The Agony and Ecstasy of Buying a Laptop Computer
by Alf Nucifora
It's time to buy a new laptop. The old Toshiba has served me well, but it's showing its age; not enough RAM to multi-task; keys keep sticking; and enough heft and bulk to warrant its use as a boat anchor. At over eight pounds, I'm tired of lugging it through airports. I want something lightweight and powerful. And, it has to be rugged. I'm murder on laptops, continually dropping them or jamming them into tight places such as in airplane overhead compartments or under the seat. I also want the latest technology including Intel's mobile Centrino chip, since an increasing amount of my internet access while traveling is through wireless hook-up.
I read all the computer magazines, sought the guidance of trusted advisors and narrowed it down to two alternatives--the IBM X40 and the Toshiba Portege R100. Both are lightweight laptops (three pounds), with smaller twelve-inch screens, manageable keyboards and enough power to drive a small aircraft carrier.
I visited the IBM and Toshiba websites and spent the requisite time doing the homework, comparing and contrasting product specs and pricing while trying desperately to match apples with apples. Bottom line, it's a $2,700-$3,000 decision by the time you bump up the RAM and battery power, add a CD/DVD drive, and include the extended three-year warranty.
My computer repair guru swears on a stack of Bibles that Toshiba is the most reliable brand based on a low incidence of repair activity. He sees fewer of them in his shop and stands by their ability to withstand the abuse from even the most ham-fisted users like myself. I can validate his opinion. I've had three Toshiba laptops during the course of my computing career all of which operated flawlessly.
Following the heart, I made the decision to buy the Portege, ordering it by phone through the Chicago-based CDW (I've bought from them before and had a positive experience). I received satisfying and impressive customer support from a very helpful sales representative, avoided paying sales tax, got them to waive the freight charges for shipping and received confirmation of both the quote and the order via email. But then the first glitch. Four days later I received a call from the obviously anguished CDW rep who advised that their computer inventory system was wrong…no Portege R100s in stock, with no anticipated shipment date. Lots of apologies, blah, blah, blah and notification that a credit would be issued if I wasn't willing to wait until a new shipment arrived. I wasn't.
Time to by-pass the middleman and go straight to the manufacturer, Toshiba. A big mistake. I spoke to a customer service rep who could not have cared less about the order, didn't know the product specs or performance characteristics and advised that I would have to pay the sales tax since Toshiba maintains a warehouse in my state. I never received an email confirmation of the quote. This was the classic boiler room transaction, a disinterested and disassociated order-taker who had little interest in closing a sale or creating a customer for Toshiba. This was frontline employee who was poorly-trained (no listening skills), poorly motivated and, if truth be told, poorly compensated.
Time to call IBM. Surprise, surprise, I encountered a very helpful sales representative who volunteered his name, and with obvious relish took the time to explain the subtleties and intricacies of the product and technology to an obvious layman, which I am. He did try the old up-sell trick, but hey, that's his job. He's called back three times since that initial contact just to check on my state-of-mind, and provide additional information (locating a less expensive CD/DVD drive). This is a guy who listens and who wants the business. Ironically, my call identifier places him in Ontario, Canada. Probably another boiler room, but one that knows how to do it right.
The obvious question is why didn't I visit a computer/electronics retailer, one of the established national brands? Simple answer, they don't have the product or the variety and their salespeople generally lack the time or knowledge to provide considered advice. I also found it difficult to buy on line. It's not like visiting Amazon.com. The process is too confusing, with too many options and not enough immediate feedback. I need the reassurance of having my questions answered real-time when dealing with confusing technology.
Marketers also need to know their customers. Be aware of the "fear" and "ignorance" factor. Buyers like me, don't know enough to be experts, but we do know enough to be dangerous to ourselves. We need hand-holding through the valley of technology. Train sales people to know the product, listen carefully to the customer need, and always follow-up. It's never too late to close the sale. And, don't forget to provide verification on your web site…links to product reviews, reports from happy buyers. Insecure types like me need the reassurance of others.
Which path will I choose? The familiarity of a tried and true old friend? Or an exciting new product backed-up by aggressive and supportive customer service? (Both, incidentally in the same price range.)
Better still, what would you do? Email me with your advice at firstname.lastname@example.org.