Welcome Home, Laptop

I’m not one much for publishing the ups and downs of my day-to-day on the Internets (then what, one may ask, am I doing in Blogistan?), but a significant portion of my life has been taken up the last month by Gateway Computers.

Back in July, I bought a spiffy new notebook computer. Actually, it’s what referred to as a “desktop replacement”, it’s too damn big to truly call a notebook. So I refer to it as “The Necronomicon”. A Gateway M675XL, with a sexy widescreen monitor and a DVD burner. It quickly established itself as my favorite toy. I edited video and audio files on it, I was finally able to watch streaming video, the cable modem was finally functioning at its intended speed… life was good.

Until the day I booted it up and the display looked like a TV with a shot horizontal hold. I connected another monitor and determined that worked. A former computer technican I work with said there was a chance it was a faulty connection, so I gambled and took it to CompUSA. That was a $150 gamble. Too bad it didn’t pay out – the LCD screen was shot.

Attempts to contact Gateway by phone had failed – this was when the bulk of entry-levels consumers had attempted to install the Windows XP Expansion Pack 2, and had gone crying en masse to the support team, so by “failed” I mean I didn’t have the time or patience to hold on for a half hour or more. But the Gateway Website has a “Chat with a technician function” which I downloaded and installed on my until-then mothballed former, steam-driven computer. And I found myself in a tiny little chat room with a fellow who looked up my computer’s serial number, informed me that yes, this was covered by warranty, and gave me an address to ship it to. “What other documentation do I need to enclose?” I asked. None necessary, he replied. You’re good to go.

Knowing that LCD screens are pricey, I was greatly relieved, and told myself I really should look into one of those (similarly pricey) extended warranties. I packed the Necronomicon in its original box, which I had saved, along with the styrofoam inserts to hold it safe from harm, and journeyed down to the local UPS store.

About a week later, I e-mailed the support department at Gateway, inquiring if there was, perhaps, some sort of Web-based way to track the progress of the repair, this being, you know, the Twenty-First Century and all. This began a bewildering series of e-mails back and forth to and from a number of technicians, each more bizarre and bewildering than the last. The first basically said that repairs were done on a first-come, first-served basis, and I should just calm down, I would get my 3200S back as soon as possible.

I went immediately to the Gateway website. The 3200s is a budget desktop, available for under $400. Definitely not the two grand-plus Necronomicon. And so the nightmare began.

I kept this up for a week. I was given a customer number and reference number to use in future correspondence. There is a ten-point questionnaire detailing all these numbers, system passwords and the like, and I simply took to cutting and pasting the whole thing in every note I sent. I’m certain the techs were doing the same with their replies, as there was a lot of material that contradicted itself or had nothing to do with my plight. When I finally got an e-mail that told me that I was using somebody else’s customer number and a fraudulent computer serial number, I finally got a shipment from the Clue-Of-The-Month Club and set aside the following Saturday to get on the phone and talk to a human being.

And so began Nightmare, Phase Two.

It was actually fairly easy to get through this time. After some rummaging around their database, they ascertained that the computer was indeed in the warehouse where I shipped it, but that I was calling the wrong department. They gave me the number to call, which was not a toll-free number. And led to a department that was closed on weekends.

Lovely.

Mondays are busy days for me. I had to put off the call until Tuesday. Now, I would like to mention that I’m a preternaturally calm person, one of those people who get quieter as they get angrier. But throughout this ordeal, I kept a fairly modulated voice. It was not the fault of the drones picking up the phone, I realized, that my complaint didn’t fit into their little flow charts. About the only time I came close to anger was the first woman I contacted at the non-toll-free retail section, who made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand what you want me to do about it.” My fairly curt “Obviously, then, put me in touch with someone who does know what to do,” seemed to galvanize her. My proper customer ID was finally turned over to me, and I was assured that it was now a simple matter of telling the warehouse who owned the computer, and I would receive a phone call from a supervisor that Friday giving me an update.

My phone was disturbingly quiet on Friday.

Okay, next Tuesday, another long distance call. This guy, at least, seemed to know what was going on. He explained that Gateway had recently bought eMachines, and the consolidation of the two customer databases had run into some hiccups, and I was such a hiccup. In short, my computer was registered to somebody else – the erroneous customer number I had earlier been assigned – and moreover, all this time I had needed to talk to the toll-free Gateway number, not the retail division. This was all in the course of a toll call that took an hour-and-a-half, with my technician constantly apologizing. He was on the line with a supervisor from that department, and he kept putting him on hold.

Finally, at the 90 minute mark (fortunately, my GameCube is in my office), I was promised – once again – that I would receive a phone call from that supervisor by Friday.

You can write the conclusion to that allegation yourself.

Finally, on Tuesday the 23rd, I called 1-800-GATEWAY once more. By now I had learned to begin each conversation with “You are the Nth person I’ve dealt with on this matter,” and related the condensed version of the tale to the tech. Who put me on hold, and disconnected me.

Suddenly, things started to happen.

Within three minutes a supervisor had called me back to apologize and get information. I was assigned yet another service number, and was quizzed rather endlessly as to whether or not I was Matt Johnson or if I knew a Matt Johnson. No, I assured the supervisor, and if I did know a Matt Johnson, I would punch him in the face right now. Once more I was assured that someone would get in touch with me in 72 hours. I’ve heard this before, I told him. He apologized again.

It didn’t take 72, it hardly took 12. I received a call first thing Wednesday morning, assuring me that the computer had, indeed, been located and an expedite placed on the repair. I was run through that questionnaire one last time, and was told I should have the computer back by Monday at the latest.

DHL delivered it to me yesterday, Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Had Turkey Day not been there, I would likely have gotten it Thursday.

So, in the end, I harbor no acrimony toward Gateway. Some technicians need to be slapped in the back of the head, but that’s common. Once I actually got hold of some people with competence, they bent over backwards to make it right. Admittedly, in my quest to not become “that caller”, I likely erred on the side of politeness. Had I insisted on speaking to a supervisor, say, during call #2, things might have gone more quickly… but you know what? The world sucks enough as it is. I choose not to add to the suck. Everything came out alright without resorting to being a total asshole. I feel good about that.

Though Gateway did lose a few points soon after, due to the call I received while unpacking and setting up my prodigal notebook. The call that assured me that they had found my computer and I should be getting it back in 9 to 12 days.

Hell, I may get that budget desktop yet.

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