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COMPLAINT-HANDLING SYSTEM BOGS DOWN

Q: I purchased a desktop Hewlett-Packard computer, shipped directly from HP, at Office Depot on Feb. 24. I followed all the setup procedures, then turned the computer on and waited for it to start. The instructions said it might take a while the first time, but after an hour with no sign of life, I went through the setup procedures again. Nothing. After several more attempts, I gave up.

On March 11, I contacted HP technical support; I was talked through several diagnostic checks. The computer still wouldn't come on. It was determined there was most likely a problem with the motherboard, and I was assigned a case number. I was told I would receive a call from a case supervisor in a few days to discuss how HP would address the problem.

Several days later I had a telephone message from Maria at HP, who would be my case manager. She asked me to contact her by phone. I also received an e-mail with the same request. When I called the number she'd left, I received a message that her voice mailbox was full. Unable to leave a message, I replied by e-mail.

The next day I received another phone message from Maria. When I returned the call, her voice mailbox was full again. I called tech support and talked with another case manager, who ran me through the same diagnostic checks and determined there was something wrong with the motherboard. Again.

The next day brought another phone message and e-mail from Maria asking for a return call. I tried to call back, but guess what? Her voice mailbox was full. I sent an e-mail explaining why I was unable to contact her by phone and asked that we resolve the problem by e-mail. A few days later she left another message saying if I couldn't contact her by phone I should call another case manager.

I called and spoke with a new case manager and went through the same diagnostic checks for a third time. Once more I was told there was something wrong with the motherboard; the computer would have to be repaired. The representative tried to arrange for a return but wasn't able to connect with anyone in that department. He took all of my information and told me I would be contacted to arrange for a pick up and return of the computer.

It has now been more than a month since I notified HP of my computer problem, and I am getting tired of looking at my $1,000 paperweight. HP has made very little effort to resolve the issue.

I would appreciate your assistance.

Jon Toso

A: I edited your letter very little because I wanted readers to appreciate the absurdity of your situation.

I don't understand why companies give consumers a case number for complaints if they aren't going to log the information into the system or take any action to resolve them. Your experience with repeated explanations of your computer problem, diagnostic checks and determinations is a vivid example. The idea of being assigned a case manager who is so lax in collecting her voice mail that her clients are unable to reach her is ridiculous.

HP representative Jeff Utigarde left a voice mail message apologizing for your "unfortunate" experience with the company; he said you would receive a new computer. I was glad to hear you'd picked it up. I only hope it's functioning as it should.

Utigarde told me to call if I had any questions. I did. I wanted to clarify HP's complaint process and find out where and why the breakdown occurred with you. I never spoke with him directly, but I was contacted by e-mail by Gina Johnston, a spokesperson for HP. She declined to answer my questions, but sent this response: "Unfortunately, some mistakes were made with Mr. Toso's case, and HP apologizes for the inconvenience. There are no known issues that we can communicate regarding why this happened, but we can say that this case was the exception and not the rule."

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. Write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

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