Breaking a Toshiba Laptop Owner’s Cycle of Repair


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Christoph Hitz

Now and then, the Haggler is called a cynic. Invariably, it is by horrible people who are motivated by selfishness and greed — just like every human being on the face of the earth.

O.K., that is called irony. The Haggler has resorted to irony because he needs an indirect, breezy way to make this an unironic point: He is no cynic.

Cynics take a dim view of humanity. They expect the worst and are rarely disappointed. The Haggler tends to start from a very different premise — that most people and, in this context, most companies — are decent, and the latter would vastly prefer happy customers to unhappy ones. Now, sometimes the Haggler finds out that he has been overly generous in his assumptions. He has encountered unscrupulous characters. These people generally don’t return phone calls, though the Haggler never takes it personally. They typically are hiding from the feds, too.

But even miscreants start with the benefit of the doubt. In general, the Haggler expects that behind every consumer complaint is a breakdown in communication, a mishap, a process that failed. His hope is that once a problem is highlighted, the company will not just satisfy a once irate consumer; the company will learn and improve.

Naïve, you say? How cynical! The Haggler often sends somewhat plaintive email efforts, in midhaggle, to coax executives, and their press officers, to speak with candor about what went wrong and how they will fix it in the future. Often this coaxing is unnecessary.

Other times, it simply does not work.

Q. In April, I did something I now regret: I bought a Toshiba laptop. By August, the trackpad, which controls the cursor, had completely frozen. I called Toshiba tech support — I had purchased the computer from the company’s website — and a technician fixed it via the Internet. But the trackpad froze up again. Then it was fixed again. Then it broke again. Then it froze again. And so on.

I had purchased an upgraded warranty that offers on-site service, but after three home visits by a technician, the problem persisted. I was given a replacement unit. Unfortunately, it had the same problem. When I recently called Toshiba representatives to ask for a full refund, they promised to get back to me the next day. They did not.

I have now spent more than 30 maddening hours on the phone with tech support, been visited three times by a technician and still have a computer that does not work.

I believe I deserve a full refund. But I kind of doubt I will get it.

HOLLY ROSENTHAL, MANHATTAN

A. By the time the Haggler contacted Toshiba, the company had already returned Ms. Rosenthal’s call. During the conversation, the representative urged her to accept yet another replacement unit. She declined. The representative then offered to refund the cost of the laptop — $1,320 — but not the cost of the warranty or the tax, a total of $521. Ms. Rosenthal turned down that offer, too.

Enter the Haggler. The company has outsourced its public relations to Access Communications, and an employee of that firm, Ian Guss, responded almost immediately. Three days later, Mr. Guss wrote to ask if the Haggler planned to write about Ms. Rosenthal in this column.

Yes, the Haggler told Mr. Guss. Oddly, Toshiba did not immediately contact Ms. Rosenthal. That seems like a phone call you make before contacting the Haggler.

“Just wanted to check in with you to see what you were finding,” Ms. Rosenthal wrote a few days after the Haggler’s initial email to Toshiba.

So the Haggler wrote to Toshiba to state the obvious: Maybe, as you cogitate, you should simply call Ms. Rosenthal to let her know you’re on the case. The company appeared to take that advice, because the next day, Ms. Rosenthal sent an email that began, “Good news!”

The company would provide a full refund — tax and warranty included.

The only remaining blank in this story was an explanation from Toshiba about what had gone wrong. The Haggler will note that the company’s performance was far from terrible. It did send a technician three times to Ms. Rosenthal’s home. It did call before the Haggler got in touch.

And yet — 30 hours on the phone? Clearly, improvements were possible. Would Toshiba make them?

Mr. Guss sent the following statement: “After thoroughly reviewing the complete case details, Toshiba will make a one-time exception by offering the customer a 100 percent refund.”

This muddied more than it clarified. Exactly what rule was Toshiba making a one-time exception to? Does the company have a policy against 100 percent refunds?

“This is very stinting,” the Haggler wrote to Mr. Guss, “to put it generously.” The Haggler urged Toshiba to provide some insights into its version of this story, perhaps even some notion of how it might prevent a similar circumstance.

“We apologize to Holly for this major inconvenience,” the company replied, through Mr. Guss. “It is not our intent to frustrate customers that are experiencing issues.”

And that, apparently, is the best we will do. Toshiba might need a little help, and not just in the realm of customer service, but in public relations as well. A more responsive company, and one more concerned about its image, would surely have rushed Ms. Rosenthal her refund. This company told her that the check would arrive in four to six weeks.



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