Dear Lenovo: Love is over.

Date February 24, 2011

You know, for a company that named their product the "Thinkpad", they didn't really take it to heart.

A few months ago, we ordered some Lenovo Thinkpad T510s to act as stock for new employees that we were hiring. They just sort of sat in the boxes until we needed them, and when that time came around, we have a process we go through to prepare them with the standard image.

Ryan, my junior admin, was taking care of that, and like a good observant sysadmin, he noticed that one of them was running warmer than the rest. Investigating further, he noted that you could see the heatsink through the vents on the side of the machine, and it was obviously crooked, which was not the case in the others. Clearly, it had come off in some way.

Since I don't relish the thought of disassembling laptops that are still under warranty, we called CDW. It had been over 30 days since we bought them, so there wasn't a lot they could do, other than refer us to Lenovo. No problem, we got the enhanced on-site repair warranty with the depot shipping option. The call was made, the appointment was scheduled, and the repair was done. Success.

Except...once the repair was made, Ryan noticed some other disturbing tendencies...while transferring the image, he noticed that whenever he bumped the machine, Clonezilla's Linux terminal displayed a USB disconnect kernel message. Then there was the slight fact that the machine didn't sit exactly flat...it sort of wobbled, like a table with a short leg.

Obviously, something was wrong with the machine. It had apparently not been assembled correctly, or suffered some sort of accidental abuse in transit, but whatever it was, the machine is not functioning like it should.

We called Lenovo back. Their solution was to try to schedule a replacement of the motherboard. I said 'no dice'. Any machine with that much wrong with it can't be trusted by us. We'd give it to a user and it would conk out somewhere 3,000 miles from the nearest Lenovo tech. I wanted to exchange the machine.

Of course, the tech on the phone said no. That's what first level techs are for. Well, for that, and for handing me off to their supervisor. Who also told me no. I patiently explained the situation again, with the expectation that they'd just need to make a managerial decision to eat the potential cost in favor of placating an unhappy customer. But still, the answer was 'no'.

Alright, time to attack this from another angle. I called my contact at CDW, who had previously mentioned that, should I get any flack from Lenovo, he could try to intercede on my behalf. I had hoped not to take advantage of the offer, but there was no way around it. I talked to Gordon, explained the story, and he was as incredulous as I was. He called their inside Lenovo guy who gave him the contact point at Lenovo corporate (or whoever), and Gordon called me once he had them on the phone. The guy at Lenovo listened to my story, sympathized with me, and told me that he would escalate my case. Finally! I could expect a call back that day or the next. Awesome!

Today, that call came, and I've got to say, it didn't go as I planned. The escalation agent called Ryan first, since his name was attached to the original case. After he got off the phone, he had sort of a glazed look in his eyes as he swung around in his chair.

"You're not going to believe this..."

Well, the story was so completely insane that, while I believed him, I still didn't think it was true. I mean, there's really no way. I had to verify something this stupid, so I had Ryan forward me the escalation agent's contact info, and I called him myself. I patiently explained the situation, and he listened, matching me patient for patient. At the end of my speil, I said, "...so clearly, it makes sense for Lenovo to swap us machines now, rather than putting both of us through the hassle." At which time, he repeated, verbatim, what Ryan had told me. My jaw dropped.

Because it's not often you get an opportunity to observe utter stupidity in crystalline clarity, I wanted to preserve the moment. I said to the escalation agent, "I understand what you're saying to me, even though I don't agree that it should be necessary. What I need from you now, though, is the text of what you just told me, in an email. I need to see it in order to act on it. Can you send me that email?" And he agreed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the email that the official Lenovo SRR Support agent sent me (emphasis mine):

Matt

As I discuss with you and Ryan, we have two options at this point--

1. I can submit request for the machine to be replaced but this would not qualify and I am absolutely sure the request would be decline due to lack of service repair history.

2. Write letter to CEO of IBM expressing your ordeal with this machine and why you believe it should be replaced. The letter will generate an executive complaint to the Lenovo Customer Relations. You should be contact no later than 2 days from when this has been submitted.

Thanks

XXXXX
ThinkProducts SSR Support

Are you KIDDING me???
A LETTER TO THE CEO???
What is this, Bob's Discount Laptops?

Over the phone, the rep actually walked me through typing in the url http://www.ibm.com/ibm/sjp/, and instructed me to click on the button to the left, marked "Send Email".

I'm not beside myself with rage. I don't care that much about a single laptop. I'm beside myself with confusion. I don't even know what to think.

Please tell me, I'm not alone in thinking this is just bizarre, right?

27 Responses to “Dear Lenovo: Love is over.”

  1. Bart Silverstrim said:

    Wow...emailing the CEO to get something done? Most wouldn't want anything like that because usually if you have to send a message to the CEO there's a real issue to be taken care of. Don't they have better things to do than deal with disgruntled customers? I mean, except in extreme cases?

    Don't their reps, a level or two up from first-liners, have the ability to make the call of sending a laptop out to appease a business customer? I guess apparently not...

  2. Ian said:

    As you alluded to, first level tech support is generally a speed bump for us. The real differentiation, how you get to the point of saying company X's tech support is really good, is when there are business policies or practices that allow for those people to do right by the customer. Lenovo is just poor in this regard.

    I'm waiting to hear back from a tech on an open repair regarding a cracked LCD screen on an SL510. The estimate for repair is $750. We bought the laptop for $650. Another time somebody broke the clip on the ethernet jack on an SL500. All that needed to be repaired was the IO Card. They told us the motherboard had to be replaced and that would cost some absurd amount of money. It took me sending them their own parts diagram on PDF showing that the IO card was separate from the motherboard and that the motherboard did not need to be replaced. There was also that slightly annoying situation when we ordered over 100 laptops from them that had incorrectly manufactured IO cards and the tech asked me to mail them all the units back one week prior to us having deploying them. That was one of the few times that I actually verbally yelled at multiple people complete with every curse I knew at the time, all the way up the chain of command, until I got someone with the power to do something.

    Overall, my experience with Lenovo tech support has been very poor. Like I said, they seem to have some fundamental support policy and process problems. We're heavily invested with 300-400 units in production, so switching to another vendor isn't something I'd prefer to do all things being equal. But, I don't know how equal things are anymore. I don't know how terrible Dell support is become in regards to laptops. We have tons of Dell desktops, but they're easier for us to fix ourselves than laptops are.

    It's a shame that when we get good customer support, we're surprised and elated, instead of assuming we'd be getting that proper treatment.

  3. Matt Simmons said:

    @Bart

    I have no doubt that Mr Palmisano's email address goes directly to a complaint queue, however to make that an "official" line of appeal is nuts. At least, in my opinion.

    On the other hand, maybe everyone thinks that's the sucker bet, and no one clicks on it, and Sam's sitting at his desk, checking email, waiting on someone to say hello.

  4. Matt Simmons said:

    @Ian

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. If you want, I've got the inside track to the CEO at Lenovo though... ;-)

  5. Bart Silverstrim said:

    I thought Lenovo was separate from IBM now? Why the IBM URL?

  6. Twirrim said:

    Bart: you're right. Ibm now holds under 5% shares in Lenovo. I can't figure out why emailing IBM's CEO would have any benefit. Lenovo's CEO would surely be the most use.

  7. Ian D. said:

    Actually, since you only had the one onsite visit, their hands are pretty much tied. I'm sure that somewhere in the warranty text it says something along the lines of "Allowing the company a reasonable number of attempts to resolve a problem" and that number is usually greater than one.

    Having worked in the corporate escalations dept of a large OEM (responding to email sent directly to the big boss)... I can say that if a customer made three attempts --two if they were convincing-- to resolve an issue and if for whatever reason we couldn't sort out the problem, we would usually send them a custom built rig that was well over the purchase price of their "value" system.

  8. Jon W said:

    It sounds to me like the sort of arrangement that results from a breakdown in trust/communications within a company or wtween business partners. Like "you guys are scamming us, there is no way we are shipping that many defects. From now on EVERY ONE of these exceptional requests must go through MY OFFICE!"

  9. Andy said:

    Hi Matt,

    Emailing the CEO or another top executive is quite common to gain the needed attraction, it even works with car manufacturers ;)

  10. Tweets that mention Dear Lenovo: Love is over. | Standalone Sysadmin -- Topsy.com said:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Simmons and Pete, Planet SysAd. Planet SysAd said: Standalone Sysadmin: Dear Lenovo: Love is over. http://bit.ly/fhC6PT [...]

  11. Nick said:

    Wow, are you sure you didn't accidentally call the home user support line instead, I could almost understand that sort of response if that was the case however when you have a business account plus extended support I would kind of hope for a better resolution.
    Oddly though why are you being told to raise the issue with IBM management rather than Lenovo, it just seems that that would add an additional delay if you did decide to do as told.

    Very bizarre though, as much as I used to love my old ThinkPad this sort of encounter puts me off buying another (or recommending them for any sort of business purchase!).

  12. Really a Sysadmin said:

    Yes, but the lesson here is really this. CDW provides real customer service. The manufacturer is hit or miss. Once you get the machine from CDW, open the box and inspect it. Make sure that it works. CDW is much better about shipping a replacement product back to you.

    The computer manufacturing business has razor-thin margins. They will pretty much always send you a refurb model if you do a warranty replacement. Your refurb Lenovo models probably have lower levels of quality assurance than their new models. That's true in a lot of companies.

    The IT department has to manage all this.

  13. Doug Luxem said:

    Matt,

    We stopped purchasing Lenovo laptops a couple years ago after running into the complete disasters that were the T60 and T61 series. The problems on those were numerous and our failure rate was well over 50%.

    Some of the problems we encountered: docking frequently locked up the laptops (even with the "rubber booty" fix), video cable detaching from the motherboard and/or breaking, LCD failures, and fan failures.

    With the T60 series, our Lenovo contact basically said they moved the design in-house for that version after the IBM split. They said the T61 was supposed to resolve those design issues, but in the end it was just more of the same.

    After years of avoiding Dell laptops for obvious reasons, we took another shot with the E6500 and couldn't be happier. Now we have a bunch of E4310s and E6510s deployed without problems. Happy users = happy IT department.

    -Doug

  14. Bill said:

    I honestly don't understand why they are having you complain to IBM rather than Lenevo. With that said, its ridiculus. Either that or I'm just spoiled by working for a large employer.

    My employer has contracts with four companies to get laptops. Last I saw over 90% of sales were going to Dell. Our purchasing department wanted us to spreed them spending around in order to try to get the others to compete but Dell makes it realy easy to place orders, track orders, and get warranty work (part of the contract is a two or three year warranty that include dropping the computer). While at least two of the companies have a staff member at our main office, we have direct connections to level 2 support for all. Typically call dell, tell them what we need, and they overnight the parts. If we don't feel like doing the work (like when I dropped my laptop and broke a hinge) they send the tech out the next day. Its usually a 10 minute phone call and some times a follow-up with the tech to schedule the time we want them here.

    Previously we've tried ordering from one of the non-Dell companies, but they were a huge pain to order, had no way to track the order, and warranty work was a pain in the butt. Lenevo is one of the companies, and they were a lot better (especially about warranty work), but not as good as Dell. SInce the computers are all priced about the same (part of the contract), we figure its fair to give most of the business to the company which provides us the best service.

  15. ChrisW said:

    Warranty calls are never a fun thing. It's the main reason I've bought Dell for years. While their support can sometimes be a little time consuming (if you don't have 'Pro' support), I have always got the result I wanted.
    I went through an RFP process a couple of years back to merge the desk-side buying patterns of a fair sized multi-national. While Lenovo and HP could match price and specs, Dell was the only one that could offer a consistant warranty assurance in all the countries we had kit operating.
    Good luck Matt, I hope you get the want you want from them without too many more hiccups!

  16. Mark said:

    Matt,

    Thanks for sharing your story. We've searched, but haven't found a complaint case under Matt Simmons with our exec relations team. Would you please email me (my email submitted with this post) and sent seperately through contact on your site, so we can connect and talk about your case?

    First, I want to ensure that you are getting the help you need to resolve this.

    Second, I'd like to ensure we follow up with both our sales and service teams - lessons learned / continual improvement.

    As you understand, we try to service our systems in accordance with the warranty terms and conditions, rather than just replace them in a first call situation. It seems that other follow up actions could have been taken to restore your confidence in the system, and in the case that there was a issue that could not be reasonably repaired, we do have processes to replace.

    As a response to a speculative comment above - In almost all cases, replacement systems are new. Some exceptions might be late in a system life, or outside of warranty if the original or equivalent system is no longer available, we might offer ( and a customer agree ) to source a refurbished model from our outlet.

    Our sales team does have a process by which your case could have been internally escalated to our customer relations team, and appropriate action taken to resolve if your request fell outside our normal policy / proceedures.

    As many customers have had experience with ThinkPad going back to the days at IBM, we have worked closely from an executive relations standpoint and responded to PC cases submitted to Sam's office. However, as you suggest, that is indeed a round about path and was not the correct answer.

    Thanks again for bringing this to our attention. I'll anticipate your email so we can work on the resolution.

    Best regards,

    Mark

  17. Matt Simmons said:

    @Mark

    Thanks very much for picking up on this! I've replied to your email with more information.

  18. Anon said:

    The loves is back :)

  19. tsfroggy said:

    Sometimes, I am seriously shocked by the hoopla that companies will make you go through to fix things. Interestingly enough, Dell gives me the least number of headaches. I've never had to deal with anything like THAT though.

  20. Vinicius said:

    This shows to me that I should never buy a Lenovo again. Last year I bought a laptop that had some issues with the LCD, after 4 months of headaches they finally replaced my laptop. After replacing my laptop I started another fight against Lenovo, because the new laptop had the same LCD issue, plus the touchpad not working. After that I asked my money back, they returned my money after 2 months.

    Lenovo is crap here in Brazil and in any part of the world.

  21. Daniel Howard said:

    I would hazard a guess that what with the Great Recession, companies are squeezing every last place they can, and customer service is a big cost that gets squeezed even in good times. I don't get why you would be mailing IBM's CEO, but the subtext I read here is that customer service agrees with you, but they've had their hands tied such that alienating an IT Department is preferable to blowing their margins on technical support.

    I was always a Dell fan, and I can only hope that the recession has meant that they have downsized the sales guys they kept sending to meddle with my online order process . . .

    I hope Lenovo get squared away. I like their gear. No complaints here!

    -danny

  22. Bart Silverstrim said:

    @Daniel: we use Dell here as well. I don't know if your speculation is correct or not (seems the economic conditions are more of an excuse for doing what companies tend to want to do all along...it's just that this is a good way of getting people outside the business [re: customers] to "understand" their issues, kinda like how anything that happens in the middle east suddenly justifies a jump in gas prices but when things get quiet the price doesn't seem to slide back down for some odd reason)

    What these companies don't seem to quite get is that part of what keeps us as organizations coming back to them is support. PCs are a commodity; we can go anywhere to get $400 to $1000 laptops and desktops. What becomes important after that is how much of a PITA they are to deal with when something goes wrong; we'll even pay more if we don't have to deal with hassle later.

    Dell can be a PITA for home buyers to deal with, but when you have a sales rep and a business name attached to the account, we rarely get questioned about replacement parts and those parts are here right away, because it seems they know that that part is worth more sales when we need a new lab. Apparently Lenovo's policies are to punish the customer if they don't fall within guidelines. They'd do well to give their support managers the leeway to say, "Well, it's out of warranty, and my supervisor will hate it if he finds out, but here's what I'll do..."

    I can't remember how many people have become happier customers after a broken PC because the company managed to fix the issue by giving them an upgraded laptop or newer model. Cheap for the company and they get good press (and a loyal customer) out of the deal.

    Incidentally this is one of the reasons I've liked Apple computers, too. Never had a real problem dealing with their support on the phone or at a Genius bar. No hassles even when they could have been sticklers for rules, like fixing my mother-in-law's laptop with a wipe and install of the latest operating system that her MacBook supported, no questions asked. Had to ship one in to a support depot once, and it was back two days later. Less stress for me = more sales later for them.

    It sounds kinda' like Lenovo should reexamine their policies and not give the perception they're punishing their customers (and maybe explain why you need to bother the CEO of IBM if it's true that Lenovo is a separate company now?)

  23. Kevin Bourk said:

    I purchased five Thinkpads on one invoice. One of them wouldn't burn recovery dvds. 25 days later, after replacing the drive and spending many hours on the phone the issue was escalated, but that guy told me that since 21 days had passed, it can't be returned for exchange. I refrained from using profane language, but told him not to dare trying that. He had to escalate it again to override that policy and I was finally granted an exchange.

    I am now very happy dealing almost exclusively with Dell and have since purchased over 20 laptops from them. Lenovo is dead to me. The love is gone.

  24. Daniel howard said:

    Okay, I'll add:

    1) I have found that blogging/ microblogging / yelping about a customer experience can yield results. It seems that at many companies the social media marketing intern has more clout than customer support.

    2) @Bart, in contrast, part of the reason I don't buy Apple products is because the support was such a huge hassle. I bought a Mini once and the optical drive crapped out. I had to call tech support, convince them that the optical drive had crapped out, then arrange an appointment to drive it to the mall so I could wait around an extra forty minutes to convince a "Genius" that the optical drive had crapped out, so that that "Genius" could manually enter my customer information in to a computer and ship it away for two weeks to some country where a non-genius could swap out the bad drive, after which I got to drive to the mall again to pick up my computer. Since then I've stuck to assembling my own PCs, or ordering Dell portables. None of my Dell gear has ever had a bad component though, so their consumer technical support process remains a mystery.

    -d

  25. Bart Silverstrim said:

    @Daniel: I've heard of this happening on occasion with apple, the occasional horror story of the genius bar shipping it off and waiting a long period of time to get it back. Overall, Apple has had very high satisfaction ratings from customers regarding service; they'd been near the top or at the top for several years, so your story is (hopefully!) in the minority.

    That said, why did you have to take it to the mall? Did they refuse to ship you the box to have it fedex'ed out? In our case they sent a prepaid box, came and picked it up, and shipped it back. Granted I'm several hours from an Apple Store, but still...odd that they had you do that.

    I still stick with Apples even at this point if I had one bad experience because I've had a couple *good* experiences plus their hardware integration with the OS has saved me a couple times, both in troubleshooting and in saving my sanity. I don't recall using Windows on anything and coming away with a pleasant surprise other than when I had the realization that Win7 wasn't quite as annoying at Vista. That was a nice surprise.

  26. Lenovo makes good | Standalone Sysadmin said:

    [...] I might have gotten a little upset a few weeks ago when a Lenovo phone rep told me to talk to the CEO of IBM to get my broken laptop [...]

  27. Nadine said:

    Hi Matt,

    I know this strange in reply to early 2011 posts... I was trying to google executive complaints at Lenovo, and found your blog. I'm just beside myself as I have not even recieved my laptop from Lenovo, and it's been almost a month from purchasing.

    I read that you found the inside track to the Lenovo CEO - Can you help me?

    This week is the last straw with Lenovo for me!

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