While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.
Preferential support for business customers
Major offender: Dell
You buy a PC from a vendor's home-user division, only to discover that the support reps barely speak English, know less about the product than you do, and fail to help you solve your problem. That's what happened to Dave Johnson, who has been living in tech-support hell since he purchased a high-end Dell XPS 720 desktop last autumn.
The system blue-screens "at least once per day," Johnson says. Although Dell has replaced the system twice, each new machine behaves the same, and help seems nowhere to be found: "Every time I call tech support, a level-one rep walks me through the same basic troubleshooting steps, even if they've been tried a dozen times before." Promises to escalate the problem to a higher level never pan out.
Too bad Johnson didn't buy from Dell's business division. Ben Popken of consumer-advocacy site The Consumerist says there's "a world of difference" in the level of support that Dell's business customers receive. "Dell's small-business department is based in English-speaking countries, and the techs are friendly, fast, and knowledgeable. They've even called me days after the tech call was over to check in and make sure everything is okay."
But on the occasions when Popken inadvertently dialed the 'home' support line, "the reps read off scripts, didn't listen, and didn't solve problems", he says.
The company refuses to acknowledge any disparity in support for its home and business lines. "Dell provides quality support for all our customers all over the world," says rep Tara Giovinco, adding that Dell has english-speaking country-based support centres for consumers as well as business customers. We don't think that's going to make Johnson feel any better.
The fix: Don't buy PCs from companies that have poor support ratings. And don't automatically head to an etailer's home/home-office pages; you may find identical (or nearly identical) products in the small-business section of the site at comparable prices.
Small product, big box
Major offenders: Amazon
You buy a flash drive, a memory card, a Bluetooth headset or some other small item from a mail-order company, and the box that arrives on your doorstep looks large enough to accommodate a laser printer. But it's no mistake: you find your item inside amidst a boxful of packing material.
Talk about wasteful! Not only are the oversize boxes excessive, they also consume an inordinate amount of space on the planes and trucks that are used to deliver them. That leaves less space for other packages, meaning fewer packages per delivery vehicle, more overall trips, more wasted fuel, and, consequently, higher shipping prices for you.
What's up with the big boxes? Amazon rep Patty Smith admits that it's a problem that needs fixing. "We know consumers are frustrated by [oversize] boxes, and we're working on it," she says.
To that end, Amazon recently developed software designed to determine which box size is appropriate for any given item, and claims a "significant decrease" in the number of purchases shipped in "wrong-size" boxes. Let's hope other sellers follow suit, because using man-size boxes for mouse-size items is just plain wrong.
The fix: Let your voice be heard! Email the offending companies and tell them you're done shopping there until they mend their environmentally unfriendly ways. Of course, you could always buy from a local retailer and avoid shipping boxes altogether. (While you're at it, skip the bag, too.)
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