I just wanted to let you know why your company is going to fail, first at the home/personal use level and later at the industry/academia level. I don't want Gateway to turn around one day and say, "Wait! Where did we go wrong?" This way, I'll know that at least one person warned you.
For years I have suffered from the taunts of my techno savvy friends who thought I was insane for purchasing computers from Gateway. From my first desktop computer over ten years ago which was purchased by my parents to my most recent laptop purchased in December, I have chosen Gateway despite the higher costs and often faulty parts because I appreciated the customer service department. Even if I knew I could literally save hundreds by building the computer myself, the ability to call a number and say, “Hey... fix this” was worth it to me.
My first experience with Gateway’s customer service happened around 1997 when a Gateway representative stayed on the phone with me for over six hours (with occasional restroom and food breaks) until we were able to resolve a software conflict. Sometime around 2000, my monitor died and the replacement monitor which was overnighted to me also proved faulty. Not only was the service representative appalled at my misfortune, but he also sent an upgrade overnight for my troubles. Even as recently as 2003 when my laptop began overheating and melted the power cord, I was overnighted a box to ship the laptop in, the repairs took approximately two days, and the machine was overnighted back to me.
So what’s changed? Everything. When I purchased a laptop in December, I paid several hundred dollars extra to get an extended warranty. Although that type of money is hard for a graduate student to come by, I truly thought it was worth it. I applauded my foresight when after less than a month of use, the backlight died. I called the regular 1-800 number expecting to lose my computer for a week at most only to be informed that I would have to dial a long distance number in order to receive service. A long distance number? I would have to pay more money in order to talk to someone after an obvious hardware failure? I was enraged, but sadly that was just the beginning.
In the middle of my sole school year vacation, I called a long distance number from a hotel room in the hopes that perhaps this was the one change that Gateway had made and the remainder of my experience would be reminiscent of the past. All the while paying long distance, I reported my problems to a customer service representative who seemed if anything bothered by my call and who implied that I had the intelligence of a very small and useless rock. After clearly explaining that there was no backlight, I was not only asked to “start up the computer in safe mode” which would have been an impressive feat without the ability to see the screen, but I was also asked to adjust my screen brightness. Later this same representative informed me that I would have to not only pay to ship the computer in myself, but that it would take around two weeks for the computer to be returned. Two weeks without a laptop as a graduate student in computer science? Yet another lump of money which would be thrown into the already exorbitant prices I was paying for my extended warranty? I thought at that time that I couldn’t possibly get any angrier. I was wrong.
Approximately two weeks later when my laptop had yet to resurface, I chatted online with a Gateway representative who informed me that Gateway had no record of selling me the laptop or of a service request for the laptop. The next day I spent no less than four hours on the phone being switched back and forth between departments who all had a different story to tell. Eventually it was discovered that thanks to poor bookkeeping, I have multiple accounts in the system. Undoubtedly no one in the first two hours was able to guess that this might be the problem. Finally, my laptop was “found,” at which time after spending four hours on the phone I was sharply scolded for not having a service number (which I was never given) and told in not so many words that it was all my fault for the mix up. Additionally, Gateway had no idea how long it would be before my laptop would be fixed. It couldn’t possibly get any worse, right?
It has now been three weeks since my laptop arrived at Gateway. That makes over three weeks since I have had the use of my brand new laptop. I called to find the status of the repair. Undoubtedly, it has taken the service department three weeks to determine a) that the LCD needs to be replaced (which had already been decided a week ago) and b) that my computer was under warranty. As of this morning, no repairs have been made on my machine. After three full weeks, Gateway has yet to make a repair that takes approximately ten minutes despite the hundreds of dollars I spent on a warranty.
So when your personal and home sales plummet, now you’ll know why. I don’t believe my case is isolated, and like others, I have every intention of reporting my experience through every venue available so that others will know to avoid your company. But why will this affect your industry and academia sales? Because we twenty-somethings are the future of computing. We’ve grown up with computers, and we “need” them much like previous generations needed paper and pencil. We’ll not only buy computers for our children, but we’ll also head committees for businesses who are making purchasing decisions. What do you think will be said when the Gateway brand name comes up?
Personally, I will be receiving my degree in computer science in the next year or two. From there, I will move on to a college where I will have both power over the purchases of the department and of purchases made with my own grant money. Will I ever sign for a Gateway machine? The answer is a resounding no. Furthermore, I will strongly recommend to my colleagues in research that they, too, avoid the company.
We live in a world where communication is instantaneous. Just as the government is losing its ability to lie and get away with it, so will companies who abuse and misuse their customers fall prey to the power of communication. So welcome to the future Gateway. It was fun while it lasted.
Ph.d. Candidate at the University of Minnesota