I’m pleased to see IBM stock has tripled since Lew Gerstner took over. And I’m pleased to be typing this on one of my three IBM Thinkpads. (Don’t ask.)

IBM has done great things for this country and this world, and I’m happy about its resurgence.

But c’mon! The horror stories! Not that IBM is alone in this, but IBM really does seem to lag far behind all those wonderful New Hampshire mail-order places when it comes to customer service.

I say “New Hampshire” generically. Some are out West, I think, others in Lord knows where — it’s all 800-land to me. But the point is they have that nice small-town ethic and friendliness and, sure enough, whatever you order arrives, as promised, the next day.

Not IBM.

Take this Thinkpad. It’s sensational, but one of the reasons I bought it was the 28.8 internal modem. After I’d done all the paperwork and planned my life around its arrival, the dealer told me it would come with a 14.4 modem instead, for reasons too technical to recount, but if I wanted to go ahead with the purchase, I should know that a 28.8 “software patch” would be available in a few weeks from IBM. So I went ahead and bought it.

Weeks turned into months, but finally this past November 4th I called IBM and found a human (after much “press 1 for blah-blah, press 2 for blah-blah, press . . .”) who knew exactly what I was talking about. He told me I could get the patch free by downloading it from the bulletin board, or for $17 with a credit card if I wanted the disks. I opted for the disks and was told they would arrive in 7 to 10 days. I ordered an extra Thinkpad battery at the same time.

The extra battery came promptly but was for the wrong ThinkPad model. To get the right one, I had to buy it and wait for a credit on the first. (They wouldn’t trust me to just send it back while they were sending the correct one.)

But what of the software patch to double my modem speed to 28.8? Three months passed — forget “7 to 10 days” — with not a peep.

Eventually I called and, yes, they had a record of all this in their computer, but couldn’t explain why I hadn’t gotten my disks. They said they’d put the order through again. Did I want them to rush them? Rush-delivery would be only $8 more.

“Now hold on,” I said. “You’re telling me — who own three $5,000 Thinkpads — that although the disks you promised are now +3 months late, you can offer me rush delivery for just $8 more?”

“Yep.”

A New Hampshire outfit would have been falling all over itself with apologies and offers of free delivery. IBM had no mechanism to deviate from policy, nor training to recognize any reason to do so.

The disks eventually came — 17 of them, with not a word of instruction or documentation. Fifteen of the disks, I eventually realized, were irrelevant. I still don’t know what they’re for.

Good computers; lousy customer service — unless, perhaps, you’re a Fortune 500 company. You’re likely to get a lot better service from an outfit like PC Connection, in New Hampshire (800-243-8088).

Tomorrow: Gas Tax

 

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