Product Reliability and After-Sale Service, 2008

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Jeff Bertolucci, PC World
PC World
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; 12:19 AM

Maybe it's not the accent. Maybe, after all, it's poor training that makes phone support so bad.

That's the word from PCWorld.com visitors who completed this year's Reliability and Service Survey. We're receiving fewer gripes about thick-accented customer service representatives with incongruously American names like "Jack" and "Susan," and more about robotic staffers who seem never to veer from their script, regardless of the problem at hand.

Mike Berich, a Hewlett-Packard customer in Waterford, Wisconsin, has experienced robo-reps first hand. Soon after he purchased his HP Media Center PC two years ago, the system began freezing up and wouldn't run backups. Berich telephoned HP support, which he describes as "very poor in knowledge."

"They would start reading, and you could sense they're reading because they don't even reply to you at times," says Berich, a retired Army colonel. "It's apparent that they're not very skilled."

HP sent Berich a CD to reinstall Windows, but that didn't fix the problem. Ultimately, he had to ship his PC back to the company to have it repaired.

Another HP customer, Mike Omelanuk, had a similar experience. When he contacted HP to replace a broken DVD drive on his notebook, he endured a Kafkaesque series of e-mail messages and phone calls. Numerous e-mail responses, for instance, included the same boilerplate text explaining HP's support policies and asking Omelanuk whether he understood them. No matter how many times he answered "yes," the same question would appear in the next e-mail message. It was hard to tell whether he was communicating with man or machine.

"Aside from difficulties with accents, which I think is improving at foreign support centers, I think the major problem is that companies don't give their [support representatives] the ability to do anything but follow the script," writes Omelanuk in an e-mail interview. "They hire some pretty bright folks, but essentially they rent their voice without the brain."

Winners and Losers

Apple and Canon did best overall in our study. Apple earned 17 better-than-average scores across four product categories. Canon snagged 10 high marks-down from 18 last year-in the printer and camera categories. In the losers' bracket, HP received a stunning 18 worse-than-average scores (up from 15 in last year's reliability and service survey) over four device categories, while Lexmark collected 4 subpar grades (improving from 6 last year) in the printer category.

For charts detailing the results in each of the six product categories covered in our 2008 reliability and service survey--laptop PCs, desktop PCs, printers, digital cameras, routers, and MP3 players--follow the links below to the appropriate pages. (For similar reliability and service ratings for HDTV vendors, see "Sony HDTVs Rated Most Reliable by PC World Readers.")

Who's Hot, Who's Not

More than 44,000 PCWorld.com visitors rated leading computer and peripheral vendors in our annual Reliability and Service Survey. Companies were graded head-to-head against their competitors in six product categories: desktops, notebooks, printers, digital cameras, MP3 players, and routers.

Who's hot this year? Perennial top dogs Apple and Canon once again smoked the competition. Apple's desktop computers earned better-than-average marks in seven of nine categories. Participants in our online survey were very satisfied with the overall reliability of the Mac and gave Apple high marks on two measures involving customer service. MacBook notebooks scored very well too, with six above-average grades, though surveyed PCW visitors did gripe about failed components. Apple's routers were praised for their reliability and ease of use. Results were mixed for the iconic iPod player, however: Our readers generally found it very easy to use, but a higher-than-usual proportion noted problems that became apparent the first time they used the product.


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