Reliability and Service: Readers Rate the Manufacturers

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Printers: From Terrific to Terrible

Even after "little plastic parts started coming out from [my Lexmark printer]," persuading the rep to replace it took too long. --John Howard, sandwich shop manager, Billings, Montana
Photograph: David Scott Smith

Your experience with your printer may vary a lot depending on who manufactured it--that's the clear message from printer owners. Canon got glowing marks in the reliability measures, whereas Lexmark got disappointing scores almost across the board.

Only 11 percent of Canon owners reported having a problem that affected the printer's usefulness. In contrast, 21 percent of Lexmark owners reported such a problem. The overall mean was 16 percent. On the service side, Lexmark received the only worse-than-average score in phone support. Meanwhile, Canon earned the only better-than-average mark for tech-support hold time. Just what is it that Canon is doing right?

Larry Hardin, director and assistant general manager of the consumer printer division, says that Canon runs only one call center, located in the United States, which ensures that customer feedback gets heard quickly and that support quality stays high. "Because we have total control of the call center," he says, "we have control over the customer experience." He adds that Canon, unlike some companies, manufactures its own printers.

Lexmark Complaints

Lexmark users voiced the most displeasure among printer owners, citing numerous reliability concerns and the least satisfaction with their overall service experience. One unhappy Lexmark printer owner is John Howard, who manages a Subway sandwich shop near Billings, Montana. Howard's all-in-one X73 printer had some paper jams, which Lexmark's tech support helped him resolve. But a few days after that, the unit stopped printing and made a grinding noise. On the phone, a Lexmark representative told him to try reinstalling the drivers. But the situation worsened.

"Little plastic parts started coming out from the machine," Howard says. "I said, 'I have plastic pieces here.' [The rep] tried to tell me, 'Well as long as everything is working, that's fine.' I said, 'No, that's not fine. Send a repairperson or a new machine.'" Lexmark eventually sent him a new printer, but Howard says persuading the rep to send the replacement took too long. He adds that the rep, though courteous, didn't seem knowledgeable, and seemed to want to stick to a script.

When we got in touch with Lexmark regarding Howard's exasperating experience, the company noted that it had launched a number of new call centers in the first half of 2003, and that Howard may have reached a support rep who didn't have much experience. "If you had parts [coming] out of the printer, that warrants a replacement," says Kent Jackson, Lexmark's vice president of total quality and customer satisfaction. "The rep should have been quicker to get to the replacement."

Jackson says that Lexmark's own surveys show satisfaction with reliability and service has been improving since early 2004. Lexmark has no plans to change its mix of call centers, some of which are in North America and some of which are offshore, including several in India.

Xerox: Mixed News

Xerox received worse-than-average grades on such reliability measures as ease of use, satisfaction with reliability, and severe problems requiring a call to tech support; 29 percent of Xerox users reported a problem in one of these measures, compared with an overall mean of 8.6 percent. It's worth noting that 61 percent of Xerox printer owners told us they have a laser model, whereas for vendors such as Canon, HP, and Lexmark the majority of respondents said they have inkjet printers. Still, Xerox did not do as well on reliability measures as did other vendors, including Konica Minolta, Okidata, and Samsung, about which readers also gave mostly laser-printer responses.

On our service measures, Xerox received the only better-than-average grade among printer vendors for resolution of problems. Only 5.7 percent of Xerox customers encountered problems that were unresolved; the overall mean here was 19 percent.

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