Updated June 5, 1997

Dead Mouse A Stinker --

Is Compaq's Service and Support Slipping?

THE NEWS that Compaq is moving into the mail order, single-user market might be greeted with gleeful anticipation by some.

After all, the world's biggest PC manufacturer got into the consumer market a few years ago with a reputation for outstanding products and excellent service. But, alas, BugNet and other Compaq users may have cause for dread.

For one thing, Compaq's rankings in PC World's biannual survey for service and reliability have been slipping steadily since February 1996. Its most recent rank: "Good" reliability, "fair" service.

Even that latter may be open to interpretation. BugNet employee Christel Bronsema recently endured a tortuous three weeks trying -- with a simple problem and an extended warranty from this paragon of the PC world -- to get her Compaq-dependent home business back on line.

If her experience is any indication, the PC giant's move toward Gateway's direct-sales model bodes exceedingly ill, both for users and, in the long run, for the corporation itself.

For Bronsema, it all began with a drifting mouse...

* * *

Day 1: The mouse with my 2-1/2-year-old Compaq Presario 920 floats gently and infuriatingly across the screen, ignoring my agitated attempts to control it. After a few tries, I dig out my extended warranty and tech support number. Thank goodness -- still covered. A quick 800 call and all should be well.

Perky and efficient-sounding tech support person (Roslyn by name) says it's the mouse. Replacement part is as good as in the mail. I can sleep soundly tonight, my case number tucked under my pillow.

Day 4: No mouse today. Oh, well. We've got the case number. Second call to tech support. Christopher says, Oops, looks like Roslyn didn't get that mouse out to you after all. I explain our business is on hold until we get the mouse. Christopher says never fear, he'll put a "gold seal" on this order and pull strings. Gives us an Airborne tracking number.

Day 7: No mouse yet. Got Roslyn again. She said we could go to an Authorized Compaq Service Center and swap part for part at no cost. Would that jeopardize our warranty? Hmmm. Not sure.

Call the local center. Salesperson says we'd have to pay for the new mouse. Plus they don't have one on hand; they'd have to order it. Back to tech support.

Day 11: Ten days of no mouse, no home business, no revenue.

Back on the line to our good buddies at tech support. Getting very tired on being put on hold after negotiating the maze of "help" options ("if you need some kind of help, press 1; if you just wanted to chat, press 2; if you'd like to express outrage to a member of the board, press 3; if you wanted to hear a listing of Compaq's top ten customer complaints, press 4; if you ...")

This time Lawrence, in addition to assuring us a new mouse was on the way, suggests we go a computer hardware seller and buy a Logitech two-button mouse. When the promised Compaq mouse arrives, we can just return the Logitech mouse for a refund. He asks that we not mention this was a Compaq suggestion.

Fed up, we call the executive office in Houston, long distance at our expense. Steve agrees that service has been unacceptable. He will "straighten everything out." Mouse will be in our hands by May 7.

Day 14: No mouse. Friends at BugNet kindly refrain from starting a pool on when and if it will arrive. Husband phones Houston again. Tammy, extremely apologetic, swears she has mouse in hand and will ship it Airborne Express overnight. She even offers to extend our warranty an extra month.

Day 15: No mouse. Airborne says our tracking number is incorrect. We're going to be eating a lot of macaroni and cheese if we can't get our business up and running soon.

Cale in Houston says he'll send another mouse overnight via Airborne.

Sherry in Houston says the first alleged mouse should arrive by 3:00 p.m. Houston time. It's all Airborne's fault, she says.

After 3 p.m. Houston time: No mouse.

Steve answers, says he's the supervisor and he's on the warpath. Heads will roll, etc. He will call back.

4:30 p.m. Houston time: He doesn't. I call and ask for "supervisor" Steve. Tammy says no one at that level is a supervisor. She checks and gets back to me with great news! An Airborne rep confirmed the mouse will be delivered Saturday (May 10). Tammy says she'll go the extra mile and call Airborne from home tomorrow morning, because I'm afraid they won't deliver to our rural location on the weekend.

Day 16: No mouse. No call from Tammy.

Call Airborne with various tracking numbers. They confirm one, but say the item is in a small suburb of Seattle, about 110 miles south of here. They can get it to the city nearest us by tomorrow morning.

Day 17: We drive a half-hour to pick up mouse.

Day 18: Second mouse arrives.

Day 20: Third mouse arrives. They all work, but none has documentation. I don't think we'll call tech support to complain.

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