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article imageExclusive: Lenovo Still Suffering From Faulty Order System, Causing Lengthy Delays

By Chris Hogg     Mar 5, 2008 in Business
In a follow-up to a story we broke in January, DigitalJournal.com has learned Lenovo customers continue to experience delays with computer orders. Lenovo Canada implemented a faulty IT system that is still not working almost four months later.
Digital Journal — When Nathaniel Warsh bought a ThinkPad from Lenovo, he had no idea the level of frustration he was about to experience. Based in Toronto, Warsh placed an order for a ThinkPad on Jan. 5 and later called seven times just to ensure his laptop would be delivered. He was put on hold for up to an hour every time he called, and Lenovo customer service reps (CSRs) couldn’t answer his questions. He said he was stiffed on the price of his unit after Lenovo lost his original order.
“Many small companies are run well and give excellent customer service,” Warsh told DigitalJournal.com. “Many big companies run efficiently and I don't have to think twice about my product arriving on time, let alone arriving at all. Lenovo Canada takes the worst of both: a large company charging premium prices for a premium product and a customer support system from 1995.”
In a recent investigative report, DigitalJournal.com learned computer giant Lenovo rolled out a new IT infrastructure in Canada that sparked several issues, including delays with orders, problems with getting parts and what many describe as a horrible customer experience. The situation, as we learned, is that CSRs at Lenovo are unable to track some PC shipments. That means CSRs are sometimes unable to tell a customer when a product will be shipped, forcing many customers to wait months for orders originally quoted to ship in one to two weeks.
Initially downplaying the severity of the issue, Lenovo told DigitalJournal.com the system errors were not widespread and did not affect every customer. After DigitalJournal.com pressured the company to give customers answers, Lenovo eventually admitted their system was problematic and that they were doing everything in their power to fix problems. Lenovo said the new IT infrastructure, including its company’s order system, will be implemented globally and Canada is being used as the test market for the new software.
The system was installed in November 2007, and DigitalJournal.com has now confirmed the company is still suffering from delays and setbacks four months later.
Lenovo communications and public relations manager Ann Mahdy told DigitalJournal.com they are currently working on resolving order issues and it’s taking so long because they want to be certain errors are fixed properly.
“We want to ensure that all issues are fully investigated before any fixes are applied,” she said. “Meanwhile, we're resolving the system issues and clearing the back orders.”

Inside Lenovo’s New IT Infrastructure

With the hopes of becoming more efficient and better equipped to meet the needs of customers, Lenovo partnered with i2 Technologies, a company that builds supply-chain management solutions.
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, i2 Technologies is publicly traded and is well known in the industry. It has provided supply chain solutions for businesses including IBM, Texas Instruments, Samsung and many others.
At a 2007 company event in Orlando, Lenovo Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Steve Bandrowczak, said the company didn't have the adaptability to be competitive, or to meet market, price and supply changes. So it partnered with i2 to meet market demand.
"One of the things that was extremely important to us is to look at our supply chain from and end-to-end process standpoint,” Bandrowczak said at the event. “One of the things that is most frustrating to any customer is they place an order and you can't deliver that product when the customer wants it. Not when you want to deliver it, not when your supply chain can deliver it, but when the customer wants it. And when you look at our capabilities, we had a hard time building products and orders to when a customer needed it."
Lenovo said it changed software and business practices, as well as some of its infrastructure and the way it conducted billing. The new i2-developed system allowed Lenovo to look at incidents like market shortages of hard drives or memory, and if a customer wanted something specific, the system steered them away from products that were experiencing shortages, for example. Lenovo would then offer a customer an alternative along with a discount, said Bandrowczak. He also said a company needs to make end-to-end changes to do this and i2 was a critical factor in developing its technology.
"When you look at when we implemented all of the changes we make, [there was a] 43 per cent improvement in our notebook serviceability,” said Bandrowczak.
DigitalJournal.com contacted i2 Technologies to find out where problems existed at Lenovo. When we asked for details about Lenovo, however, Raja Chandrashekar, Vice President of the company’s High Technology group, said they have to respect the confidentiality agreement between i2 Technologies and Lenovo and he could not provide any details as to the source of the problems.
"We are aware of reports in the press about challenges,” said Chandrashekar in a telephone interview. “We've certainly been out there in the blogs and stuff with challenges with user experience. I think Lenovo has been extremely expedient about addressing [issues], making changes. I believe there have been significant improvements in addressing challenges they've had with lead times and things like that, with delivering products. I think they've understood and made corrections from a process perspective to overcome those.”
Chandrashekar said it’s normal for a company to have an adjustment period after going live with changes of this magnitude. When asked if Lenovo’s problems were a result of i2 Technology’s software or the ways in which Lenovo themselves were handling it, Chandrashekar would not provide details.
"I really can't comment,” he said. “I think it's something you should talk with Lenovo [about]. I'm surprised that Lenovo Canada wouldn't speak with you and give you a perspective on what they're doing, what they're seeing. I understand some of the user experience problems are associated with long delays for product. I don’t' know if that's a product availability issue which happens [from] time to time in the high-tech industry.”
Chandrashekar said Lenovo’s issues might be a result of many factors. "You may be even seeing a combination of genuine availability issues in the market,” he said. “I saw that there are some lead times that are longer…It may even be -- and I'm speculating here -- it could even be a general shortage.”
However, Lenovo says the company is not suffering from any product shortages. "We are not experiencing any product delays or supply shortages at this time, nor have we experienced any difficulties with i2 Technology's order management system," said Mahdy. "As we have said, at the end of 2007, we began deploying a new order and delivery system, and there have been instances where customer orders have been delayed. We are working directly with our customers to resolve any issues, and apologize for any inconvenience."

Customer Dissatisfaction

The promise of fixing the IT system is not good enough for customers like Warsh. After numerous calls to the company to check on the status of his order, Warsh could not get answers from Lenovo CSRs as to when his laptop would be delivered. He said he was eventually told his order was “stalled” and he would have to re-order (which meant he would lose the price he was first quoted). After arguing about this delay and the price increase, Warsh said the Lenovo rep didn’t understand what was wrong. The rep said they couldn’t match his original order price. He was told he could apply for a rebate but Lenovo might not honour it.
Warsh, who runs his own small movie production company, waited on hold for 30 to 50 minutes every time he called Lenovo. He eventually got his laptop but it was short 1GB of memory.
“The worst part was having to call seven times just to ensure the order was coming along,” Warsh said. “It was like arranging an import direct from a factory in Asia. I've done that before, it only took three calls, and I never had to hold.”
Warsh said the Lenovo rep was honest about the new faulty order system, but he only received an apology from them on his seventh call. He got the distinct impression Lenovo’s CSRs really had no idea what was going on.
After a lot of frustration, Warsh finally got his laptop. He thought his troubles were over until he actually used it. He said the unit caused him “serious eye strain.” Lenovo told him it was caused by the high resolution of the screen (1680x1050) but Warsh said he has no issues on his other laptop in that resolution. Fed up with the whole ordeal, he paid a 15 per cent restocking fee and returned the laptop. He said he was uneasy about the quality of components Lenovo was putting in its laptops.
“The ordering fiasco left me displeased,” he said. “I was willing to ignore it until I read [DigitalJournal.com]’s article, specifically about what the executives had to say. They proved that Lenovo Canada is a backwater operation staffed by people who can't run a company, let alone be in touch with their customers.”

When Did Lenovo Actually Implement Its New System?

The technical problems at Lenovo were discovered after I purchased a laptop from the company on Dec. 8, 2007. I waited 39 days before my laptop finally arrived, but I had to pressure the company to make that happen. Customer service reps couldn’t tell me when I would receive my order; Lenovo Canada president and CEO Peter Mockler lashed back at me when I said the company has problems with its ordering system. He told me he has “heard nothing about problems.” And the public relations rep for Lenovo was rude and dismissive. The PR department told me my order was late because it was out of stock, not because of their order system malfunctions. The PR department has since changed its tone, however, and is being far more cooperative in answering questions.
When I eventually got my laptop, it only lasted four days because it came with a defective motherboard that stopped working. I had to ship it back to a designated Lenovo service center to be fixed, and the waiting game began all over again. I eventually received a call from Lenovo saying they could not get replacement parts and I was offered a free upgrade to a model above. I was told it would ship to me in a few days. However, those few days turned into weeks so I cancelled my order. If I had waited for that replacement unit to arrive, it would have been almost 70 days since my initial purchase.
When DigitalJournal.com broke the news, Lenovo told us problems were hit and miss and not everyone was affected. Since then, however, we have received a number of follow-ups from many Lenovo customers who have experienced the exact same problems with delays.
Since publishing our report, Lenovo issued an apology to customers on its website forum, saying “During January 2008, Lenovo Canada transitioned to a new IT infrastructure, and during this transition period, a number of unforeseen issues arose which affected the customer experience. We apologize and do appreciate the patience of our customers as we continue to work through these issues.”
Interestingly enough, however, that statement was deleted after we called out Lenovo on the date it said it transitioned. The public comment claimed the system was implemented in January 2008; however, we were told by insiders at Lenovo it was in fact implemented in November 2007. This discrepancy, in our opinion, was not fair or honest to Lenovo customers.
We confronted PR rep Mahdy about the discrepancy in dates and asked her why Lenovo was publicly saying the system was implemented in January when we knew it was in fact implemented two months prior. Mahdy replied to our email with a simple “The new system went live in November 2007, and was fully deployed in January 2008.”
You can't find the comment on Lenovo's forum anymore because it was deleted by Lenovo, but one DigitalJournal.com reader posted a full copy of it here.

Online Support Saving (Some) Face for Lenovo

Some customers are more patient than others. Toronto resident Natasha P. (who asked her last name not be disclosed) placed an order on Jan. 22 and was promised delivery in one to two weeks. She called to confirm the shipment and was told it wasn’t even built yet, and an apologetic Lenovo rep offered her a $100 rebate and promised it would take another two weeks. As more time passed, however, she called in again and the rep was unable to tell her the status of her shipment. The rep eventually called her back and told her she “may” receive her laptop in the third week of May.
A Lenovo CSR told her “warehouses are overwhelmed” and that this delay is not usual business practice.
Natasha said she replied by email to Lenovo and complained about the wait time and wanted to know an exact date of shipment. She forwarded a link to DigitalJournal.com’s original report to Lenovo in an effort to inform them this issue was already being publicized. Lenovo’s tone changed when they received this email, and the laptop was then promptly shipped.
Despite the wait, Natasha said she would still consider recommending Lenovo to a friend. “In the end, a working laptop is more important to me than how long it takes to ship it,” she said. “I'm in the lucky situation of already having a computer and not being in a rush. That does not mean however that I appreciate the uncertainty about whether my order will be fulfilled. I would definitely warn my friend about the entire experience with Lenovo.”
After our first email interview with Natasha she followed up to say her order did arrive, and she thinks it was likely sped up because she mentioned DigitalJournal.com’s report. “Overall, if my computer keeps working I'm happy,” she wrote.
And for anyone who wanted more evidence of delays in ordering from Lenovo, just talk to Owen Wiltshire. Living in Montreal, Wiltshire said the worst part of his order process was dealing with poor customer service people. “I found the sales support was absolutely horrible,” he told DigitalJournal.com. “They never returned calls, did not follow up on emails, and it took over an hour to reach them on hold.”
Wilshire placed an order on Dec. 27, 2007, and the notebook didn’t arrive until Feb. 21, 2008. Wiltshire said the saving grace for Lenovo was the online support he received from a rep named “Mark_Lenovo.” He said Mark was unable to get his laptop to him any faster but he did respond to concerns quickly.
“At times I really didn't understand why I was even bothering to order from Lenovo given how hard it was to do so, but Mark's quick online replies calmed me down sufficiently,” Wiltshire said. “I realize there is a new system in place and hopefully Lenovo Canada will get its ass in gear.”
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DigitalJournal.com will continue to follow this story. If you have any comments or want to tell a story of your own, please leave them in the comment thread below.
If you missed the Global TV report in which consumer reporter Sean O'Shea interviewed a Lenovo customer and talked to us about Lenovo shipping delays, you can view it below:
More about Lenovo, Delays, Laptops
 
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