When you buy white goods like a fridge or washing machine you expect relatively trouble-free use, at least for a few years. Then if you have a problem you are happy to pay for a manufacturer backed on-site service call and usually have a few more trouble free years. These industries are aware of the need to keep quality up and post-sales service levels even higher. It is an investment in the brand.
But the same does not seem to be true in the consumer end of the PC game.
A UK survey last year of 14,000 users (which included both hardware and software faults) found defects in 60 per cent of both brand name and whitebox computers. Most occurred within the first three months. A similar annual Australian reliability survey revealed hardware failure rates up to 50 per cent (with name brands being the worst).
Then in July, Computer Choice released results of a survey of 46 repairers in Sydney. They disconnected one power wire from the hard disk.
The results were: about 28 per cent could not recognise a very simple fault; 48 per cent overcharged, made the customer wait three days or more for a quote and/or were incompetent (two repairers damaged the computer further claiming more extensive work was required); and just 24 per cent repaired the fault quickly (often without charge).
But this is not just a Sydney issue. Last year I revealed the existence of a Brisbane PC reseller/repairer that I nicknamed Doctor Death. This company was sabotaging PCs brought in for repair so they would break down and require more repairs.
No wonder Computer Choice surmised that: “Computer repairers can set themselves up as experts without any form of regulation or validation of their competence ... ” They naturally suggested that all repairers should have completed an appropriate PC repair course, should have to comply with a strict code of ethics and the various Departments of Fair Trading should set up an independent dispute resolution system for repairers.
To top off a week of bad news, the Queensland Department of Fair Trading said it had received 401 complaints against PC resellers and repairers in 2003-2004, ranking this industry third in number of overall complaints.
I love this industry and on the whole I am sure that most resellers/repairers try to do the right thing but there is obviously an element that do not.
The question is do we want government regulation or can we self regulate? The latter would be the wisest course of action.
A good start would be for the industry to develop a basic code of ethics. Then do some benchmarking on what are reasonable hourly rates, standard quote and service charges and cover issues like safe keeping, use of pirated software, contingent liability and decent repair warranties.
Yet repeated formal and informal attempts over the years to get resellers/repairers to self-regulate have resulted in voluntary compliance by a very small number — let’s call them the good guys who do the right thing anyway.
The question is, what can we do to get the bad guys to fall into line and improve the standing of the PC industry in the consumer’s eyes?