Having trouble with a computer supplier? Bought a dodgy machine for a lot of money and getting a lot of grief? Customer Support just a poor Joke? I know the feeling, it happened to me! Read on and I'll tell you how I managed to deal with the problem - and WIN!

There are many high street retailers falling over themselves to sell you a PC, Home Computing System with all mod cons and software thrown in. A quick look through any tabloid newspaper and you'll see exactly what I mean. 'Feel good about your PC','We're on Your Side','Doctor Apocalypse says you can take over the world with a T*** PC...' its on every page!

And its not just PCs. You can take out, for a mere 300 or so, an extended cover plan, with home service, unlimited (not always!) use of customer support lines and if you have a problem, just call us and all will be well.

So you trot off, sign the forms, part with your money and the PC arrives on time and complete. You set it up and strange things start to happen....

The first strange thing is that the thing hangs for no reason. Programs won't run. Programs are shut down by Windows 98 for no apparent reason. The PC reboots by itself and makes you sit through ScanDisk every day. The PC refuses to boot up and you keep having to go through Safe Mode.

But, never mind, its under warranty. And, if its under 30 days old, you have an immediate access to a freefone number to get things sorted. And if not, well even if you haven't taken out the extended super duper cover, you have the 12 months standard warranty. So, you know that you have to give them a fair chance to sort it out. So you get on the phone...

It sounds like a certain Abba record - Ring! Ring! Then its 'Your Call is in a queue and will be answered shortly.' A Snatch of Music. 'Your Call is in a queue and will be answered shortly.'Another snatch of music... and so it goes on.... your tea goes cold. The sun sets. You miss 'The Weakest Link'. Your ear starts to sweat so you change over. Still nothing. You give up and ring tomorrow. But its the same.....

Sound Familiar? Well, sad to say, it has been a familiar scenario to many, including me.

The first thing I found out was that the Sales Outlet, with the smiling sales staff, can't help. All warranty and customer support issues are dealt with by head office. Here's the phone number...'now go away sir there's nothing we can do for you here this is only a sales outlet.' Pity the number they gave me led to somebody's voice mail. That somebody never returned my calls.

My PC was unstable from day 1. It was a Cyrix 6x86 (Pentium 2 Clone) with SiS Motherboard and 128Mb of RAM. Dealing with the head office of the firm from whom I purchased the PC was time consuming and expensive, I say expensive because of the effect it had on my phone bills!

The supplier, a well known brand (for not all the right reasons I found out afterwards!) were no longer on my side! I was told to reinstall windows, Do an F-Disk, Oh they all do that, You must have installed Windows 98 wrong...even when I told them that there was a mechanical grinding noise coming from inside my PC (the hard drive, probably damaged when the PC rebooted itself halfway through rebooting itself!) there was little to be said except 'Reformat it'. Many more times, I never even got through, or was put on hold, passed around then cut off. I began to fume!

As the problems continued, the warranty time bomb ticked away. I then found out that I had to PAY for the machine to be shipped back to the factory for repair UNDER WARRANTY (I thought all costs under warranty were to be carried by the vendor?) under their RTB (Return To Base) Warranty. Not having been told this at any point either from the sales or 'support' line calls, this made be start to become somewhat irate. Even better - you have to call first to get an RMA (Returned Merchandise Authorisation) number. This line costs...wait for it... 1 A MINUTE!! What an expensive queueing system THAT turned out to be!

The on line support, by the way, is only available if you are using that supplier's own ISP. And you have to type in your warranty number, as seen on the invoice. I could never get in for ages! The supplier's main website provides no access for support.

Unfortunately, at that point I ended up in Hospital with Kidney problems and then had to have an operation.

When I had recovered, mentally, physically and financially (Thank-you Telewest!) I set about dealing with the problem of what was becoming an increasingly unreliable PC. I F-Disked again and upgraded to a newer version of Windows 98. Little Joy!

By this time, the supplier was now gleefully telling me that my warranty had expired and tough luck. So I decided to do some research.

My first port of call was Companies House, in Cardiff. Armed with their Company Registration Number, I was given the names and home addresses of the company's Directors.

A little research into Comsumer Law came next. It told me that any warranty that is unfairly stacked in favour of the vendor (such as this RTB warranty!) is technically illegal. Also, any purchase that has a fault that has been inherent from new, or within the warranty period, is a liability for up to six years. The issue is one of Merchantability of the Goods, which have to be of 'Reasonable Quality' and to last a Reasonable length of time, during which they have to be fit for the purpose for which they are bought.

So, this means that the phrase 'Sorry sir you're out of warranty' is not the get out that suppliers and vendors would have us believe! I was building my case...

A five page letter of complaint was drafted and taken in person to the home of the MD, and a signature by way of receipt of the letter was obtained.

The reply to this was derisory. It was not from the MD but one of his staff, and it said that the machine was out of warranty, there was no record of the conversations I have had with the support staff or the sales outlet from before the expiry date, and that they would be happy to repair my PC at standard chargable rate, after I had obtained an RMA number by dialling the returns number at 1 a minute.

Suffice to say I was not happy, and a follow up letter to the MD, by Recorded Delivery, was not even met with the courtesy of a reply. I have proof that it was delivered and signed for by a director of the firm.

Unfortunately at this point I fell through London Communications' roof and was immobile for 2 months, so the legal action - Small Claims Court -on the MD was never served.

By the time I had recovered, the PC was getting ambitious. It regularly refused to boot up, had to have Windows reinstalled 3 times in 3 weeks and couldn't be used for more than ten minutes without crashing, freezing, rebooting itself or ceasing to be aware what programs were running.

More calls to Time were abortive, so I contacted Trading Standards. It would appear that the very name 'Trading Standards' seems to make firms like this capitulate. So, with all the doccumentation in the hands of Trading Standards, and having been made aware of this firm's Escalations Department for Severe Complaints (new one on me!) I found out exactly how to get to the firm's HQ.

On with the collar and tie and into the car, complete with my late Mother-in-Law's walking stick to emphasise my disability. Phones can be put on hold, letters can be lost in someone's in tray. But unhappy human beings, stood there, are less easy to deal with by shoving under the carpet!

So, I took my latest letter, pointing out the relevant sections of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, and stuck to my guns. The first attempt to head me off failed, as I pointed out that I was not an unreasonable person, just someone who had paid for a reliable working system and never had one. Is it too unreasonable to stick to my rights and does it not occur to you that for a customer to resort to the measures that I had done suggested the possiblilty of a real problem not just some bloke who wants to be a nuisance?

The guy from Escalations said he was prepared to issue me with an RMA if I could bring the PC in and it would be examined and evaluated. He observed the level of problems I had experienced and that they were actually under warranty. So it would be sorted out.

On the appointed day, my PC was delivered in person to their head office and again, I had drawn up a form to sign, stating that the PC was for repair under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

A week later, the PC reappeared on my doorstep, repaired Free of Charge, delivered by Amtrak. The Motherboard, Processor and Memory had been replaced with a newer and better system (AMD 500MHZ k-6 processor and 184Mb of RAM) and the report said 'Motherboard Fault, Electrical'.

So, the way to deal with this sort of situation is:

  • Document Everything.
  • Be Persistent.
  • Know the Law - And Consumer Law is on your side!
  • Stick to your Guns
  • Get Trading Standards on your side.

Are you in a similar situation? Can I help? If I can be of any help, please contact me via the 'Insult The Author' page!

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