What should a defective laptop cost?

One reader balks when asked to pay to have his brand-new computer repaired. Gripe Line settles the feud

Gripe Line reader John writes in about a good netbook deal gone bad: "I woke -- excited -- at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving to take advantage of an offer from BestBuy.com to purchase a Compaq-Mini Netbook 110c-1100DX for the princely sum of $179.99," writes John.

But when his netbook arrived, John's excitement turned to exasperation.

[ 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. ]

"When I booted up the unit, it presented me with a 'Welcome to Win XP' message and prompted me to click Next. Unfortunately, I could not perform that simple task because the touchpad was completely nonfunctioning."

Clearly looking at a hardware failure, John knew he had little choice but to get on the phone to tech support.

"After going through all the usual mundane tasks -- turning it off and on, etc. -- the tech remotely took control of the netbook," he explains. "I was dismayed, though, as I watched him attempt to install a Windows 7 driver on my XP machine. I pointed out the mistake and gently suggested that he was not capable of fixing this problem over the phone." The technician agreed and suggested that John send the unit to HP to be repaired.

This sounded good until John learned he would have to pay $20 for this service. "I had only just opened the box," John points out. "The unit was defective. Is it reasonable for me to pay to have it fixed? Should I be fined for HP's poor quality control?"

John refused this offer and asked to speak to a supervisor. After he repeated this request several times to various people, John eventually reached someone willing to discuss his options.

"I explained I didn't want to return the product because I wanted to take advantage of the deal I had found," he says. John pointed out that not only should a new machine work when it arrives but that the decision to make him return it or pay to have it fixed would leave him an a vocally unhappy HP customer -- something that's always bad for business. But the representative pointed out that HP could resell his laptop as a refurbished unit for around $190 -- more than John had paid for it.

"As you can imagine," says John, "I was disturbed that the contentment and satisfaction of a customer was not worth ten bucks."

John wrote a strongly worded letter to HP -- and sent a copy of it to the Gripe Line.

I thought that the customer support rep's perspective on what a happy customer is worth to a company seemed wrong, so I forwarded his letter to HP. Sure enough, HP waived the fee and thanked me for presenting the company with the opportunity to repair this situation gone bad.

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "What should a defective laptop cost?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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