Readers sound off on rebates and tech support

HP gets back to Dave about Windows 7 drivers, Staples isn't perfect at rebates, and consumers should forget the free lunch

It's high time to circle back for updates on recent gripes, including further debate over rebate practices and some free-lunch advice.

HP: Boat anchors and expert advice

Remember Gripe Line reader Dave whose HP Laserjet had become a "boat anchor" candidate? In the latest installment, Lexmark took advantage of Dave's discontent over not being able to find a Windows 7 driver for his HP printer by sending him -- free -- a new printer in an effort to win him over to the Lexmark camp. In his post, Dave had complained that a question he posed on the problem to HP's Online Meet the Experts event was never answered. In fact, it was removed, he said. HP was startled to hear that and asked me for particulars on Dave so that someone could look into what happened to his question.

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"Dave did visit the forums and post his question," reported a spokesperson after a little detective work. "HP had 80-plus experts from all over the world answering questions and they did their best to get to everyone. But Dave's question stated that he knew an appropriate driver didn't exist and asked for HP's strategy on the development of drivers. And that was something those experts are not qualified to comment on."

Someone did answer his question, but it was several days after the event. The answer: While a driver is not yet available, the printer can be made to work in compatibility mode. The expert also provided a link to instructions.

Despite the situation with Dave, HP's Meet the Experts day was extremely successful, the spokesperson reported. HP solved more than 10 times the average number of questions that come in on a typical day.

Staples: Rebate debate

"I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I read Staples being described as 'a sterling example' of an improved rebate system in 'How to work the the rebate racket,'" wrote Gripe Line reader Keith. Apparently, that was not Keith's experience.

"I bought a Garmin GPS for my college-bound son at Staples last fall," he reports. "I was attracted to two models but the higher-priced one included traffic information and a rebate that put its price close to the lower-priced one. I bought the more expensive one."

It took Keith a couple of weeks to get around to filling out the rebate form, but he did so well before the deadline. No rebate came, so he followed up: "In March of this year I went to the site and inquired about it. It told me I had an 'Invalid Postmark Date or Online Submission Date.'"

The details on this made Keith laugh as well. (It is, after all, the best medicine.) He reports, "The hilarious part of this is that the site clearly shows that -- despite this error message -- I submitted the rebate before the deadline."

He filled out the forms again, but the system repeatedly insisted there was an error. There is only so much irritation a person can be expected to endure for $30, but that brings up a good point, one that I think rebate issuers need to hear -- over and over. "Sure, $30 is not that much money," says Keith, "and it's one of those crappy Visa cards, anyway. But a deal is a deal. And Staples appears unable to honor a deal. So next time I drop $800 on a laptop, it won't be at Staples."

Tech support: No free lunch

In response to "The universal truth of tech support: Frustration," Bruce says, "Companies are in business to make money. So if you reduce the product price, you have to reduce production cost, service, or profit. If you reduce the production cost, you'll raise the level of after-sale support needed. Thus, most producers try to cut service. If that doesn't satisfy consumers price demands, quality suffers." No pie-in-the-sky, long-tail customer loyalty schemes for Bruce, it seems. This calculation is, of course, not limited to technology.

"We've seen this same thing in airline travel and American cars," he notes. In fact, this equation in the car industry left a huge opening for imports. We are even seeing this formula at work in government, says Bruce. "The taxpayer has demanded fewer taxes and more services from their government. It just isn't going to happen. In the end it all comes down to the old saw, 'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.' Everyone wants to get something for nothing." But according to Bruce, "The sad truth is the only things that are free are butterflies!"

The math seems to add up here, Bruce. But how do open source software, free Web services such as Twitter and Facebook, and Google fit into the equation?

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

This story, "Readers sound off on rebates and tech support," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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