Should IBM Run the DMV, CIA, and TSA?

I blogged a few days ago about the sad fact that my beloved three-year-old child, a.k.a. 2687, a black IBM (Lenovo) laptop, had to be repaired. The LCD had gone dark. I tried to get it fixed locally, but none of the vendors recommended by IBM could move fast enough. Nor were any independent outfits like Geek Squad up to the task. So I took the last resort: sending it back to IBM. I was reluctant to do this for a variety of reasons, but it seemed the best alternative.

Although the IBM techs I’d talked to on the phone were knowledgeable, pleasant, and fast (I never even got put on hold), and even though I was assured I wouldn’t pay a penny for the work (the machine is still under warranty), I was pessimistic. The biggest downside was living that long without my laptop.

On Wednesday morning, IBM sent me a sturdy shipping box with a return DHL label. On Wednesday early evening, I packed up my baby and sent her to a company called Solectron in Memphis. I left town on Thursday (to Madison, Wisc. — my first visit; great town), and got home by late Friday morning. There she was waiting for me, my smart little machine, all fixed up by someone halfway across the country, at a cost to me of $0.00, the entire transaction taking about 36 hours.

I wish IBM made more things so I could buy them and know that if something went wrong, the repair process would always be this good.

This is the best customer service I’ve ever encountered in my life.

Maybe IBM should be running a few other three-letter outfits. Let’s start with the DMV, CIA, TSA, and move on from there.


I think at this point, Lenovo is operating independently from IBM, aside from borrowing the IBM badge.

/Visited the IBM campus in RTP, NC, last fall.


Why is the co-author of Freakonomics buying overpriced insurance/warranty for a computer?!

Tim Hartford wrote, "There is plenty of overpriced insurance around, always bundled with some other product. A popular cell phone retailer will insure your $90 phone for $1.70 a week—nearly $90 a year. The fair price of the insurance is probably closer to $9 a year than $90. Economists are rarely tub-thumping consumer-rights activists. We tend to believe that people are smart enough to fend for themselves. But the commercial success of this kind of insurance is perplexing. The pricing is grotesquely inflated ... "


I had the opposite experience one year ago. I sent my laptop into IBM; they sent it back, unfixed (though the two problems were immediately obvious to anyone who tried to turn on the computer or use the mouse). I called to complain, they sent another box, I sent it back. They sent it back, still unfixed. I called to complain again, and the person on the line told me that the problem might be with the hard drive, and they didn't have authority to replace that (though I had, in fact, signed a form explicitly authorizing them to do so). Finally I took it to an authorized service provider who fixed both the hard drive and the mouse problems. After similar problems with IBM service a few months ago, I've pretty much sworn off the company.


I was always hoping IBM would take over my universities IT department...


elith: sounds like they'd be perfect for the DMV, TSA and CIA.

How 'bout we just dump the DMV and the TSA, and . . . well probably the CIA too. The probably aren't the real international intelligence agency the US gov uses anyway.


I had to send my now-dead IBM laptop in twice during its warranty period, and experienced the same great service. After having had some bad experiences with Dell support, IBM's quality came as a very pleasant surprise.


I got the same 24 hour turn-arouns from Dell. Dell has some kind of deal that I read about a long time ago. If I remember correctly, UPS has set up a group of computer technicians for them and they fix products quickly and return them to you. It is a way for UPS to provide more services to its customers, like Dell. They also replaced products if you wish them to be replaced. I had a flat screen on my almost 3 year old desktop computer go black... the black screen of death... and they sent a new one the next day. The night I called they said they might not be able to service me in 24 hours because I was not a business account, but they came through in less time and I just unpacked the new one, hooked up, and tested it, repacked the old one and called UPS to come get it that afternoon, which they did. It cost me nothing, not even shipping. I'll continue to buy my computers at Dell and I love the service agreements which free me from hsving to deal with many sub-standard, fly-by-night computer outfits and the whims of better ones locally who realize they have a captive audience and treat you that way. Dell has always treated me as if I am one of their best customers and am important to them.



Apple has always been great about laptop repair via the express mail "they send you an empty box and you send it back" method. It is great because you get to decide when you'll be without your machine, and they are very prompt. This was in stark contrast to Sony. I had a number of horrible experiences with my old Sony laptops (took forever to repair, so I would wait until five or ten things were broken before sending them back since the repair was such a hassle, and most annoyingly, their warranty phone support couldn't tell you where the machine was or when you would get it back during the three or more weeks it was gone.) For a desktop, if something breaks, you can usually swap out the problematic piece easily, but for a laptop, it is not usually feasible. I have a stable of laptops for my students and postdocs and those Apple laptops have not only held up well with heavy and not-gentle use, but when something has gone wrong, service has been quick and fantastic. And "Firewire target mode" makes it trivial to do a brain transplant from one machine to another before sending it in or after it comes back. I liked those tiny Sony laptops, but the workmanship and repair were so terrible that I'll be sticking with Apple for the forseeable future.



Consumer Reports says Apple has the best tech support, as well as being less susceptible to viruses and spyware. Another nice thing is I can take it into a local Apple store and they can fix a lot of things right there.


You were in Madison and you didn't say so? Man... you should have said something -- it'd have been great to meet you.


I recently switched to a Mac but before that all my laptops were IBM Thinkpads and I never had anything but excellent customer service (polite, knowledgeable, actually seemed to care) and no-hassle repairs.


Yay! See how great customer service can be with an organization that has an incentive to be nice to it's customers? It's the beauty of the market.

You're never going to get that with the DMV, TSA, or CIA. Government forever dooms us to long line, obese & annoyed clerks, intrusive searches (that fail that finding bombs anyway) and the Guantanamo Hotel.


I think this is all Lenovo. My experience with IBM (right before Lenovo bought their consumer business) has been the exact opposite.

We bought about 30 servers from them, the salesperson assured us that they'd be shipped on time to us. A week after the date they had quoted, nothing. We called in and asked what was going on, and they said the order was top priority. About a week later, nothing. We called in and inquired about the order again. Our sales person assured us that our order would be top priority and would ship immediately. About a month past the original date, machines started arriving in groups of 2-6. About 7 weeks after our original quoted date, we had all of the servers we had paid for.

This happened again about 6 months later, albeit only 4 weeks overdue instead of 7. Not sure what was going on with IBM. Could have been hectic since their desktop market was being bought by Lenovo, might have been our sales person, might have been something else. Either way we switched vendors and have never had a similar problem.

I think you should be thanking Lenovo, not IBM for the excellent service.



It's a Lenovo but it reads IBM... You plugged the computer before turning it on, right?



I've had the same service from Apple on my PowerBooks, and they've been great about turning it around within a day.

On the other hand my Nikon camera (which, with lenses, is more expensive than the PowerBook), takes 3-4 weeks to repair, and I have to pay the shipping.

That's ridiculous.


I'm with tigerblade...don't stop in Madison again without letting us know, we'll show you the town! As for your computer...I'm a Toshiba man. :-)


Not to invoke Godwin's Law, but didn't IBM help organize the final solution for Hitler? Maybe they should stick to laptop repair.


I think it's pretty dangerous to advocate a "consumer" designation for say, people protected by the CIA. We are "citizens" first and our consumption of resources should always be secondary. What beef do you have with the CIA anyway? How have they wronged you?

I know there are some ideologues within Anarcho-Capitalism that want to privatize everything under the sun- I think that's fairly stupid and is extremely short sighted. I wouldn't want the US's nuclear program in the hands of GE, or the IRS's tax collection duties in the hands of Gallup, simply because a private organization has a good customer relations setup.

The TSA, the CIA and the DMV have absolutely nothing to do with IBM's pro-profit motivation. Government services are legitimated because they are manifestations of the people's will- IBM is a manifestation of one person's will for profit that has the backing of thousands of investors who front money for its operation... for profit.

Don't be an anarcho-capitalist Dubner- they're the ones destroying the republic.



I agree with Ravager. This post was nothing more than a subtle attempt to advocoate privatization under the guise of a Freakonomics-style post about customer service. More economics + less politics on this blog please.


Anarcho-capitalists are ruining our lives!