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Gatway tech support - a new kind of Black Hole?

by jleary58 / May 29, 2005 11:56 PM PDT

Recently CNET posted a discussion topic asking for reader feedback relative to tech support nightmares. I wish that I had the opportunity to post to that discussion some of the nightmare I am now in the middle of with my Gateway laptop (purchased new 2/28/2005 and never right - has been completely unusable since 4/30/2005).

I have been attempting to get a repair or replacement done for this laptop for six weeks. I sincerely think I have spoken to at least two people from every singld division of Gateway, and the general impression I am left with is that as a whole the company must not feel it actually needs customers.

Please note, this is not a reflection necessarily on the products that Gateway sells. In the past I have always been partial to their laptops and been quite happy with the performance. After all, NEW does not necessarily mean perfect, it only means it is guaranteed (from the perspective of a former quality systems engineer such as myself).

Rather, this activity is a demonstration of seeingly inadequate internal procedures/systems and poor customer policy. I am posting a transcript of my scenario here as a warning to anyone contemplating buying one of their products. You may get a wonderful product, but if you don't, beware!!

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Transcript for laptop scenario - part 1
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 12:04 AM PDT

Order for Gateway M350 Placed with Newman - Sales Rep from Gateway (phone
order) 2/18/2005. Est. Date of Arrival: 2/28/2005
Received M350 #1.

Service Request 1
The original laptop was sent in for repair in March. There was a problem with the unit. I had no COM ports. Restoring system default settings in BIOS does not bring back them back online. Unit exhibited random shutdowns for no apparent reason (when plugged
in - not running on battery). Will seem to be functioning fine and will just shut down as if
the battery and cord were both removed simultaneously. System would not pass modem tests in bundled PC Doctor software diagnostics. Call to tech support
determined that symptoms indicated a motherboard issue. Item was sent to Irving TX facility for repair.

Service request 2
I received the unit back from repair 4/13-4/14. It was sent back to me in exactly the same condition as when I sent it out, with all the same symptoms. Now, I realize that troubleshooting electronic equipment can be extremely difficult. It is tough to
duplicate problems noted by users on a bench in a lab - but the modem failed the most basic diagnostics (my own PC Doctor software that was bundled with the laptop)and the com ports were still not exhibited in anywhere in the system bios. The notes on the repair order indicted that the technician went into the bios and cleared/reset the Cmos RAM, then shipped it back to me. I have the service report and there are no other notes or apparent confirmation of testing to verify that this actually worked.

After I checked the situation with the com ports and found that the unit had in fact not been effectively repaired, I immediately called tech support. This all took place within 60 minutes of the actual delivery back at my home. At that point the tech support group indicated they would send me a chassis replacement.

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Just one thing. This unit has no com ports.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 30, 2005 12:47 AM PDT
http://support.gateway.com/s/Manuals/Mobile/8509529.pdf doesn't list them.

I can imagine the confusion around this.

Also, this 2.8GHz P4 HT CPU based unit will be flighty in some settings. It's strictly a desktop replacement and may overheat/reboot/shutdoww if on a lap or carpet. But no one tells you that.

Bob
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COM ports
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 12:56 AM PDT

Thank you for at least that bit of clarification. The tech support rep should have been able to tell me that. It does not explain why I could not get the modem to work or why the unit would suffer random shutdowns though. The system was still problematic, despite this.

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side note
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 1:03 AM PDT
In reply to: COM ports

When the system exhibited the random shutdowns my first thought was that it perhaps overheated, but it should not have because it is always used on a desk or table and has plenty of air flow. I don't ever use it on the floor or on my lap.

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Yes, that happens with many P4 laptops. You are not alone.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 30, 2005 1:13 AM PDT
In reply to: side note

And not only Gateway suffers here. Here's the deal. Full up P4 HT CPUs in laptops are an engineering marvel. If production slips up and forgets that dollop of heatsink material (goop or other), then this happens. If a heatsink retaining device is missed or incorrect the machine works fine for the test run, but fails for you.

Since I know of these issues (so does mr. ikenfixit.com) I rarely return the device if it's been back once and we can open it up easily to see if the CPU heatsink is on proper. One time I found the CPU fan unplugged.

We are victums of mass production at this point.

-> About that modem. You wrote com port so I double checked for such. That modem is a "winmodem" and the comport is virtual and may only appear in windows. To make matters more fun, the virtual comport is not a requirement for a winmodem. But some software does depend on that comport.

Since said modem is a winmodem and a software (driver) based device, simple things like accepting a driver from Microsoft could cause it to malfunction. I've taken to wiping the drive and restoring such to factory conditions to see if it's dead. If I'm being paid well, I then ask the owner to break it for me. Well they may not understand that so I ask them to tweak up their machine like they did before. Usually I spot them accepting a Microsoft driver or something else that would cause the modem to vanish.

This area of the modem has not made me a big fan for winmodems.

Bob

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Transcript for scenario - Part 2
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 12:26 AM PDT

The day that I received my replacement chassis (approximately 3rd week of April) there was a different problem noted as soon as I unpacked the item. The problem noted was that the F5 key was broken and had come loose from the keyboard. The keyboard also did not sit flat in the laptop - buckled slightly between F3 and F6 keys. When trying to type with the keyboard the keyboard would occasionally become unresponsive, sieze the system up, and display characters ?0? and ?o? in repeated rows across the screen when I was not touching any keys.

It should be noted also that there was a rather large dent in the box when received, although it was in an area where nothing seemed to have actually come in contact with the laptop itself, only with air space inside the box (inside the box there is a gap between the laptop and the sidewalls of the box maintained by the molded foam inserts).

I contacted Gateway tech support and explained both the physical and other symptoms. They generated a service request number sent a replacement keyboard
and arranged for an onsite replacement of the component, which was completed but did not resolve the problem of the random characters described above.

After approx. a week the problem with the system seizing and the random characters became worse. I contacted tech support again. This is when I spoke to Jimmy - Badge # MT528. Jimmy indicated I would have to send the unit back to the repair facility, and
that he would need my credit card to bill the costs for the box and for shipping and handling.
I objected to being charged shipping for a repair issue under the circumstances (the laptop was brand new). I did not feel it was appropriate that I should again be billed the $48. I had already paid the shipping charge on my last repair (when in fact the unit was not effectively repaired). Jimmy advised that it was Gateway policy and there was nothing he could do about it.

I then asked to speak to his supervisor. He agreed to forward me to the supervisor, but later came back online and advised that the supervisor was unavailable but had instructed him to initiate a chassis replacement vs. a repair. Jimmy also indicated the chassis replacement would ship to me no later than 5/17/2005 and that I should have the unit
by 6/1/2005.

It should be noted at this point that I never actually got to speak to his supervisor, and I do not know for certain if the information being relayed at that time was accurate or was lip service because he was now dealing with a dissatisfied customer.

--5/23/2005 - I received no confirmation of the chassis replacement order or follow up call from Gateway about my computer. I contacted Gateway to follow up for chassis replacement and ended up speaking to several reps from different departments:

Cust Serv: KS735 - forwarded me to Tech support

Crystal: FT053 - forwarded me to laptop escalation group.

Ended up with Bibi - TC100.
She indicated that the replacement order was never set up in the system and that no chassis has been built. She has turned the issue over to her manager to initiate the order. They are to contact me no later than 5/25/2005 to provide order number and
anticipated delivery date. I received no follow up call from Gateway.

--5/26/2005 - I called Gateway to again follow up for the chassis replacement I had been promised. I placed the call at 10:06 a.m. on my cell phone - call duration was over 80 minutes from start to finish. Spoke again to several reps over different
departments in Gateway.
Scott -KT282
He gave me Order #: 83048197 when I asked for the confirmation number for the order that was supposed to have been set up by TC100 and her supervisor. That order number is incorrect - it is actually for the keyboard that was sent to the service group and that had already been replaced. I discovered this by verifying the tracking information and pointed this out to him. He could then find no order number for the chassis replacement.

I reiterated the entire scenario of the problems with both units and repairs that have already been attempted. He could find no information from TC100 or her manager under the service request number I was given.

Scott forwarded me to Doug (supervisor of Scott) KT310, and he advised that the portable specialist group would help me to resolve the problem by either a
replacement or an exchange of a comparable item.
Doug forwarded me to Frederick - FL4780. Frederick works in the Florida office of Gateway in the laptop escalation group. Fred is to help me to find a chassis or an exchange item. After several minutes on the phone with him and explaining the entire
situation, he indicated he would follow up to ensure that the replacement order went through and would contact me no later than 5/31/2005 with the order number and delivery date. Contact phone for follow up: 800-846-2049 x24360 (voice service - must
leave message and rep is to contact me within 30 minutes). I received no follow up call from Frederick or anyone else from Gateway.
--5/26/2005 - Called gateway tech support at ext. 24360 on house phone at 11:43 a.m. Left message including service request number, my name, Frederick's name, Frederick's badge number, date of conversation, and my home phone number. I asked to have someone call me back to follow up on the issue.
Gateway did not call within the 30 minutes and I had a doctor appointment so I had to leave. They did leave a message, but just told me to call back. They did not provide any of the information I had been requesting or indicate why no order had been enerated for the chassis.

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Transcript for Scenario - Part 3
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 12:46 AM PDT

--5/27/2005 - Called gateway at 2:01 PM and reached voice mail again. Left voice mail again at 2:05 PM with relevant service request number, tech rep badge number, and request for status update to be returned to home phone.

--5/27/2005 -7:04 PM - Andrew from Gateway - FL4647 called back. I was outside at the time and did not get to the phone in time. Andrew left a message indicating that the chassis order did not go through and that I would have to call back and reinitiate the
request. Again, he did not indicate why it did not go through or clarify any reason for the problem. I have this message on tape because I could not believe how little information it relayed, or believe the fact that after all this it was still being dumped on
me (remember me - the customer?) to attempt to resolve this without a lot of follow up on the part of Gateway.

I tried to call the number provided (800-846-2049, ext 24360) after listening to the message from Andrew, but it was a voice mail center and would not allow me to leave a message as the in box was full.
Called main tech support line and reached rep Tim - CA1412. I Asked to be transferred to the portable specialist group in Florida. Tim was reluctant to transfer me without knowing all the details of why I needed to speak to them. I spent a considerable
amount of time on the phone with Tim reiterating all pertinent information (and at this point some not so pleasant feelings I was developing about Gateway in general). I provided him with the service request number, serial number, name, etc. Tim forwarded me to Richard.

Richard - KT446 - x25552
Reiterated the entire story to Richard. After much discussion and telling him I was close to filing a complaint with my credit card company because I have a brand new laptop that I have been unable to use virtually since I received it, Richard agreed to
follow up on the matter personally and contact me personally with a status no later than 6:30 PM Tuesday evening (6/2/2005).

He promised to resubmit the chassis replacement request. He indicated the order was submitted by Frederick but was seemed not to have been keyed for action (basically it appears the request was not coded correctly to indicate an active status, which essentially causes it fall off the radar). Richard will hand it off to someone to follow up on it Tuesday during the day and is to call me back Tuesday evening by 6:30 PM.

--5/29/2005 - Received a voice message that the new chassis order was declined due to incorrect processing and lack of a credit card number (required for warranty replacements). I was Instructed to call them back again. Bear in mind getting through Gateway?s phone system is no small task, and yet it is still somehow the customer?s responsibility for doing all the follow up.

Personal observation: It does not seem that in any department at Gateway anyone is specifically assigned for ensuring resolution of a problem. Everyone does little pieces of tasks associated with an issue and then washes their hands of it. No appears to oversee
issues from start to finish or track issues for closure. From personal experience, I can tell you this sometimes leaves things unresolved and makes for really unhappy customers.

Called 800-846-2049 x24360 at 2:28 PM. A new glitch in Gateway's phone system connects you to extension 25912 directly when you call this number instead of getting you to anywhere you can dial an extension from. It is a personal voice mail, not a general mail box, and apparently the person at extension 25912 indicates he is out of the office on vacation. So - the number is useless and there is no help available from this avenue.

Subsequently called the 800-428-3929 (800-Gateway) and dialed ext. 24360 and left another message with the tech support at 2:33 PM. Gave them both the house and mobile phone number, the service request number, and a brief description of the problem with a request to read the notes in the service request because I have been trying to get the chassis replacement I was promised since the end of April.

--5/29/2005 - Service Request #4:
Gateway Call Back Unit returned my call at approx. 6:00 PM. Spoke to Royal - FL4450. Royal indicated that the cassis replacement would not be done no matter who submitted it because the call back unit had to approve it and he would not approve it without the unit being examined by a Gateway repair facility (slight superiority complex?). He was very specific about telling me that this was his call to make and when I asked to speak to someone above him on the matter he told me there was no one above him with more authority on the matter.

He indicated that the only choice for resolution I had per their policies was to send the unit back in to the Irving TX repair center for their evaluation.

An additional development occurred while I was on the phone with Royal that sheds some light on the symptoms with the random characters and unresponsive keyboard. I relayed to Royal that upon opening the laptop to remove the RAM modules before shipment (I did this as part of preparation for return shipment while I was on hold waiting for him to process the shipping box request) I found the restraining clip for the keyboard ribbon connector loose inside the laptop (laying on top of the mother board). The
assembly fitting that the restraining clip should have fit into was broken (left tab missing -
did not see it anywhere inside the laptop), so it cannot be reattached and the keyboard is essentially disconnected.

At the time that the on site service was performed the restraining clip was not detached and the component fitting was not broken, but the problem with the keyboard was evident right from having received the unit from Gateway (although at
that time the only visible sign of damage was the broken F5 key and the fact that the keyboard did not sit quite flat in the unit as was stated previously in the notes about the receipt condition). It is possible that the now broken component was cracked or
otherwise damaged from shipping (Maybe the dented box was indicative of mishandling?).

As it stands now Royal is sending a shipping box with no charge and has opened a new service request number (referenced above) for the repair for clarification purposes. He indicated I should have the box on Tuesday and that the repair should take about a week to 10 days. I have received an e-mail confirmation from Gateway for the order number associated with the repair this time (referenced above). The laptop is going to the Irving TX repair facility for motherboard replacement (the only alternative
for the problem I found). I am a little uncomfortable with this. I have not developed a sense of confidence with the Irving TX facility after the last repair, but I am hoping that this will be the end of it.

As a side note, initially when this whole thing started I may not have been any more comfortable sending the unit back to TX for repair than I am now but I would have complied if ''Jimmy'' (the original tech support rep I spoke to - badge # MT528) had not insisted that I pay the shipping charges again.

One more interesting side note. After all of this and compiling all of the details to track the repair process, I thought that Gateway customer service might be interested in the chain of events. They are eternally calling me and asking me to complete customer satisfaction surveys when I buy anything, so I contacted customer service today (5/31/2005) and asked them whom I could submit this transcript to and why I wanted to submit it to them (because I think they have some system issues that is impacting theier customers - I cannot be the only one that has had to go though this. I am just not paranoid enough to believe that). The concerned customer service rep told me to look for an e-mail link on the web site.

I did send them an e-mail from the general link asking for a more specific address to forward the info to, but they don't really seem to want it.

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Hey. You want help or is this a rant?
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 30, 2005 1:15 AM PDT

If its a rant, then fine.

Just gotta know if you were seeking for another venue to get your machine working.

Bob

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Did not mean to rant
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 2:30 AM PDT

If you know of another way to get the motherboard in my laptop replaced without having to send it to Gateway, and without costing me a lot of money, I would sincerely like to know. The repair is not something I can do myself.

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If you read one of my replies.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 30, 2005 2:51 AM PDT
In reply to: Did not mean to rant

You'll find the common issue with these lap burners. Heatsink mounting issues. It is something many owners can do something about.

If not, you keep talking to Gateway.

In fact, why not pull the plug on this model. Call it a "lemon" and ask that it be exchanged in total.

As to the modem, that was somewhat interesting about trying to find a com port that never should show in the bios.

Bob

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Lemon
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 5:13 AM PDT

Actually trying to obtain the replacement I was promised was what has caused me the biggest headaches (in trying to work with Gateway and navigate through Gateway's systems to get the chassis replacement sent to me). As I said earlier, manufacturing problems I understand. Not supporting your customers to get problems resolved is what I don't understand.

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Recap. Laptop heatsink work.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 30, 2005 5:44 AM PDT

While I have no qualms about the procedure, I offer you some sites where you can see the inner workings of said heatsinks. If they didn't get it just so, didn't put in a heatsink pad or compound or dust/lint is causing the temperature to rise, you get your issue.

Some sites with pictures so you can see what's involved.

http://www.overclockers.com/tips1192/index05.asp
http://www.tomshardware.com/mobile/20041228/abs_mayhem-02.html
http://www.short-media.com/review.php?r=258

If you get stuck with it and a laptop cooling fails to help, then you've seen the inside of other laptops to get an idea of what's what.

Bob

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(NT) (NT) Thank you!
by jleary58 / May 30, 2005 8:45 AM PDT
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