The Curious Case of PC World Laptop Repairs

I bought a new laptop from PC World in March 2009. It was an Intel Pentium Dual Core T3400 2.16GHz with 3GB RAM and a 17" screen, badged as an "Advent" product (i.e. PC World's own-brand). It became my Linux development machine and was used fron 8am to midnight, seven days a week. Fourteen months later (i.e. just out of warranty), in May 2010, it packed up - the machine's power light would illuminate but not actually power up.

Having seen this problem on laptops before, I had a good idea that the motherboard was fried. I took the laptop to a local computer shop, and armed with diagnostic tools, they confirmed my worst fears. So, this machine has lasted all of 14 months before expiring. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the quality of the components used by Advent.

Monday May 17th

So, I returned it to my local store for an out-of-warranty repair - for the exhorbitant fee of £229. This is a one-size-fits-all price, regardless of the severity of the machine's problem. The staff in the store were extremely slippery and would not commit to a repair timescale.

Monday May 24th

Called PC World Customer Services for an update. Their automated telephony system informed me they would not answer any repair queries until ten days into a repair. Ok, I'll have to wait until the 27th then.

Thursday May 27th

This is where the fun started. Having spoken to the technical repair centre, then PC World Customer Services, then Tech Guys Cusomter Services, I was told my laptop had not arrived at the service centre, was whereabouts unknown on the system, and was in the rapair queue at the service centre respectively. So, chose your pick as to which person you believe. All the systems were suggesting my machine was not actually picked up from my local store until the 24th - so it had languished in a cupboard until PC World could roster a pickup, which appears to be at best a weekly event for my store. So that'll be another week for the return journey then. Furthermore, I discussed the repair process with the Tech Guys. There is no triage system at the repair centre. A machine comes in, it waits until it is at the front of the queue, it is inspected and parts are ordered, it returns to the queue until the parts arrive. There is / isn't an escalation process for priority repairs. One person I spoke to said there was, two people (i.e. the people in a position to actually implement an escalation) said there wasn't. Right and left hand again, or deliberate mis-information?

Thursday June 3rd

Not heard anything from PC World (quel surprise!) so I called their repairs arm, Tech Guys. The first thing of note is my laptop entry on their system has no update so its status is either unavailable (unlikely) or no work has started on it yet (very likely). Then I was informed that once it gets to 28 days in the repair shop I am entitled to my money back. So let's get this straight - it took a week to get to the repair centre, would undoubtedly take a week for its return, plus the 28 days it spends languishing doing nothing, and they will give me my money back. Exactly how does that help me? A six week wait to be told they didn't get round to repairing it! Do they have any concept of Customer Service? I have my doubts. The final nugget was being told that repairs normally take 10-14 days but are currently taking longer because they have just moved to a new repair centre. Huh? That's totally at variance to the staff at my local store who told me that the new repair centre was speeding up repairs!

Tuesday June 8th

Call 1: My first call was to Tech Guys. The phone rang for 15 minutes until answered by a young lad clearly on his first day. After five minutes of spluttering and um-ing and ah-ing, he put me on hold then the call was cut off.

Call 2: Back to the Tech Guys again. This time I was patched through to Dennis. I know he was Dennis because after he had shouted at me, was sarcastic with me, and had generally tried to be as unhelpful as possible, I requested his name. Mind you, I would probably have given a false name in his position. He couldn't open my record on the computer - it was giving him an error. Why? Because I couldn't give him a job number and without that he can't see the details of my records. That, he sneered at me, is My Problem. And there's me thinking it should be nothing to do with me, but apparently the store to which I returned my machine should have given me a job number. They didn't - so I have been told I need to contact the store and get this job number, notwithstanding the fact that no-one during previous calls as requested this job number and no-one else has had problems accessing my records. Oh, and by the way, PC World don't publish store phone numbers so I can't call the store for my job number.

Call 3: Ok, I tried PC World Customer Service and asked for an update. Sorry mate, I need a job number. Hmmm - you're the second person today to want that - jolly well call the store and obtain it for me then please! I was put on hold for another 10 minutes, then success! I have a job number, and without further prompting, the kind gentleman interrogated the system with this job number to find the status of my repair. "An engineer has been trying to diagnose a problem with your motherboard". So, I'm no further forward then. But, they did offer to send an email to the engineering department for an update and call me back once they have a response. An email? A call back? I have zero confidence that will happen. Let's wait and see.

Wednesday June 16th

I never did receive that callback from PC World. So, I called the Tech Guys requesting an update to my repair. They told me they couldn't give me any details because they sent my laptop to a 3rd party repair company on the 25th May! It was sent there apparently as standard procedure when Tech Guys are too busy to deal with all the broken equipment that is returned to them. I was faithfully promised a callback from this 3rd party company by 5pm. Guess what? Yep, no callback.

Thursday June 17th

Further chase of the Tech Guys; their representative informed me my laptop would be looked at 'today or tomorrow'. He would not confirm whether this would be an initial diagnosis or a repair. I was passed to Customer Services Complaints where I logged an official complaint about the service I have received. I was informed here that the Tech Guys had tried to call me that morning but were unable to leave a message. Presumably they called whilst I was making the complaint. I was then passed back to the 'Chase Department' where I was told that the machine arrived at the workshop on the 27th May - that's two days later than I was told the previous day. I was also told a new motherboard was on order and an engineer had looked at the machine on the 2nd June. They would not provide me with a part number or a supplier name so I could not call the parts supplier and check on parts availability. Today I am really depressed with this/these company/companies. They appear to hind behind a Byzantine structure of conflicting internal IT systems, and because I am dealing with two organisations, neither will take responsibility for the level service I am receiving.

Tuesday June 22nd

I received a phone call at 19:15 saying my laptop had been returned to my local store. Yippee! I'm picking it up tomorrow!

Wednesday June 23rd

I arrived at my local store and checked out my laptop. First panic - a different BIOS splash screen. Uh-oh! They had replaced my motherboard with another one, hopefully of similar specification or better, but it got me worried that the HAL in my Vista partition my now not work correctly. A Google search suggests that it shouldn't be a problem if I have got a retail version of Vista. But have I? I also thought it prudent to check the wireless connection in store. I didn't have my hard disk installed so checked against a bootable openSUSE 64 bit CD image. No WiFi. Ok, could be a Linux vagary. The store tried with their XP diagnostic disk. No WiFi. Hmm. Explained by the store that WiFi functionality is excluded from their diagnostic disk. Against my better judgment, but lacking firm evidence, I had to accept this and sign off the return of my machine.

I got the laptop home, and nope, no WiFi on either openSUSE or Vista. But, if I moved my laptop next to my ADSL router it worked - with a range of about 10ft before the connection was dropped. Sounds to me like the repair engineer has forgotten to couple up the antenna to the new motherboard - or worse, there is an incompatibility between the antenna in the machine and the new motherboard, with it being a different model. Ho-hum - back to the store tomorrow then.

Thursday June 24th

A journey back to the store. The chap in the support kiosk was very friendly and took the back off the laptop to reveal that the antenna cable had not been fixed back on to the motherboard - exactly as I suspected the previous day. In addition, the webcam is not working, again it is suspected that it wasn't reattached to the motherboard. So, it's a journey back to the Tech Guys service centre for the laptop, but interestingly the guy in the store mentioned that the delay the first time my laptop went in was because of a 20,000 backlog of broken laptops caused by the closure of a service centre. Furthermore, this backlog has all but disappeared and a turnaround of 10-14 days should be attainable. We will see.

Thursday July 1st

A phone call from my local store! After a mere week away, my laptop has returned again! The store were unable to locate my Windows partition on my hard disk so could not confirm that the WiFi had been fixed. Eeek! That's got me worried - I had stupidly kept my hard disk in the machine when I returned it to the store, and I hope to goodness they haven't reformatted it! So, I dropped everything and hot-footed it to the store. In fact, all the partitions were present and correct, and WiFi was operational as was the Webcam (another fault with the first time it was returned). Looks like the engineer had forgotten to connect both back to the motherboard. That is seriously sloppy. Anyway, at long last I have a fully working laptop!

I'm minded of the time my Acer laptop's motherboard died. I called them and they gave me a courier to book for a home pickup, and an account code so the courier charge was paid by them. The courier arrived the following day. The machine was repaired and returned 48 hours after that to my home address. PC World take note. PC World staff struck me as beleaguered, more than occasionally surly and brusque, yet sometimes helpful and courtious. It was certainly a salutary lesson for me - never buy equipment you depend upon without thoroughly researching repair facilities. I can't see me going anywhere near PC World again.