Technology Upgrades: Welcome to My Nightmare (Yours Too?)


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print head went bad. My review of printers on Amazon made by a variety of manufacturers led me to the following conclusion: virtually every model under $200, no matter who made it, got only middling reviews. The large percentage of one star ratings was especially troubling, with many consumers experiencing models that died only a few weeks or months after being hooked up. Since all the models were equally mediocre, I decided there was no need to spend a lot of money on something that likely would not last. I purchased a cheapie Canon, wirelessly connected it to my computer, and began testing its functions. For some reason the fax function wasn’t working properly. A quick Internet search, followed by a call to the company, confirmed the problem. The printer needed a firmware upgrade to get the fax to work. Unfortunately, this upgrade cannot be done wirelessly and requires a special USB cable that is not actually included with the printer. There was no Ethernet connection available on this machine, which probably saved ten cents on the manufacturing side but also prevented me from directly connecting to it. Canon said they would put the cable in the mail to me, which they did quickly, but I had already decided to take the thing back. The inability to update a machine with what’s in the box is really poor product design, and I didn’t want to find out just how many other corners the company had cut. If you offer wireless connectivity, then everything should be wirelessly updateable!

I returned to Office Max and selected a much more expensive Epson printer. I went home and connected it to my computer easily. I confirmed all of the functions were working and printed out a couple of pages. That’s when I noticed something peculiar: my computer indicated that three of the four ink cartridges were full, but the yellow ink cartridge was only at about 10 percent capacity (after printing just two black and white pages)! I couldn’t tell if that ink cartridge was really empty, or if there was some problem with the printer that made it appear that the level was low. I took photos of the supply levels on the screen to show to the store manager, and brought back all of the ink cartridges. I expected the manager would swap my cartridges for a new set, but that’s not what happened. He explained to me that most printers come with “starter” ink cartridges that contain less ink than regular cartridges, and that’s why I had run low so quickly. I told him I knew about the starter cartridges, but it was hard to believe I had drained ninety percent of the yellow ink (and just the yellow ink) printing two black and white pages. He then offered to sell me a new yellow ink cartridge “at a discount” for my brand new printer, an offer I turned down. Why would I want to pay to replace something right out of the box? I said I would bring back the printer if he wouldn’t replace the yellow cartridge. He finally went and got me a new yellow ink cartridge, which I installed and which restored the ink level to full.
Key Problem(s): Poor customer service; design failure; hardware failure

Phone Service Upgrade Nightmare

My family had T-Mobile prepaid phone service, but we decided to upgrade to a paid plan because it gave us more minutes for the same price, and provided service in more places. Let me be crystal clear: we were staying with the same company and keeping our current phones and phone numbers. We were just simply switching plans. I (naively) thought this should be doable in a 10-minute phone call. In fact, it took 3 phone calls on day 1 (total time: a shade under two hours), followed by a 35-minute visit to a T-Mobile store on day two, followed by a 40-minute visit to the same store on day 3, followed by a one hour visit to the store on day 4, followed by a 5-minute phone call to the company on day 5 to get this done. Does it really need to be this hard? The billing for the first cycle also turned out to be incorrect, necessitating an additional trip to the store 3 weeks later.
Key Problem(s): Poor customer service

My Tech Problems: Bad Luck, or the New Normal?

For most people, myself included, any one of the issues described above might not be a big deal. Any individual tech problem is (usually) not fatal. When they occur across many devices and over a short period of time, however, the situation begins to feel like death by a thousand cuts. Why upgrade a product when that may only lead to problems? If consumers don’t think their tech devices and offerings are reliable, they may eventually turn away from them en masse. We’ve become conditioned to expect these customer service and technology problems, and as a result people don’t seem surprised when these glitches arise. Did these companies make these decisions consciously, or were the problems unexpected on their end? These questions were nicely answered when I read Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives by Emily Yellin. The author confirmed just about every bad thought I’ve ever had about terrible customer service. Most large corporations have run the numbers and figured out exactly how much they were willing to spend on customer service (and product quality), and if people like me weren’t satisfied, well, that was our problem. They could live with that. Some companies (e.g. Nordstrom) choose to compete on superior customer service, but the vast majority don’t think they can afford to. They have the right to make that decision, just as I do not to patronize them.

So how should we deal with this problem? First, avoid companies that sell lousy products or give terrible customer service whenever possible. I’ve put a number of tech companies on my “I will NEVER do business with again” list including HP, Intuit, and Earthlink. If you have to deal with these companies, insist that they stand behind their warrantees and service guarantees. If you get no satisfaction, switch to a competitor and share your experience on social media. As The Who once put it, “We’re not gonna take it, Never did and never will…”

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Stewart Lyman is Owner and Manager of Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC in Seattle. He provides strategic advice to clients on their research programs, collaboration management issues, as well as preclinical data reviews. Follow @

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One response to “Technology Upgrades: Welcome to My Nightmare (Yours Too?)”

  1. bespoked says:

    Mr. Lyman, I really appreciate your having written this piece. I, too, am very frustrated with the “dive to the bottom” evidenced by the poor quality of many companies’ products and services. I agree that it is a drag on our national productivity, especially when one realizes that much enterprise software is also of poor quality, requiring tremendous corporate resources to make it work.
    On the consumer end of things, one might do well to join, for example, Consumers Union, in order to gain the voice-multiplying factor of an organization dedicated to consumers’ rights, especially when it comes to companies like Comcast.