a rag doll by various and sundry technical "support" personnel and eventually find yourself forced to resort to the only cathartic remedy out there: Writing a Blog.

            Over and out...

            Update (8/2/07): Well, just when you think I'm gone, I'm back. I couldn't resist adding this positive update - since the last one ended with such despair. So here's the update:

            I am typing this blog entry on a brand new laptop!! Yup. I really can't be without some sort of notebook computer in my life, so I decided to do some research and find something that would suit my needs. Number 1 criterion: It had to not be a Toshiba.

            Fortunately, right around the time that my Qosmio died, I ran into a friend who does computer consulting on the side. Since I hadn't ventured into the Land of Laptop for a couple of years and didn't know what was out there, my friend agreed to provide me with some advice. He recommended several different reliable brands, and I checked them all out. After running around the web for quite a little while, I finally decided on one of his suggested companies: Falcon Northwest (which I had never heard of, before) out of Oregon. There were many things that appealed to me about this particular company - foremost of which were:

            1. They build your machine by hand when you order, and test it thoroughly before shipping it out. This might mean that your system will take a little longer to get to you (mine took 3 weeks), but at least you can be assured that the box has been put through its paces before it ever reaches your door.
            2. They do not outsource their technical support. This means that when you call them for assistance with a problem, you can be assured that you're not speaking to someone half way around the world (well, unless you're half way around the world from Oregon, that is). If English is your native tongue, it's theirs, too, and you won't have to worry about the problems that arise from the ol' language barrier.
            3. They custom paint their machines. Yeah, custom paint. I have to admit that this is what clinched it for me. They literally have artists on staff who will pretty much do whatever you want when it comes to decorating your new box. Want a special logo on it? No problem. If you provide them with a logo, they'll provide you with a freakishly amazing reproduction on your machine. For a price, of course ;)
            4. They target their machines towards gamers, so they pack them with solid hardware. The laptops that I looked at basically came in two versions: Normal and Freaking Ridiculous. How ridiculous? Well, need a laptop with 2 video cards and 3 hard drives? Then the FR (my terminology) may be just what you're looking for.

            I opted for Falcon's TLX model ("Normal", if you're keeping up with the above categories), since I didn't have over $6K to drop on a new FR box. It came about a week ago - clothed in this amazing auto paint that changes color depending on the angle that you view it from. One of my co-workers saw it and ruefully shook his head. He had just bought his daughter a very nice laptop for college, but it was plain black, and she was a little disappointed. "She will never know that this even exists", he said - smiling wryly. So far, I'm very pleased (although...you know...I've only had it a week): The laptop seems solid, and I haven't found a thing wrong with it. I still have many tweaks that I want to add to get it set up the way I like it, but so far so good. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by Falcon's personal touches. How many times have you ordered a laptop from Company Huge and received a T-shirt and a cool coffee mug (and the vacuum-packed coffee to put in it) with your order? Falcon hasn't gotten too big for its britches yet, and I am just fine with that.

            So! I guess all's well that ends well. The tech who originally worked on my old Qosmio has offered to buy it off of me, so at least it's not a total loss. And every time I think about my spit-shined new TLX, I get a satisfied little internal grin. And that's pretty much worth everything.

            Oh, and I'll post some pictures of it when I get a chance.

            Over and out (again)...

            Update (6/4/07): Okay. Here are a couple shots of the new laptop. I have to apologize in advance for the quality. There's only so much you can do in a pinch with a camera phone.


            Falcon TLX notebook. Is it blue?














            Or purple?














            Or maybe both?


            Actually, there really is no true name to describe the color; it's different depending on the angle at which you view it. So far, I've seen: purple, aqua, emerald green, gold, brownish, and lavender. Falcon calls the color "Chromalusion" - and I guess that's as good a name as any other.

            3 Comments:

            Blogger Spybyscript said...

            Hi! I totally agree with what you are saying, unfortunately, BBB is unable to do a thing to Toshiba. Toshiba will ignore your complaint, as it did with mine... 405 out of 619 complaints were simply ignored by Toshiba and closed.

            BTW, I found your site from digg when I tried to get my story out about Toshiba... I've linked your story on my site http://paucity.blogspot.com/.

            6:07 PM  
            Blogger Midnight Oil said...

            Thanks for the comment! Wow, it's disappointing to see that Toshiba has ignored so many BBB complaints. I guess the only recourse that folks like us have (barring non-response to a letter or e-mail of complaint) is to publicize our experiences. I ran across this link that inspired me.
            The author put his story up on Digg and got a huge response. So much so, in fact, that it attracted the attention of the company in question (HP, in his case). Funny how a little publicity opened the floodgates of excellent service and support. Overnight, the response went from "Huh?" to "We'll replace your system right away, sir".

            Now if only we could figure out how to get our Digg stories (mine's on there, too :) up to the Popular page...

            10:06 PM  
            Anonymous Anonymous said...

            I didn't have time to read this whole blog, but I totally agree that most companies are trying redifine the term 'service'. With all the politically correct subjects these days, the customer service agents should be forced to wear and identify themselves as anti-customer service agents, or anti-christ influenced individuals. If companies really want to save money they should just make products that work rather than waste all this money pissing off there customers. It is no wonder we are all so angry these days. "NO, I am not postal, I just got off the phone with customer service!"

            11:41 PM  

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