Those of you who know me know I’ve been a fan of ThinkPads since the beginning. I was an IBM systems engineer in the early days of ThinkPads and developed an undying loyalty to their tank-like construction and, above all, the keyboards. Like many devotees, I put up with their higher prices and uninspiring specifications.
It’s only recently that I bought my first Mac laptop, which despite some limitations — most notably the keyboard — has turned out to be a great Windows machine. One reason I bought the Mac was I got a nice discount, courtesy of my broker.
The other reason was that Lenovo broke my heart. Or, less dramatically, they have lost their way when it comes to service.
The short version of the story is that one day I noticed that the wired Ethernet cable wouldn’t “click” securely into the female RJ-45 adapter on my workhorse ThinkPad T410 laptop. Loose connections can cause really flaky problems with networking. Having a socket on the laptop that wouldn’t securely mate with a network cable renders the wired connection on the laptop essentially useless.
This T410 is about 18 months old and when I bought it, I purchased the three-year “depot” warranty. I had always recommended the extended warranty to customers as a great value when I was an IBMer. And I was always proud — and amazed — at the service. Both customers and I were impressed with the depot service that used to be provided.
All you needed to do was call an 800 number (or, for ex-IBMers who remember the good old days, enter a problem report in ESC+). After describing the problem, the next morning a packing box arrived and if you rushed it to UPS that afternoon, you’d get your machine back most times about 48 hours later. It was fast, efficient and repairs were always well-done.
Well, enter Chinese ownership in 2005 and cost pressures. Suddenly, machines took longer to be returned. There was nobody to speak to when a machine came back with the original problem. (In 2009, I had to send a T60p out for repair three times for a failed Bluetooth indicator light. Apparently, there’s “no problem” with a failed indicator light when it’s not connected to a Bluetooth device. Get it?) One got the feeling that repair service, which had once been a strength of the ThinkPad line (it was consistently #2 to Apple in Consumer Reports’ ratings), was now being “milked” for its revenue potential (why do you think every $9 cellphone gel case at Best Buy can be had at checkout with a $30 “service agreement?”).
So, still among the Lenovo faithful, I sent off my T410 for a repair to the Ethernet connection in mid-February. Days later, it hadn’t been returned. The online problem report said I’d been called about something. Nobody called. Finally, days after it should have been repaired, I called and was summarily transferred to the billing department. “That’ll be $750, please. It’s not a warranty repair; you damaged it.” Lenovo wouldn’t discuss it — wouldn’t tell me how they’d concluded I’d damaged it — and wouldn’t provide anyone outside the billing department to speak to.
Anyone who has ever plugged a PC into a network cable knows these connectors are little plastic things that can easily fail in normal use. I didn’t damage the laptop; one day the socket just didn’t connect securely. It’s as reasonable to assume the plastic failed as to assert that I damaged it. But Lenovo — without any discussion or proof that I had done anything to the machine — decided that I was responsible because they needed to get off the hook to repair the machine. Why? Because it turns out the entire motherboard has to be replaced to repair the little plastic clips on the Ethernet adapter.
$750 to repair a loose Ethernet adapter on a machine that cost $1100 new? Who can I talk to about this? Apparently nobody. Lenovo didn’t return any of my phone calls, didn’t respond to emails — and didn’t respond to my initial legal moves.
But wait…the story isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning.
See, here in Massachusetts we have a strong consumer protection law, Chapter 93. Under Chapter 93, I sent Lenovo a “demand letter” (a copy of the 93A demand letter is attached to this post; if you want to write one yourself, here’s a good source of help.) They had 30 days to respond, which to nobody’s surprise, they didn’t. Now, I am taking the next step.
Next week, I am going to sue Lenovo in small claims court. (A scan of the filing form is here. You cannot file this form online in Massachusetts because it’s an antique: it’s a paper form with carbon copies. Talk about old-school.)
If anyone from Lenovo reads this post and wants to settle, now would be a good time. Because if you don’t, I will file this document next week in Massachusetts district court and we’ll see what a judge has to say about you arbitrarily deciding that I damaged my laptop, resulting in a convenient way for you to avoid delivering the warranty service I paid for — and used to recommend to others.
And even if the judge throws me out on my ear, you’ll have missed a chance to quash me making public the details of our disagreement and every twist of my nascent legal adventure suing the bejesus out of you in small claims court. If you want to go the route of Honda with the Civic Hybrid, so be it. OTOH, if you want to do the right thing, drop me an email.
Oh, and about that Consumer Reports computer service survey…this year I don’t think I can give you the effusive marks you used to get from me.