09 September 2018

A geeky rant about computers and customer service

I've been having a lot of trouble with my laptop computer for two or three weeks now. It has been time-consuming and frustrating. It's actually not the computer itself — it works just fine. The trouble has to do with getting the battery re-charged. Except for that issue, I like the laptop a lot. I thought I might have to buy a new one from Amazon in the U.K., and that was going to cost me six or seven hundred euros. Or I could make the trip to the U.S. to buy a new one over there

For some reason, the cord that runs from the power block to the computer was loose in the socket in the side of the computer. That's been the case for months. Suddenly the laptop screen would go dark, and I'd realize that the battery was almost completely discharged. If I jiggled the cord in the socket, I could get it working again. But it wasn't making a good, steady contact, so it kept coming loose again. I dreaded seeing the screen go dark while I was working on the computer, writing a blog post or doing whatever.

This is a laptop that I bought in the U.S. about 18 months ago. I bought it there rather than here in France for two reasons: computers are considerably less expensive in the States than in France, and the U.S. laptop comes with an American keyboard layout. I'm not ready to learn a new keyboard layout. I learned the French one many years ago, back when we used not computers but little manual typewriters. I was living in Paris.

After three years typing on a French typewriter, when I went back to the U.S. in 1982 I had to re-learn the U.S keyboard. It took a while, and it was frustrating. In January 1983, I went to work with my friend CHM in Washington DC. We prepared the French translation of a magazine published by the U.S. government for readers in French-speaking Africa. We edited and prepared the articles on computer terminals that had the American keyboard. Typing was what I did for a living (along with writing and editing).

I won't go into all the differences between French and American keyboards, but they are just different enough that it's complicated to switch from one to the other if you are a touch typist (and even if you're not). Are you aware that every country has it's own keyboard layout? The American and British keyboards have just minor differences in key placement. The French Canadian and the French French keyboards are even more different from each other. (And so on. Compared to the American keyboard, the French keyboard has the A key where the Q key is, and vice-versa. Same with the W and the Z. The M and the comma are indifferent positions. You have to shift to type numbers or a period. And so on. Using a French keyboard can drive you batty for months, until you get used to it.)

Anyway, because the laptop I use to "author" this blog is an American model, it has no warranty in France. And parts for it are not easy to find. I opened up the laptop a couple of weeks ago and examined the connector that runs between the external socket and the laptop's internal battery. It turned out to be a six-inch-long cable with the socket on one end of it and a plug on the other. (Photo on left with teaspoon for scale.)

I wrote down the part number of the little cable and started searching for a replacement cable on line. I couldn't find one in France. I found one on Amazon.com in the U.S. but when I tried to order it the site informed me that it couldn't be shipped to an address outside the U.S. I found one on E-bay but then found out that the seller was inactive because he or she was on vacation (it was an American). Finally, I found one available from a company in Bordeaux, and I ordered it. It came the next day. But it was the wrong cable, with a different part number.

Finally, I took the laptop to the local computer store, a small business called Aidicom. There, I attempted to explain the situation. The young clerk immediately started lecturing me about everything I was doing wrong. French people are like that when it comes to customer service. "The customer is always wrong" is their attitude. He told me the power supply I was using was not the right one. It was a 45-watt unit, and a laptop like mine needed a 65-watt charger. He was wrong about that, by the way. And then he said it was a really bad idea to leave the charger plugged in all the time. It needed to be unplugged every time the laptop was idle.

The man seemed determined not to listen to my explanation of the problem I was having until I rudely cut him off and almost shouted at him. It told him that none of what he said had anything to do with the problem. It was just a loose connection. He backed off and said he would try to find the defective part for me. Nearly a week later, he called me and said he couldn't find it. I went back over the computer store and told him I had found the cable on the website of a company in Bordeaux. I didn't tell him I had already ordered it but had received the wrong cable from that company.

Another week went by. I went back to the computer store. He said the part had been ordered. When I had ordered it, the package came in just 24 hours. I'm not sure why it took a week for the Bordeaux company to send the cable to Aidicom. Meanwhile I kept having to jiggle and tinker with the power cord on the laptop to keep it charging the battery. Sometimes I was convinced it was not ever going to work again, unless I got the replacement connector cable. But each time, after jiggling the cord for half an hour or so it would suddenly connect and I'd be back in business. I just tried to be careful not to touch the cord so that it would stay connected.

Finally, after two weeks of all this, the man at Aidicom called and said the part had arrived. I took the computer over there and left it for a few hours. A technician installed the new cable (I could have done it myself, but never mind...) and wonder of wonders, it worked. Of course, Aidicom charged me 55 euros for the repair, when the cable cost only 15 euros according to the Bordeaux company's web site. Anyway, until I saw it, I wasn't convinced it ever would. Two day later it's still working fine. I haven't yet put the 20 or 25 screws back into the laptop's back plate so that it's all back to normal. I'll try to do that this morning. Wish me luck.

30 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. After that initial run-in, the clerk at Aidicom was helpful, even though everything went pretty slowly. He certainly knows who I am now.

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  2. Never a dull moment with computers. If it's not one thing, it's another. Glad you were able to fix it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, just in case.

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    1. Noww I have a weird pixel defect in the screen. At least it's on the upper left corner and not right in the middle.

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  3. These things are really annoying; good luck, Ken!

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    1. I'm right back where I started from. I have to jiggle and tweak the plug to get the thing to start charging the battery. Sigh...

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    2. Do you have the energy for another argument? At least you speak French fluently. Pity the poor schmuck who only has a basic vocabulary.

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    3. This is one of those dilemmas where you wonder if it's worth throwing good money after bad. Do I buy a new power supply for the laptop and hope it works better than the one I already have? Or do I just throw in the towel and buy a new laptop? If I didn't need the laptop for doing the blog, I would just let it go. So I could just stop blogging. At the same time, writing a blog post every day has become as important to me as the daily walk in the vineyard with the dog.

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  4. i went thru the same thing in past few months.....computer guy here replaced something in the innards and now it works...i think it cost about $50......also my last laptop had the pixel problem....then i ended up jut getting a new laptop as the cost wouldnt have been worth it

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    1. I'm thinking I might have to buy a new laptop. I've looked into buying a replacement screen from amazon.com but guess what... amazon won't ship it to France. The screen I need doesn't seem to be available in France or the U.K. Sigh...

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    2. Could you get it from amazon,de, Ken? That's where we (in NL) buy. I could even buy it for you and forward it to France if they don't deliver to France. Might be worth checking.

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  5. I suspect (hope) that French customer service is starting to improve. I've had some good experiences (at 2 opticians), although I've never had to deal with anything technical like you did.
    As to a French keyboard, back several years ago, before widespread WiFi, I used a computer at a shop offering Internet connections. It really was a pain just writing simple emails.

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    1. Been there, done that, Bob. I remember going to internet cafés in France in years past and trying to write e-mails on a French keyboard. Sheer frustration. Writing blog posts on one would be just as frustrating. Maybe there's a way to get a U.S.-layout keyboard replacement and install it on a laptop purchased in France.

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    2. See my post above - the keyboard in our laptops are qwerty (not azerty). Mine is always set to US-English layout. The offer stands. ;)

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    3. A lot of the items I buy on amazon.fr are shipped from Germany. Looking into buying from amazon.de is a good idea. I used to be able to read German pretty well, but I've forgotten a lot over the years because I don't use German enough. Thanks for the reminder.

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    4. If I remember correctly, you can even set the language on amazon.de to English nowadays. ;) It's not always very good - and interspersed with German - but it makes it a little easier/more accessible. :)

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  6. Can you order from amazon and have them send it to your sister or to a friend in the US who would mail it to you?
    So sorry for all this irritation for you.

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    1. I've done this before, but I don't want to impose on people.

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  7. I've got two old laptops that I rarely use and I keep them plugged in all the time. One is an old XP and the other is a Windows 7. Should I not do that? The windows 7 one has a lot of documents on it and thankfully one that I had to use last week. I haven't tried converting the .wps files to word. I read somewhere the free downloads sometimes have viruses attached to them and so I never bothered with it. I do use them for sort of a backup for photos. I have a lot of photos on them. I have more computers than I need and fly by the seat of pants. I don't know what I would do without YouTube! ūüėé Loving my MacMini and iPads even though the Mac and I have a test of wills weekly!

    I order books and products that come from England all the time from Amazon. I ordered some chimes not too long ago that came from Russia. Nothing surprises when me it is shipped from China. It is rather surprising that we can order products that is shipped from France. I was checking out a few things recently. Of course, the shipping was a tad on the expensive side, so I saved it for another day.

    Don't know if you've checked the weather for NC, but things are not looking so good for the coast with some of the projected tracks of Florence. The projections are pretty adamant about it being a Cat 4 possibly 5. Hoping for the best!

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  8. Next time you need something from US Amazon, you can have it shipped to us and we'll forward it to you.

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    1. Thank you Tom. I might take you up on that offer if I decide I need to buy a new screen for the laptop. In other words, if the string of defective pixels gets worse. I'll let you know.

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  9. Typewriters were so much easier.
    If you need something smallish from Amazon in the US and they won't ship, ask one of us. We could get it and transship for you. Or bring it in the luggage if someone is crossing soon.

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  10. If you buy a new laptop, at least mine can be set for French or English keyboard, maybe others but I haven't tried. It also has a virtual French keyboard that I can pop into when I want to use accent marks and special characters, which I used to have to do using the character map.

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    1. In Windows, you can set the keyboard layout you prefer, but you're still stuck with the physical keyboard and key layout on the laptop. If you want to type an unusual or special character and you look at the keyboard to find it, you're out of luck. I use the US-International keyboard layout on my computers. It makes typing accented characters pretty easy. You might look into it.

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  11. Just now reading this saga- sorry for such angst! I hope you get the problem solved asap. I am addicted to my laptop....

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