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article imageExclusive: Terrible Customer Experience Uncovers Nationwide Internal Flaws at Lenovo

By Chris Hogg     Jan 16, 2008 in Technology
What began as a simple purchase of a laptop has led to DigitalJournal.com uncovering national, widespread problems within Lenovo's ordering system. The system was rolled out in Canada but is poised to go global.
Update: If you are a Lenovo customer who is still experiencing problems or delays, we want to hear from you. Scroll to the bottom of this article for details
Digital Journal -- If you ordered a laptop from Lenovo recently and you're still waiting for it to arrive, you're not alone. After an exhaustive investigation, DigitalJournal.com has confirmed from three sources within Lenovo Canada that the computer company has been plagued by buggy software that, in many cases, is causing serious shipping delays.
In this DigitalJournal.com exclusive, we find out how a Lenovo executive denies knowing anything about widespread problems, and why the corporate communications team is doing everything in its power to quash customer fears. Speaking to DigitalJournal.com, employees within the company, however, reveal that a buggy, error-ridden system implemented in November 2007 is still not working properly. And Lenovo customers are the ones who endure the consequences.
This is a story about deplorable customer service, a glitchy system and one journalist's fight for answers.

Customer Service Gone Bad

On Dec. 8, 2007, I ordered a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 online. After placing the order, I was told it would be "shipped within 1-2 weeks." I went about my business and waited.
Weeks passed and no laptop arrived. Around Christmas time, I called Lenovo's support centre to find out the status of my order. I was told the holiday rush was causing a few minor delays and that I should have it in about a week. So I waited, understanding fully the holidays are some of the busiest times for manufacturers.
As more time passed, however, I hadn't received any word from Lenovo so inquired again about my order. And that's when the debacle began.
"I don't know," the customer service rep answered when I asked him when I would be receiving my laptop. Surprised that he could not provide me with at least an estimated time of arrival, I asked him if I could speak with someone who could answer my question. "There is nobody," he replied and said I could file a complaint. I asked him to put me through to his manager to get some answers. "There is no manager," he replied swiftly. I was surprised. "What do you mean there is no manager? Do you mean to tell me it's just you there with no supervision?" I expected a defensive response, but the rep simply said "That is correct. There is no manager."
The conversation went back and forth as I struggled to believe this call support rep was working entirely unsupervised. And that is when the rep admitted Lenovo's dirty little secret: He said a new ordering system had been rolled out and he was not familiar enough with the new software. He could not give me a date as to when my laptop would arrive. He said I wasn't the only one waiting for a shipment and he couldn't help me because the new software was buggy.
With no other options, I filed a formal complaint. I was told someone would get back to me in two business days by email. Outraged at the despicable customer support, I demanded a phone call, not an email. We ended our conversation, and I was forced to wait.
- Photo illustration by DigitalJournal.com

Uncovering the Logistical Nightmare

Lenovo called back a few days later. A Toronto-based manager named Jim MacDonald from Lenovo's Canadian head office was on the line to find out what was going on.
When I asked him why there was no supervision in the main call centre and why a new system was to blame for delays, I only got apologies. However, MacDonald told me a new ordering system was the reason nobody could help me, and he too was unable to confirm delivery.
At this point, I should mention I have been a long-time ThinkPad user because of great ergonomic design, powerful guts, built-in software and the brand's famous red ball mouse located in the middle of the keyboard. My previous ThinkPad (bought while IBM owned the ThinkPad brand) was good to me, but I was looking to upgrade the computer I use personally and replace my almost extinct dinosaur. This was the first time I was dealing with Lenovo to purchase a new ThinkPad.
What began as a customer-to-company experience changed at this point. I almost never pull the "I'm a tech reporter" card, but because I was being told there are inherent flaws in Lenovo Canada's nationwide ordering system, I changed gears into journalist mode. Other customers had to know about this under-reported problem.
I told the manager I was dumbfounded that nobody in all of Lenovo (a multi-billion-dollar company) could tell me when I would receive my laptop and admit their new system was flawed. I said I would be writing about this whole experience in an effort to caution all potential Lenovo customers. MacDonald clammed up and told me he would call me back the next day.
Two days later I heard from him and early in the conversation he said he was not supposed to say the things he was about to, but said he did not want to lie to me. The Lenovo manager went on to say a new ordering system was rolled out in November 2007 and there was a laundry list of problems with it: customer orders were going missing; the company wasn't receiving proper orders; some customers were being shipped multiple orders; and others were getting wrong products.
He explained the call support team had also not been trained on the software well enough and it was buggy. He said nobody could tell me when the order would be delivered. He said some orders were processed without a problem, but that it was hit-and-miss and the company had received numerous complaints. He also said the new system was rolled out in Canada as a test ground but it will be implemented in the United States and other countries around the globe within a year. Canada was the guinea pig.
He also said it would be quite some time until all the kinks had been worked out and to calm me down he offered me compensation of a 10 per cent discount on my order, or a free 2GB USB drive. He said that was what they were offering all customers in my unfortunate position.

The Anti-PR Lenovo Executives and More Internal Problems

To confirm (for a third time) the claims that their internal system was flawed, I blasted Lenovo with a flurry of calls: I spoke with Peter Mockler, president and chief executive officer of Lenovo Canada; Ann Mahdy, Communications and Public Relations Manager; and another high-ranking representative in the company who asked not to be identified.
The president and CEO: On the phone with Peter Mockler, he immediately dismissed my claims their order system was bugged. "This is the first I've heard of this problem and it's outside of my role," he said. If problems were as widespread as I had been told, I was very surprised the CEO would be unaware of a major software change and the controversy that came with it.
I continued with questions as to why he was unaware of problems within his own company. He sounded frustrated. He said he is responsible for $500 million per year in revenue and he was not directly responsible for the consumer space. He spread his feathers and chirped a big number to show his power (at least that is how I saw it). Mockler was dismissive and did not seem to show much concern about a problem that seemed to be widespread, but he promised someone would get in touch with me.
The PR manager: Not long after my conversation with Mockler, corporate communications called me. Speaking with Ann Mahdy, I explained the situation and emphasized I was not calling as a customer, but as a journalist who wanted to inform all Lenovo customers of potential complications. I told her my case was not isolated, to which I received the condescending response: "Well, that's what you say."
I said it was not only me and that Lenovo's own employees told me of their internal problems. She repeated: "Well, that's your story."
In all my professional experience working with public relations and corporate communications personnel, I have never seen someone show such a disparaging attitude. I have also never felt less like a customer in my life. She promised me a follow-up the next week.
An honest employee: After receiving non-answers and unprecedented disrespect from Mockler and Mahdy, I received one final call from a Lenovo source who asked to remain unnamed. The source said the system in place at Lenovo is new and problematic.
"Anytime there is a complete implementation of a new system, unfortunately or fortunately Canada is being used as a test grounds," the source said. "They went right over into this new system and it was pretty aggressive so there was of course some speed bumps. The last three or four weeks have been hit and miss but a lot of the things are getting worked out."
The source said the previous system was much easier to use. Lenovo purchased IBM's PC division a few years back, and has since been implementing more of its own technology to run the business. The system in place up until November 2007, I was told, was the older IBM system that worked properly. The new system is supposed to make it easier to track orders, and provide a Web-based system for consumers to check up on the status of their own orders, but it's not working properly yet. The source said the previous system was much easier to use, as the various stages of an order were isolated so a customer service rep could tell the status of an order. The new system, however, connects the company's manufacturing, shipping and customer support side and if a problem occurs at any point in this process, the source said it's difficult to isolate the problem and give an estimate on shipping date.
"Hindsight is everything," the source said. "They are testing so many systems. They thought everything was working but not everything goes as planned. When you are doing a country-wide roll-out, it doesn't always go off without a hitch."
At this point I told the source I had already spoken to Lenovo Canada's president and CEO about the issue. I was interrupted with an excited: "Oh great, Peter knows this system intimately and can probably address your questions better than I can."
I sort of laughed and told the source that Mockler told me he was completely unaware of the system and any problems, and said he worked primarily in the business to business side. The response was a series of ums and ahs, then a "Well that is not entirely untrue."

The Nail in the Coffin

I got one final follow-up call from PR manager Mahdy yesterday who told me my laptop was delayed because it was out of stock. She said she did lots of research and determined it is late because of demand from the Christmas rush and the popularity of the laptop I ordered.
When I pressed her again to at least acknowledge problems I had confirmed with three separate Lenovo employees about the company's ordering system, she finally said: "It's no secret, we are transitioning over to a new system. Like any time you do a transfer like this, there are some issues that do pop up. Basically the system we are implementing will improve the customer experience once it's finalized...We are working very, very, very hard on this [and] we'll stay on it until it's perfect."
It is now 39 days since I first placed my order that was supposed to take one to two weeks to be shipped.
---
*Updates: Since publishing this article, my laptop arrived by a special rush courier, however it was sent with a defective mother board and it died after only four days of use. I was told getting a new part would take forever so I was offered an upgrade at no extra charge. I was told this would take only a few days because the unit was already in Canada at a location not far from my house. Time passed and passed and passed and no laptop. I finally called Lenovo and told them to keep their laptop and give me a refund. I would have waited more than 70 days to get a working laptop had I waited one extra week. No thanks.

A note to all readers and Lenovo customers:

If you are still experiencing problems with delays in your shipments we want to hear from you. If you are a member of our site you can click here to contact me directly. If you are not, we encourage everyone to use our Contact Us form to get in touch with us.

Update

Global News picked up this story and ran it in their national newscast as a consumer alert. This video was reposted with permission from Global:
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