Packard Bell NEC
a new suite of user support software in its new line of PCs to overcome
one of the company's chief problems: its reputation.
The company has been burdened with a reputation for shoddy products and
poor service for years, said analysts and dealers. A lot of it, most added,
was earned. Years ago, Packard Bell did not screen component suppliers
well, which led to computer breakdowns, said James Staten, an analyst at
Dataquest. In 1996, the company paid
out $5 million to settle claims that it incorporated used parts in new
computers. Support lines have been notoriously slow. Market share, said
Staten, slid to 27.4 percent in the consumer segment for the first quarter
And although added oversight by investor NEC has helped alleviate some of the
problems, the company still has a long way to go to change its image in
the public's mind.
The new software suite, which was developed internally at Packard Bell,
consists of a series of wizards and help programs designed for home users.
"Our main focus is to help the users prevent accidental damage," said Jack
Yovanovich, product line manager at Packard Bell. "Our hold times were a bit longer
than we wanted in the past.?
CyberTrio, one of the new programs, allows users to simplify the Windows 95
interface to certain "comfort levels" Yovanovich explained. CyberWarner,
another program, notifies users when they are about to take a critical
action, such as deleting an application, and logs a record of such actions
in case calls to the support center occur later. Further enhancements make
it easier for users to cure their own problems as well as prepare their
queries for the support desk.
The package will first be released on the four new computers announced
yesterday, according to a spokeswoman. The new computers are a 266-MHz
Pentium II computer with a DVD drive for $2,499; a 233-MHz Pentium MMX
machine with DVD for over $2,000; a similar DVD computer with a 200-MHz
Pentium MMX chip for under $2,000; and a 200-MHz Pentium for $999.
While the new systems and software may help build the company's reputation,
it still has a long, difficult road ahead. "It?s hard to live down a
reputation," said Seymour Merrin, president of Merrin Information Services,
a Palo Alto, California-based retail analyst. On top of that, price cuts by
the rest of the industry have taken away the company's main marketing tool:
lower prices. "They have to find something to get people to get off the
dime and buy their products. They have a real problem."
Like consumers, dealers are wary about the company, but for different
reasons. "Packard Bell is constantly a problem. The warranty is a problem.
They don't pay much," said Ron Cook, president of Connecting Point, a Las
Vegas reseller. Connecting Point, in fact, has dropped carrying Packard
Bell products and is considering dropping its agreement to service
computers from the company. "They are very difficult to deal with," he said.
Despite the quality problems, the company appears to have reached
industry standards, according to Roger Kay, senior industry analyst at International Data Corporation. Rough
data from retailers indicated that the return rate on Packard Bell machines
was in line with the return rate from other manufacturers. "They
were all in the 4 to 6 percent range," he said.
"We haven't seen this level of hand-holding at the consumer level. If
Packard Bell can pick up market share, you might see others try it," said
Yovanovich further added that the company has invested approximately $100
million in call center operations since 1996. "We've got more people,
better people. The average now is a two-minute hold time," he said.