HP printers: Oh, how the mighty have fallen

By | January 20, 2008

My loyal readers may recall my previous complaint about HP’s bungled attempt to support the Mac with its C5280 all-in-one printer. Unfortunately, my difficulties with this printer didn’t end there. Below is the letter I recently sent to HP’s CEO about the ongoing saga of my attempt to completely the presumably simple task of purchasing working print cartridges for this printer, directly from HP.

January 18, 2008

Mark Hurd, CEO
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 04304

Dear Mr. Hurd,

HP’s customer support organization has failed me. I am tired of wasting my time navigating through complicated telephone menus, talking to people who are incapable of solving my problem, and waiting for promised return telephone calls that never come. I am writing to ask you to solve my problem, as well as to address the systemic problems which have prevented my problem from being solved through normal channels.

My current problem in brief

I have two defective #99 photo cartridges, one which I purchased directly from HP in September and one which was sent recently as a replacement but turned out to be defective as well. I was told over a week ago that a case related to my problem (#[elided]) has been escalated and someone would call me back to resolve it, but no one has contacted me and I am thus unable to use my HP C5280 printer for the most important thing for which I purchased it, i.e., printing photos. I want a working photo cartridge, I want it now, and I want to be reimbursed for the 30 pages of 8.5×11 paper, the 15 4×6 photo sheets, and the ink I’ve wasted from the good print cartridges when printing out test pages while trying to debug the defective ones.

The whole story

On December 26, 2007, I ordered two inkjet print cartridges from the HP Home & Home Office Store (order #[elided]). When they arrived and I tried to use the cartridges, I discovered that one of them (#75XL) was defective. I was at the same time trying to use a brand-new photo cartridge (#99) that I had purchased on September 30, 2007 (order #[elided]), and it, too, turned out to be defective.

I cleaned the cartridges, realigned them, and printed many self-test pages with them. The test grids on the self-test pages showed multiple gaps for both of the defective cartridges, thus confirming that not all of the jets were inking properly. Furthermore, when I tried the other 75XL cartridge and the black 74XL cartridge I had ordered, the worked just fine, so it was clear that the issue was with the cartridges rather than the printer.

After performing all of these troubleshooting steps to confirm that the problem was with the cartridges rather than with the printer, I contacted your support organization through your on-line chat service. I was connected, of course, to one of your moronic off-shore Indian support “engineers” who don’t have a clue about anything and wouldn’t know a defective print cartridge if it bit them on the ass.

I told the guy right at the start exactly what the problem was and exactly what troubleshooting steps I’d done to confirm that the cartridges were defective. I told him right up-front that I had no desire or intention to have my time wasted going through his absurd script of troubleshooting steps, some of which would be completely irrelevant and the rest I’d already done.

Nevertheless, he made me align the cartridges (already done), clean them (already done), print self-test pages (already done), and perform soft and hard resets on the printer (irrelevant). I wasted over an hour of my time, over and above the hours I’d already wasted troubleshooting the cartridges on my own. I finally got so fed up that I put my foot down and said no to the last pointless exercise that he told me to perform, and told him that he needed to either replace my defective cartridges or escalate my case to someone with a clue who could authorize the replacement.

At that point he informed me that he would authorize replacements for both defective cartridges. And indeed, the next day I received email confirming that a new 75XL cartridge was being shipped to me.

Oddly, however, I did not receive any email about the defective 99 cartridge. The reason for this became clear about a week later, when I received a phone call from an obviously American woman at HP to whom the case of my defective 99 cartridge had apparently been escalated (note that I had been told by the engineer with whom I chatted that a replacement 99 cartridge would be sent to me, not that he was going to have to escalate my case).

I want to take a slight detour and remark that my distinction between American and Indian support engineers is not rooted in racism, but rather in my personal experience and the experience of everyone else I know that the offshore support provided from India for products of all kinds is universally horrendously bad. I say a silently prayer of thanks every time I contact a support organization and the voice at the other end has an American accent. I will never understand why any company that actually cares about its customers would provide such outrageously bad customer support.

Returning to my narrative… The fact that I was told that a replacement cartridge would be sent when instead my case was escalated is completely unacceptable. The fact that it took many days for someone to actually call me about the escalated case is also completely unacceptable.

In any case, the woman with whom I spoke was very friendly. When I quickly explained that the self-test page from my printer was showing gaps for the 99 cartridge and that I had realigned and cleaned the cartridges and power-cycled the printer to no avail, she said she had no idea why the first engineer with whom I had chatted had not authorized a replacement cartridge, and agreed to send me one immediately.

The cartridge arrived a few days later. I found it sitting in a shipping box on my porch in 10-degree weather. This concerned me, since the wrapper on the cartridge says that it should be kept below 59 degrees. My concern was apparently justified, since when I opened the new cartridge and tried it out, it showed gaps on the self-test page similar to the gaps from the first cartridge.

This prompted me to wonder whether the problems I had had with the first cartridge as well as with the 75XL cartridge might have also been caused by low-temperature conditions, a possibility which I mentioned when I yet again contacted your customer support organization, this time by a telephone to 800-HP-INVENT.

I told the entire story to the Indian (damn!) support engineer to whom I was connected, and then I told the entire story again to the second Indian (damn!) suppor engineer to whom the first apparently felt compelled to escalate the case. They said that given that two cartridges in a row had failed to work properly, they were concerned that perhaps the printer itself was at fault, so they were going to have to escalate the case to specialists for further action. They gave me the case number mentioned above, [elided], and assured me that someone would contact me the next day about my case. It is now over a week later and I have not been contacted.

I’ve been working in the computer industry for over twenty years. For many years I have been telling people not to buy anything but an HP printer, that HP printers are far and away the best on the market and that they support them well. My faith in HP’s printers and printer support were shaken when I first purchased this printer, for reasons about which I wrote to you through your Web site (see http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/?p=100 for the details). You never responded to that letter, which further eroded my confidence that HP cares about its customers and does what it takes to support them properly. My experiences described above are just about the last nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned. The fact that I’ve now been sent three defective print cartridges in short order means that I can no longer count on your products to be of adequate quality, and the fact that trying to get the problem resolved has been such a hellish experience means that I can no longer count on HP to adequately support its products.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to advise my friends, family and company in the future about printer purchases, but I’m pretty sure if I say anything about HP, it’ll be accompanied by a strong warning that if anything goes wrong, they should expect to have to go through hell to get it fixed.

There’s just one more thing I want to point out. I assume that you want people to buy their print cartridges directly from you because the cartridges are where the real money is in inkjet printers and because your profit margin is higher if customers buy direct. Please consider the fact that if I had bought the defective cartridges from the Staples less than a mile from my house, I could have taken them back there with my receipt and in five minutes exchanged them for new cartridges. If you want to encourage people to buy cartridges directly from you, then you had sure as hell better find a way to make it less painful for them to exchange defective ones.


Jonathan Kamens

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2 thoughts on “HP printers: Oh, how the mighty have fallen

  1. Ted

    I have just had a similar experience with “Steven” at HP Case Manager Line

    After several calls to HP, one of which I spent about three hours on the phone while their system tried to load a diagnostic on my computer, with a very knowedgable person named “Rich”, who was very nice but still could not solve my problem, I ended up calling and getting “Steven”.

    Steven refused to give me his last name. He also claimed to not know who the President or CEO of Hewlett Packard was. I asked if he was in Cupertino and he did not answer.

    My immediate problem is that my printer, The All In One Officejet 6310, will not print envelopes. I have tried various envelopes of various sizes, and various programs, none of which will work. After the five or six calls, “Steven” did some research and said that, essentially, it was up to me to research whether the printer would work with envelopes. He claims that the printer was only designed to print MONARCH NO. 10 ENVELOPES only. I told him that was preposterous and unacceptable, since every HP Printer I had before would do just about any envelope. He said that the “upgraded” newer printers would not do anything besides these envelopes and it was essentially “let the buyer beware” and up to me to determine this before buying.

    I have been an HP customer for 35 years, and if this is not resolved legally or otherwise, I will never again buy another HP product.

    I asked him specifically if he could e mail me a link showing that “Monarch” envelopes had to be used, and he said he wasn’t going to do that.

    Obviously, I can now write the CEO of the company. “Steven” repeatedly told me that the letter would just come back to him.

    If the printer only prints “Monarch No. 10” envelopes, ridiculous as that may be, it should say that specifically in the manual.

    I am going to e mail this to Steven.

  2. peter sniekers, Australia

    Hi Jonathon

    Deja vu when I read your email! I have had to replace a 5280 after it died only a week after receiving it; the replacement took 8 weeks of constant Indian troubleshooting calls and following up on promised despatches of a replacement which never came. Finally received the new printer and now am going through the dud cartridge saga like yours; and I don”t feel like calling Mumbai again (why are they all called Ivan, Chris, David, Ben, Trevor, Bruce which are obvious ring-in names!). In fact I only came across your blog because I was searching for an alternative to help me with my “alignment failed” problem. Good luck with your issue. I think I’ll go back to Canon once the current cartridges run out (yes I just bought some others. I will not buy the large volume cartridges any more – I wasted $52AUD on a 75XL which is a dud. Took it back to the retailer (like you said you could do if you bought locally), but they said HP will no longer accept returns and any claims have to go back to HP directly (ie. via bloody Indian tech support operators – oh no!!!) Cheers, Peter


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