Defective hardware, deteriorating customer service

Competitive markets have some tech vendors offloading the cost of righting their wrongs onto customers who are fed up with this unsettling trend

Gripe Line reader Joel wrote in with a complaint eerily similar to that of Gripe Line reader John, who was asked to pay service fees for a brand-new laptop that was shipped to him with defective hardware. Also faced with the prospect of having to pay more to get a working version of a brand-new product, Joel wondered whether this was part of a disturbing trend.

"I purchased two identical Iomega 1TB external USB hard drives," he says. He put the first into service immediately and, two weeks later, installed the second. "As soon as I powered up the second drive," he says, "it was clear something was wrong. It made clicking noises and was not recognized by the Windows Server system."

[ Also on InfoWorld: Unexpected support costs can come from all directions, as one Gripe Line reader discovers in "Sony support: From free to fee in 15 minutes" |  Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

Seeing no other solution but a replacement drive, Joel resigned himself to lining up at customer service.

"I could find no phone number for Iomega technical support that did not require I pay $25," he writes, so he went online to use the free chat support. "The representative quickly agreed the drive needed to be replaced," says Joel. "He helpfully told me I could buy advance shipment for $25, expedited advance shipment for $40, or submit to standard response, where they would send a replacement in their own sweet time. He also told me the replacement for my new drive would be refurbished."

One advantage to tech-support chat, at least for the support representative, is that it is challenging for angry consumers to convey their emotional reactions this way. But Joel managed to express his feelings about this policy: Joel bought a new drive. A new drive was what he wanted. He had paid to have that new drive shipped once. He wasn't going to pay it again.

"The representative finally agreed that if I emailed him a copy of the sales receipt, Iomega would replace it with a new unit," Joel says. The free shipping did not come so easily, though. Eventually, Joel relented and agreed to pay the shipping himself.

But that wasn't the end of it. The representative told Joel to expect an email with RMA information. He was still waiting for that -- several days later -- when he wrote to the Gripe Line.

I contacted Iomega right away. I was still waiting for a response when Joel wrote again to say that he'd gotten impatient waiting around and had chatted with Iomega twice more after writing to me. The third conversation turned out to be the charm. He was given a phone number to call where the representative offered to treat his case as "special," waive the fees, and ship a replacement drive.

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