Sys Technology spokesperson Ace Garin says that over the last six months IAI’s tech support service had gone from bad to worse to unacceptable. By the end of last year, Garin says, consumers were lucky to get through to IAI at all. He maintains that IAI failed to fulfill its contractual obligation to supply on-site and telephone tech support of acceptable quality to Sys Technology customers.
“We received numerous complaints from customers about the quality of service IAI supplied,” the Sys spokesperson says. “We finally told IAI we weren’t going to pay them unless tech support got better.”
Sys stopped paying IAI in December, hoping that IAI would improve its service in order to get paid, Garin says. But that didn’t happen, so in February Sys hired a new company, Source Support, to handle the job, Garin says. However, warranty information for Sys Technology systems sold in the previous 18 months directed customers to call IAI for software and hardware support, according to Garin.
Meanwhile, in early February Sys moved from Cypress, California, to new offices in City of Industry, California. The 30-mile move followed Sys’s merger with PC parts maker Axper Technology. Both companies are owned by Gigatrend Technology of Taipei, Taiwan, and the merged entity retained Axper Technology’s name.
Garin says that for seven weeks after the move–from February 7 to late March–Sys was not equipped to receive sales or tech support calls from the public, and therefore did not post its new phone numbers on its Web site. Garin blames “human error” for the company’s failure to post a notice on its Web site to explain the disconnect messages on the old phone numbers.
Glen Simmons, president of IAI, tells a somewhat different story about the dispute between IAI and Sys. He denies that IAI’s support was subpar, and says that although Sys stopped paying its bills in December, IAI continues to this day to provide Sys PC owners with telephone tech support. However, IAI says it stopped honoring warranties for on-site service on February 4, after Simmons visited Sys’s offices and was told the company would not be paying its outstanding bills.
“If a company stops paying the bills, we simply can’t afford to continue offering [on-site] tech support for them,” Simmons says, adding that he was willing to allow his reps to assist Sys customers over the phone because he felt sorry for them.
Simmons says he instructed his employees to tell customers that Sys Technology had gone out of business a few days after his visit to the company’s office, when he was unable to contact Sys officials at the company’s old phone numbers. “Sys dropped off the map,” Simmons says. “We thought the company was out of business.”
Simmons says he didn’t realize that Sys had simply moved, until a week or so later, when a customer who had tracked down Sys at its new location told IAI of Sys’s whereabouts. “When I called [Sys] at their new place of business, they refused to discuss the matter [nonpayment of IAI’s bills],” Simmons wrote in an e-mail message.
The dispute between Sys and IAI highlights problems that consumers can encounter when computer makers outsource tech support to third parties.
Complaints and Threats
Sys Technology’s Garin acknowledges that dozens of customers have called over the past three months to complain or to threaten to sue Sys because of substandard support, but he blames IAI’s poor service. Records at private and public consumer agencies suggest that Sys Technology customers have, for the most part, been pleased with the company for the past three years, which is as far back as the reports go.
California Better Business Bureau reports, for example, show that over the past three years Sys Technology has resolved four complaints submitted to the BBB, leaving only one recent complaint outstanding. The company maintains a positive rating with the BBB.
According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, no Sys Technology customers have filed complaints with the state in the past three years.
Meanwhile, the Nevada BBB has logged nine complaints about IAI over the past three years, which the agency considers an “unsatisfactory” record. According to the BBB report, IAI has made no attempt to resolve these complaints, which range from contract workers’ allegations that IAI did not pay them to consumers’ claims that IAI failed to honor extended warranties they purchased from IAI for their PCs.
According to Simmons, as a matter of policy, IAI had not addressed BBB complaints because doing so would take too much time, and because he was skeptical about the agency’s procedures. However, since PC World first contacted IAI, Simmons says he has changed the policy and will be investigating complaints against his company filed with the BBB.
The Nevada Consumer Affairs Division reports no complaints on file for IAI in the past year.
Lights Out–Anybody Home?
At least some of Sys Technology’s problems appear to result from its failure to update its Web site with new phone numbers when it relocated, or to at least provide an explanation for the disconnect messages on the old numbers. Sys says that on February 21 it e-mailed its new contact information to some 18,000 customers who had provided an e-mail address when they bought or registered their PCs. The e-mail message included the new phone numbers, even though the company sent it at a time when Garin says the phone system still wasn’t working well enough to handle calls from the public. Garin says including the new numbers in the e-mail was also a mistake.
On March 21, a new general telephone number appeared on Sys Technology’s Web site, and company representatives answered the phone promptly. But during the seven weeks when customers couldn’t reach Sys via published phone numbers, some of those PC owners didn’t know what to think. “When the phones went dead, I figured I was on my own,” says Gary Bigger of Shelton, Washington. Like Starin, Shelton gave up on his Sys PC’s warranty and paid $168 to have his PC fixed locally.
“We apologize for any inconveniences and urge anyone who has any problems with our systems to contact us,” Garin says.
The phone support issues, Garin adds, should diminish as Sys’s warranty contracts with IAI expire over the next six months, and as fewer Sys customers expect free tech support from IAI for their under-warranty machines. In the meantime, Garin says customers who don’t get satisfactory support when they call the supplied Sys tech support number should call the general toll-free number, 866/834-9155, and press 0 to connect to the company’s operator and ask for him specifically.