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Exclusive A quarterly report on emails sent to HP chief exec Carly Fiorina reveals growing dissatisfaction among users about the company's outsourced support services.

Fiorina makes herself available for email feedback from customers through a Web form on HP's site.

Although customers aren't guaranteed a reply to every message, a report summarising the messages shows that their comments, however critical, are taken on board.

The overall volume of email messages sent to Carly via the Web form during Q4 2002 was 6,143, we learn from the leaked report (which is described as "HP Restricted"). This mail volume, surely only a percentage of all the email HP's boss receives from customers, is up by more than 50 per cent on the previous quarter.

Four in five of the comments received through "E-mail Carly" during Q4 relate to consumer products (PCs, printers and imaging equipment). Most were complaints,
or, as the report puts it: "Customers resort to e-mailing Carly for help because they were unsuccessful at getting resolution through regular customer service channels."

More worrying, customer praise in emails to the company's CEO decreased from 16 per cent to 10 per cent over the quarter.

This drop is partly explained by an upsurge in complaints about HP's outsourced support services, a point highlighted in a summary of the messages through the "Email Carly" route.

The report states:

When HP began outsourcing phone support to India a few month's ago there was a noticeable increase in complaints specific to this issue. There is a growing perception among US customers that HP has become 'anti-American' as it continues to outsource support to countries outside of the U.S. in order to reduce costs. In addition to having difficulty understanding the accent, customers say that they are often treated rudely, laughed at, put on hold for an unreasonable amount of time, hung up on, etc. and agents appear to have a general lack of technical and product knowledge. Customers who have already purchased an extended warranty are required to pay $35 for an additional warranty before they can receive support. Customers challenge the "ethics" of this practice.

This could have an effect on customer loyalty and tarnish HP's reputation, the report warns.

A lack of confidence is mentioned in numerous messages due to customers' experiences with outsourced, first-tier customer service representatives, inconsistent support, warranty policies and difficulties in general dealing with HP. Customer perception is that they are no longer thinking of HP as being trustworthy, reliable and quality-conscious. They say they are willing to pay more for products for these attributes, but if they aren't going to receive them then they'll buy elsewhere where the service is better. Also, canned e-mail support has a tendency not to answer the customers' concerns and sends them back to the Web site where they already came from feeling frustrated.

Around 20 excerpts from customer emails are used to support these assessments. They will make uncomfortable reading for HP's consumer product managers, who can access the report on the company's Intranet. ®

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External Links

Web forum thread discussing support issues with HP's Tablet PC

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