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June 6, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Software support process at HP

Alan Clarke writes:

I recently had the misfortune of needing to invoke HP's e-mail support system for a problem I had with my iPaq PDA.

I replied to an e-mail I received from support after I filled out their support web form and was surprised to receive a message a few minutes later telling me that the HP system had rejected my reply!

When I re-read the first communication from them more carefully, I was astonished to find that I had to do three totally separate things before my reply to support was acceptable.

1. I had to send my reply to a different e-mail address than the one I had received their message from.
2. I had to change the subject line entirely to exactly what they specified.
3. I had to excise all of the text from from the original *except* the two lines with my case ID and subject on it, and then I also have to make sure that these became the first two lines of my reply.

If I failed to do *any* of these, the system rejected my e-mail!

These guys really know how to make it hard to be a customer.


that's Hardly Practical

Posted by: abcdario at June 6, 2006 12:10 AM

yes I Agree with You abcdario

Posted by: oiradcba at June 6, 2006 12:28 AM

_@_v - oh but they make it real easy to be a customer - of palm pilot...

Posted by: shesnailie_@_v at June 6, 2006 01:38 AM

It's very common to be directed to a different e-mail address when replying to tech support. I could go on for hours about the way most business networks are set up, POP3/IMAP servers and spam filters, but to be sure I don't bore anyone, let's just say it's the most practical way to set stuff up on the business end.

The other two requirements are just silly though. I assume they have some automated process to search, expedite, and sort your mail, but the program should easily be able to find what it's looking for regardless of what's in the body.

Posted by: WiglyWorm at June 6, 2006 05:13 AM

The server-side app already knows what needs to be done to get a reply. They COULD have easily made the reply appear to come from the right target with the correct subject line. I wonder if this is a misguided attempt at a cost-cutting measure by raising the bar for customers before they can get help...

Posted by: fluffy at June 6, 2006 11:26 AM

Even with Hotmail you can put in a different "reply to:" address than the one you sent from.

Posted by: JAC at June 6, 2006 11:59 AM

You're lucky. When I had to get help from my cable TV company (I wont name, but the letters in their name spell 'castcom') I had to do similar things, resend email formatted as directed, special subject line, to a strange mailbox, then I had to call in to a phone support within 24 hrs of posting the email, that support call required my customer id (I had no idea what that was), then a secred password for security purposes. (How they knew my dead dogs's name, I don't know) Also the serial number on the back of my decoder, so I had to practically disconnect it to get it out of the cabinet. (Why don't they put serial# on the FRONT? BROKEN!) So please feel lucky they don't ask for your first born male child as well. Unless you'd like to give up the brat, let some techie from India take care of him. Eat rice every day and no more chicken nuggets HAH! But I digress.

Posted by: gag me with a spoon at June 6, 2006 04:04 PM

LOL @ gag me... Actually, they do ask for the first born son. Except, they want the serial number. They neglected to tell you at the hospital, but the part they chop off has the serial # on it. Who would've thunk it?

Posted by: Will, Enterprise, AL at June 6, 2006 05:36 PM

HP is just trying to muscle in on some of Microsoft's torture action.

Posted by: Paul at June 6, 2006 07:08 PM

How amazingly broken. It may be that HP are using a poorly designed email response system. But really, the steps to do it better aren't hard.

The reply-to email address should always be valid. If there is a need to route the request to a different email address that the one responding, there are email addresses to handle this. There really is no excuse for forcing the customer to do this step.

The setup of the subject line sounds like something used for conglomerating the email to a single case. It would be a fairly simply matter to append a case number to the end of the subject line. In any case, if the subject was supposed to be a certain format, then the response message should have already done that work so that the reply would only be prepending with a RE: or some other reply prefix that would be typical.

And as for the blanking of the other text, it sounds like something to prevent confusion with automated answering systems. But if the automated answering system is not capable of interpreting customer messages easily, perhaps it shouldn't be used.

It appears to be a case of cost-cutting at the expense of customer experience.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at June 7, 2006 11:57 AM

Broken from the customer's perpsective, but they might like it that way. It filters out all but the most determined customers.

Posted by: Reed at June 7, 2006 01:59 PM

I've forwarded your insights to an HP tech support person that I know will either take care of it or bump it to the people who can. I'm not HP Tech Sup, but I was training to be a CSR for them last year. I still have some contacts within the chain that will be very interested in this and I know they will jump on it.

Posted by: Mamid at June 7, 2006 03:52 PM

I just talked with HP Tech Support. The email support is really only there for when their phone support is closed for the day. It is a free service too. HP has you go through all those hoops to keep spammers and virii out of their email system.

He also said that phone support is available 5 days a week from 5am to 5pm PST (8 am to 8pm EST) and to try them. They will support you through the entire process and make sure your issues with their products is resolved. They'll also do callbacks to make sure you are happy with the result.

Anyway, that's what I got from them.

Posted by: Mamid at June 7, 2006 04:32 PM

With respect to HP phone support, I can attest that the one set of interactions I had with them saw short phone queues, and polite reps. However, there was a very hard sell on buying extended support services, and they refused to do anything until I had used their recovery disk to recover the system back to pristine form. That is, wipe out all the installed programs and data.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at June 7, 2006 05:00 PM

I work for an HP support partner in the UK.

We are supposed to be able to fulfil HPs warranty repairs on their behalf, but sometimes it takes up to 2 months to get parts for printers. When we do have problems we get to talk to someone in Delhi whose first language isn't english. on top of that they are moving the distribution warehouse to eastern europe.

I think customer services are taking a back seat in their case.

Posted by: mike at June 7, 2006 05:49 PM

The reason why it takes so long to get parts is that a lot of them are backordered far beyong what they should be. I sit in and listen to techies talking shop all the time. Okay, yes, I'm the wife of an HP Tech Sup. This is one of their main griefs they have. They spend hours diagnosing and proving the problem with the customer, they order the parts needed and when the customer calls in a few days later because the parts haven't arrived when they were supposed to, an outline call to the warehouse shows that the parts were backordered by weeks if not months. It could something as small as a screw or as large as a full sized replacement printer.

There is the "trade in-trade up" policy where they give you a discount and send you a brand new printer while you return them your older one. They also have refurbish printers which are checked for functionality before it is sent off.

If your product is malfunctioning, make sure your computer and printer can talk to each other. Some are computer based, others are printer based. I don't remember much from my training - I've tried to forget it all.

Another one of their griefs is the India outsourced center. The Techies hate dealing with India. I've heard horror stories that would curl your toes.

HP may or may not get the email I sent earlier. A voice chat with my hunny doesn't take place of showing the links to supervisors who can bump it up the chain of problems.

Posted by: Mamid at June 7, 2006 06:47 PM

Now you know why many of us in the IT industry refer to Hewlett-Packard as "Useless Bastard".

Posted by: Doug at June 10, 2006 02:03 PM

Hello, this is Mamid's husband. I work HP tech support. For laser printers though, not computers. One of the big grouches we have is that we have to at least offer warranty extensions on every damm call. Trust me, we would rather just deal with the problem and get you on your way then try to sell you something. We are TECHIES, not salesmen. We have a big ass checklist of things that we HAVE to say on every call and EVERY call is recorded. We just don't know which ones get listened to.

A tip if you are on a phone support call to HP. Be nice to the tech you are talking to. Most techs will push the boundaries of what the can do/are allowed to do if you give them half a reason to. Get cranky with a tech, get abusive and you will get exactly what your warranty entitles you to and not one. step. further.

It isn't fair but techs are people too. Another thing. Asking for a supervisor generally will get you nowhere. A supervisor is just another tech on the floor, albeit one with usually, not always, more experience.

The trade in/up thing is only available for smaller or older printers. It never hurts to ask if it is an option though. Barring that if your printer is stone dead check out,

It is a website where HP will buy the printer off of you. It doesn't even have to be an HP printer all the time either. It isn't much $ but it gets a lump off your desk and shipping is usually paid as well.

Posted by: Penalt at June 11, 2006 01:04 PM

"_@_v - oh but they make it real easy to be a customer - of palm pilot..."


Posted by: Jeff at June 24, 2006 10:18 PM


Posted by: Jeff at June 24, 2006 10:21 PM

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