So yeah, many of you probably read my headline and thought “duh.” I never had a very favorable impression of the Gateway brand either, but I was in a bind. In January I was starting work on a new project, and I needed to replace a 5 year-old Dell desktop I had been using at home. I’m not sure how I lived with one PC for 5 years, but just as I was getting ready to start my new project, boom, the Dell bit the dust. It needed Windows to be reinstalled badly, and since I wanted a new PC anyways, I figured I might as well do it now.
Normally when I buy a PC, I do my research, find a rig online that fits my specs, and then order it, typically online, so I can get a decent price. But, I needed the PC today, like now. So I headed on over to my local Fry’s to see what they had.
Fry’s had a few Dells, HPs, you name it, but the only one that had the specs I wanted for a reasonable price was a Gateway. So I went home that afternoon with my first Gateway. It has a stylish case, cool little covers over the drive bays, and it looks pretty neat sitting there in my desk.
So I got it home, reinstalled Windows clean, got my basic programs installed, and I was good to go. Pretty smooth so far.
Then I plugged a LaCie 1TB external USB hard drive and tried moving some files from it onto the Gateway. The process started, but then crashed mid-copy. I’m thinking, “Okay, it happens, let’s try again.” I go to find the files on the external hard drive, but now I can’t access them at all. The drive has disappeared. I unplug the USB cable, plug it in again, and wait. And wait. After about 5 minutes, the drive shows up, but I can’t click into it.
I open Windows Disk Manager. It hangs. After a few minutes it comes up and says the drive isn’t formatted. I try to format it, but that fails, too. No other PC can read it either. After email exchanges with LaCie, trying a dozen disk recovery programs, I give up. The LaCie has clearly gone to the big PC in the sky.
So what does this have to do with Gateway, you ask? I’m getting there.
I wrote the whole situation off as a rare, out-of-the-blue hard drive failure, and went on with my life. A few weeks later, I needed to move some big files around again, so I scrounged up an old 200GB Western Digital USB external hard drive to help out. I plugged it in to my old Dell to get the files, and then I pugged it in to the Gateway. Big mistake.
The Gateway proceeded to destroy this hard drive the same way it destroyed the first one. It shows up as unformatted in the Disk Manager, and I can’t even reformat it. It’s toast.
The Gateway had then bricked two external hard drives, so I called Gateway tech support. Their email support said I needed to call their pay-support phone number. I’m thinking that they escalated me, but the support should still be free, right? Wrong. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “My Gateway has corrupted two USB hard drives. Is there something you can do to fix it?”
Dude: “Sure thing, let me just get your credit card information, and we’ll get started. Support is $99.”
Me: “I have a two month-old computer that has destroyed two of my hard drives, and you want me to pay for support?”
Dude: “I think I know what the problem is, let me just get your credit card info, and we’ll get started.”
Me: “If you know what the problem is, can’t you just tell me?”
Dude: “I’ll need to get your credit card information first. I think it’s a setting.”
(This is where I realize he has no idea what he’s talking about, and is trying to bluff me into paying.)
Me: “There’s a setting on my PC that will make it destroy USB hard drives?”
Dude: “It’s probably something you did.”
Me: “It’s brand new. All I did was install software. Installing software can make a computer destroy USB hard drives?”
Dude: “If I could just get your credit card information…”
Me: “Could I talk to your supervisor?”
Dude: “I can help you with this.”
Me: “I’d like to talk to a supervisor.”
Dude: “I don’t really have one. He’s not here, and even if he was, I can handle this. If I could just get your credit card info…”
Me: “No thanks.”
So that didn’t go so well. I went back to the email support, and their stance was this:
Please be informed that we handle only factory default hardware issues. As the issue is not with the computer this issue is out of our scope of support.
I informed them that USB ports are default hardware, but apparently their stance is that once you plug anything into those ports, they aren’t responsible. I wonder if they would have the same stance if the monitors I plugged in didn’t work? If I were to put suitcases in my Miata (suspend disbelief for a minute here), I expect the Miata to carry them without destroying them even though they are not the “default hardware” of the car, and I would certainly hold Mazda responsible if it did.
Gateway was having none of my “logic” and held their line.
So, I’m not buying Gateway ever again. It’s actually not because of the hardware, although I do think it’s rather odd for a PC to even be able to kill external hard drive to the point where they’re completely unrecoverable. I’m not buying Gateway again because of their support. They clearly are not a customer-focused company. They are selling PCs, and are not interested in keeping people happy and making sure they are enchanted (as Guy Kawasaki would say) with their products.
I recently read The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld (which I highly recommend), and it makes the distinction between “good profits” and “bad profits.” Good profits are when you make money by delighting your customers, as Dell has often done for me, and bad profits are when you make money from people who are ambivalent to your brand or worse are detractors. Gateway had a chance to convert me from an ambivalent customer to a promoter through their excellent service, but they went the opposite way so here I am detracting. And this is why Dell won the PC war and Gateway lost.