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Winners & Losers - раздел Иностранные языки, Анотування та реферування англійською мовою загальнонаукової та фахової літератури Every Year, Consumers Purchase Millions Of Computers And Peripherals. And Eve...
Every year, consumers purchase millions of computers and peripherals. And every year, millions of those devices break down. For anyone who plans to buy a piece of hardware, the overall reliability of a vendor’s products and the quality of its service are important considerations. Unfortunately much of the information that people use in deciding which product to buy is fragmentary and anecdotal – not the kind of data you’d want to base a three- or four-figure decision on.
To obtain some hard data about which vendors have done the best job over the past year, we recently polled approximately 45,000 visitors to PCWorld.com, asking them about the mechanical soundness of their tech products – laptop PCs, desktop PCs, HDTVs, digital cameras, and printers – and about the quality of the tech support they received when those products required service.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about our most recent survey results is how closely consumer opinions about reliability and service this year match those we reported last year.
Once again, Apple and Canon were far and away the favorite brands in our survey, earning high marks across the board on measurements of both reliability and service. Apple won top honors in notebooks and desktop PCs, while Canon dominated the field in printers and cameras.
But the number of other companies made impressive gains. Vendors that enjoyed markedly improved ratings in their survey results over the past year include Toshiba among laptop makers, Sony in desktop PCs, Brother for printers, Pioneer among HDTV brands, and Nikon in cameras.
At the other end of the ladder, our list of cellar dwellers did not change much, either. Across the board and in every category we tracked where it had a significant presence. Hewlett-Packard ranked as the least-reliable manufacturer in the survey. Among manufacturers that experienced momentum in the wrong direction were Dell (which took a disappointing tumble in both laptop and desktop PC reliability), Sony (which sank in televisions), and Fujifilm (in cameras).
After watching HP turn in dismal results on our survey for the past several years we asked what was happening. Why were our readers rating a top-tier company as subpar in reliability and support, year after year?
Jodi Schilling, vice president of HP’s American customer support operations, says the company is aware of the issues and took measures to rectify the situation. Schilling says, “We’re trying to move to a leadership position in service and support, and that’s taking a large investment and some time.”
Schilling and Brent Potts, vice president of HP’s Web support operation, say that the company is focusing on three key areas: the initial design of its products, the products operational performance and reliability, and the way the company supports its products. The last of those seems to be getting most of the attention: HP says that it is ramping up its online FAQ archive, has radically expanded its forum-based support (where experts and users can get together to talk shop), has introduced video-based tutorials, and has built a new program called HP Ambassadors around a team of 50 experts who reach out directly to more-vocal customers (read: major bloggers) to help solve problems.
On the other hand, as welcome as those changes sound, HP has not announced plans to increase its staff of tech support representatives. Hiring additional reps would no doubt be expensive, but it might also fundamentally change the experience that HP’s customers have when they call tech support for help.
Schilling says that the company’s changes are already having a positive effect, but she cautions that the cumulative effect of its various tweaks will take time to become visible in surveys like ours.
When we last polled users, 10.2 percent of HDTV owners reported significant problems with their sets. This year, only 8.8 percent reported trouble. Surprisingly, that small shift is one of the biggest year-to-year changes in any category we investigated.
What’s going on here? Is the industry simply doing the best it can do?
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group and a longtime follower of computer reliability trends, sees a standoff between two contradictory trends: The economic recession forced companies to cut corners – at the same time, however, increased efficiency in manufacturing and tech support offset the effects of those cutbacks.
Not only have electronics producers severely reduced their manufacturing staff this year, Enderle says, but they have also continued to move toward cheaper and presumably less durable high-tech products such as netbooks.
“I’m kind of surprised the reliability numbers didn’t degrade,” says Enderle. ‘‘With the industry’s major staffing changes and the huge push downmarket, you would expect to see higher breakage rates, I thought the industry would cut more comers, and I’m surprised that didn’t happen.”
One explanation is that the industry is getting better at dealing with problems that cheaper parts have created – or at least at catching the problems before the products go out the door.
Enderle suggests that the widespread introduction of solid-state parts may be helping the industry hold the line on reliability: “Part of what’s going on is that we’ve moved to more solid-state products in the market. In laptops there are more flash drives and fewer optical drives out there now. With fewer moving parts, this might have offset the additional breakage issues.”
Call centers may be improving, too, despite layoffs and what Enderle sees as continuing trends for call centers to migrate offshore and for support reps to receive less training. Upgraded software for managing relations with customers and better tracking of customer issues may mitigate problems that lower staffing levels tend to cause. And even though many consumers profess to hate them, automated service processes may be more helpful than critics think; enabling users to avoid long hold lines in order to talk to a support rep. Remote diagnostic capabilities probably have had a positive impact as well. Nevertheless, the consumers we polled don’t seem any happier with this year’s support landscape than they were with last year’s. Readers continue to complain about communication difficulties with overseas support reps and about the poor training that some tech staffers, whether foreign or domestic, seem to have received.
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