I bought a ThinkPad laptop from Lenovo recently. The actual laptop hardware is quite good… it feels solid and it has a nice screen, nice keyboard, good weight to performance ratio, good price to performance ratio, and great battery life. Alas, things were not so smooth after the laptop arrived. In fact, my post-purchase experience has been so bad that I’m sorely tempted to go back to Dell for my next laptop purchase. Consider this blog posting my warning to those of you considering buying from Lenovo; at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into!
Incompetent software management
I used my laptop for several days just fine before realizing that I hadn’t run the Lenovo software update tool. I ran the tool and upgraded all of the Lenovo software to the most recent version. This was a challenge in and of itself because the software update tool does an awful job of making it clear which of the things it’s telling you to install are updates to software you have, and which are optional things you don’t need to install if you don’t want to.
Immediately after I installed all of the updates recommended by Lenovo, I stopped being able to tether to my iPhone via Bluetooth. Yes, that’s right, the updates Lenovo told me to install broke my laptop. I tried reinstalling the drivers; it didn’t help. The only way I was able to restore Bluetooth functionality was to downgrading to the previous version of the drivers.
But here’s the thing with that… Normally, old drivers are not available for download from the Lenovo web site; usually only the most recent version of each software package is available. For some strange, inexplicable (ha!) reason, however, the old version of the Bluetooth drivers in particular was available for download, in a different package with the same name as the current package but with “II” at the end of it. Pretty lucky, huh!
Not really. It’s actually obvious, not “inexplicable”, why the old version of those particular drivers is available for download. It’s because Lenovo knows that the new version doesn’t work on some laptops. And yet they haven’t fixed the new version so that it doesn’t break things, nor have they fixed their software update tool so that it doesn’t install incompatible drivers on some laptops, nor have they posted any sort of warning on their web site about the incompatible drivers. Isn’t that lovely?
Because of their incompetence, I wasted hours troubleshooting the broken Bluetooth on my brand-new laptop.
Really awful accessories
Along with the laptop itself, I ordered two accessories directly from Lenovo: a wireless keyboard / mouse combo package with a USB RF dongle (Lenovo part number 0A34032), and a Cyber Acoustics USB Stereo Headset with Microphone (51J0268).
The headset arrived with one of its earpads already having fallen off. I fixed it, and it fell off twice more in the first week I was using it. The headset itself felt cheap, flimsy, and uncomfortable. It was, in short, a piece of garbage.
The keyboard wasn’t any better. The keys felt mushy and didn’t give good tactile or aural feedback telling the user that a keystroke had actually been registered. Worse, they didn’t register keystrokes: several characters inexplicably disappeared from every sentence I typed. It wasn’t merely one defective keyboard either; the replacement they sent me (more on that part of the saga below) had exactly the same problem. In short, the keyboard was also a piece of garbage.
Selling a customer a good laptop and then bundling awful accessories with it is a good way to end up with disgruntled customers who look elsewhere for their next laptop purchase. An even better way is to provide really, really awful support, which brings me to the next part of the story…
Really, really awful support
In the short time I’ve had the laptop, I’ve had to deal with Lenovo’s support department for three separate reasons: to get them to send me a replacement keyboard so I could find out whether the first one was simply defective or just a bad product; to get them to take back the awful, broken-upon-arrival headset and refund my money; and to get them to take back both the original keyboard and the replacement when the latter proved the bad product hypothesis. All of these experiences were bad.
There is no way to contact the ThinkPad customer support department on-line. Everything must be done by telephone.
Lenovo sent me many emails about my purchase: two separate order acknowledgements; five different shipment notifications; a confirmation of my on-site service contract; and a thank-you for registering my laptop. Not one of them indicated what phone number I should call for product support. The confirmation of my service contract didn’t say a single word about how I would actually go about getting on-site service if I needed it. Ridiculous.
Over the course of this saga, I ended up talking to Lenovo’s offshore support department in India several times. They’re clearly using some sort of VoIP, and they clearly have a serious bandwidth or latency problem with the network the VoIP is going over, because their voices were constantly cutting out or being distorted beyond comprehension. If they can’t even get the plumbing right, it’s no surprise that the rest of the support experience is so mind-numbingly awful.
Their automated support system doesn’t recognize the DTMF tones generated by Skype, so you can’t navigate their phone tree using a Skype call.
The first time I called them, to get a replacement keyboard, I ended up being transferred twice. I had to tell the same story, and provide the same part numbers, three times. The last person I spoke with was an IBM employee, not a Lenovo employee; apparently there is still some sort of relationship between Lenovo and IBM, despite the fact that IBM sold the ThinkPad business to Lenovo years ago.
The IBM guy had no access to the Lenovo databases, so he couldn’t look up any of the information about my order, so I had to give it all to him over the phone. He asked me for the part, FRU, and serial numbers from the bottom of the keyboard, and then said that he couldn’t find anything about those numbers in his database. I had to email him the Lenovo order acknowledgement, which for some reason had a part number that was different from the one on bottom of the keyboard, and only then was he able to help me. Well, actually, not then either… He said he had to take all of the details about my request and forward them to another department to verify that I was entitled to a warranty replacement. Only then, probably a day or so later, would I be sent a replacement keyboard.
The second time I contacted them was to tell them to take back their awful headset and give me my money back. This was the least painful of my three interactions with them. I got to the correct department (offshore Indian support team) on the first try, and the agent I spoke with agreed to send me a prepared return shipping label for the headset and refund the purchase price after I returned it. The only complaint I have about this is one that I’ve already mentioned: the VoIP was so bad that I could hardly hear what the guy was saying.
Next, I tried out the replacement keyboard they’d sent, confirmed that it had the same problem as the original keyboard, and called back the same department as earlier that day so I could arrange to return the keyboard for a refund as well.
I waited on hold for an entire hour.
When I finally got through to an agent and told her the story, she informed me that she had no record of the replacement keyboard I’d been sent, since that was handled by the IBM warranty department in the United States rather than by the folks in India (mind you, it was handled by IBM because the folks in India transferred me there the first time I called), and therefore I would have to talk to the IBM folks about getting a refund. An hour and a quarter wasted.
An IBM agent, in a subsequent 20-minute phone call, informed that in essence the Indian agent I’d dealt with was an idiot, and what she should have done was to (a) tell me to send back the replacement keyboard using the return shipping label it had come with, and then (b) process a return and refund of the original keyboard as if the replacement had never been sent. The IBM agent said I was just going to have to call back the returns department and try again. Yes, that’s right, that’s the same department for which I’d just waited on hold for an entire hour. I asked the IBM agent if there was any sort of priority queue she could get me into so that I wouldn’t have to wait on hold for another hour. There wasn’t.
After another 47 minutes on hold, I was back where I started. I explained the situation, and the Indian agent attempted to once again send me back to the IBM department. I tore him to pieces and browbeat him into just issuing me the damn RMA number and return shipping labels so I could be done with him and his stupid keyboard.
I know Dell has a reputation for bad customer service, but honestly, I think even they are much better than this.