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HP Tumbles

HP's bad report card surprised us, particularly since readers seemed reasonably upbeat about the vendor two years ago. Though pinpointing the exact cause of HP's downfall is difficult, some analysts suspect that the vendor may be a victim of its own success. In the past two years, HP has leapfrogged Dell to become the world's most prolific PC maker, with much of its growth due to rapid expansion into consumer markets, where novice users typically need a lot of assistance. "It may be that HP is now exposed to a larger range of consumers, rather than just corporate accounts, as was the case a few years ago," says Gartner's Silliman.

"That's part of the story, but that's not an excuse," responds HP's Kahler. "If you can build enough products to grow, you should be prepared to support that many products." HP has made a large investment over the past year to improve its support operations, Kahler says, taking steps to add support staff, reduce hold times for phone help, improve the English-language skills of its overseas tech reps (and of its third-party support providers), and find better component suppliers. Kahler wouldn't say how much HP is spending on the efforts, nor how many support staffers the company is adding. The improvements are ongoing, he says, and the first set of changes were launched in September 2007.

Better support will certainly come as good news to HP customer Glen Ulrici of Richmond, Virginia. Ulrici reports that he's generally pleased with his Compaq laptop, which he has owned for two and a half years. But though he's contacted HP regarding only a few minor tech issues during that time, Ulrici feels that the vendor's support has declined. "It's the language barrier, the voice inflection and words--it's a struggle to get through," says Ulrici, who would rather chat online via keyboard with a tech rep to remove accents from the equation. "Chat works really well with HP."

Meanwhile, IDC analyst Matt Healey, who covers software and hardware support services, is surprised by HP's poor showing in customer support. "They have a very good track record on the enterprise side across multiple products," Healey says.

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