The Obsolete Gamer Show: Episode 8

Build vs Buy PCs
Build vs Buy PCs

The topic of building a pc or having it built for you is not new, in fact I wrote about that very subject earlier this year. However we wanted to ask some of the people who make a living offering custom built systems what they thought of the building versus buying debate and so we reached out and ended up having three great conversations on the subject.

We began the show with my recounting my first showing up at the Red-Eye Lan party with my Compaq PC and being almost laughed out of the building and from there learned that being a real gamer meant building your own PC. Then I began working at Alienware and from that side I saw how having a great team put together and support your own rig is pretty awesome in itself. Both Ignacio and I agreed that while it is true that almost anyone can put together a system it takes a little bit more to build a great gaming or high end PC and if you can find a good company who will offer you support and a reasonable price then why not go for it.

We wanted to get our guests take on it and were happy to be joined by Chris Morley, chief technical officer for Maingear PC, Justin Melendez, co-founder of LanSlide PC and John Blain, consumer public relations for Dell/Alienware.

Each company has a different way of doing things, but the overall goal is the same and that is to give the customer the best computer they can at a price they can afford with a support staff they can depend on. In fact they will tell you that if you have a love of building a PC then go for it. However, it is not for everyone and if you decide you want a well-built system then do you research and be informed before you make your final choice.

Obsolete Gamer would like to thank our guests for coming on the show and we covered much more than just PC building and buying. So have a listen and tell us what you think.

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LanSlide PC – Free Gaming Computer Help

my computer crashed again
my computer crashed again

LanSlide PC

It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned computer user or brand new to the world of PC’s at one time or another you will need some help. Unfortunately there are countless stories about outsourced and uninformed support centers that leave you more frustrated than when you started. Many companies are now claiming they will provide you the best support if you buy from them. Others will charge you extra if you want premium support, but here is something we haven’t seen in a while, a company willing to offer help, for free, no strings attached.

LanSlide PC’s are offering help to anyone with a computer question regardless of if you purchased a system from them or not. They have created a section on their website where you can submit questions on anything computer related from buying to building and maintaining. Once you submit your issues someone from LanSlide will contact you within 48 hours and that is all there is to it.

We had to look into this because many people have complained that it takes longer than 48 hours to get a response from a big name corporation. Also, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t any trickery going on. It is a rule on the net that if its free it costs too much because you will end up worse than you started but Justin Melendez from LanSlide PC’s assures us it is on the up and up and agreed to address our concerns and answer our questions.

Lanslide Gaming PCs logo
Lanslide Gaming PCs logo

Obsolete Gamer: This does sound like a great idea, but the first question is the one you mentioned in your press release. What is the main reasoning behind this new program?

Justin Melendez: That’s a good question! It’s one we’ve asked ourselves many times over the last few weeks. To be honest, it just seemed like something people would like. We gave a talk at Connecticon about how to build, buy, or fix gaming computers, and we told everyone there that they should feel free to e-mail us for help. The response was so positive; we thought we’d try opening it up to everyone and see how it goes. From our point of view, doing positive stuff for the gaming community will pay off in the long run, so we’re not worrying too much about what will happen in the short term. If you want to get technical, the idea is that building trust by helping people will help the business, and we think this is the sort of thing that could take off virally very well.

 

Obsolete Gamer: It is certainly true that many people cannot build their own PC. Do you think your program can help those that have never built one before?

Justin Melendez: Our service is open-ended enough to help anyone, though how we help really depends on their level of experience and comfort. For someone coming to us asking how to build a gaming computer with no technical knowledge at all, we would answer as much as we could and point them in the right direction to continue learning. A lot of people really just don’t know where to start, so our goal with them is to get them over the initial barriers to building the machine and be there for them along the way as they have questions. For someone who knows something about what they want but has simply never started a computer from scratch before, we’ll be able to be more detailed and guide them through more of the process.

Obsolete Gamer: How deep do you plan to help someone? For instance, if they need help from step 1 to step 100, how would you handle that?

Justin Melendez: Steps 1 through 11 will be free of charge. However, steps 12 through 100 will require them to perform odd favors for us, such as sending us pictures of them wearing silly hats or mailing us postcards from random locations. In all seriousness, though, we’re here to help as much as we can. If someone has general questions about building, buying, or fixing a gaming computer, we’ll answer them as fully as possible. If someone has a very specific question about step 34 of some process, we’ll do our best to help them with their specific situation. In general, though, we’re not always going to be able to cover everything in one e-mail. In those cases, we’ll give them the information they need to get started and ask them to come back to us as they need assistance.

Obsolete Gamer: What about those who build custom rigs all the time, what can you offer them?

Justin Melendez: Even experienced users have a question or need a second opinion from time to time. In general, our staff is going to be more up-to-date on the latest gaming components than your average user, so even people who build custom rigs on a regular basis will find our service helpful. On a separate note, one of the major benefits to buying a computer from a company is having computer support available in case of trouble. People who build their own systems don’t have access to that, so this is a great solution for them when they need troubleshooting help.

Obsolete Gamer: What steps have you taken so you are not flooded with questions from those just wanting free support?

Justin Melendez: None whatsoever! The simple answer is that we hope that people WILL think of this as their personal support line. This service isn’t just to help people build computers, but to answer any questions anyone has about gaming computers in general. Whether that’s fixing, buying or building, we’re happy to help.  We’re tossing this out there for free with the hope that word of mouth will spread it around, so that lots of people will be left with a positive impression of what LanSlide Gaming PCs is all about. The hope is that growth on the free computer help page will eventually lead to an increase in sales and allow us to continue offering the service for free. At the moment, we’re just putting this out there and seeing how it goes.

Obsolete Gamer: Would you say that many people can “assemble” a system, but few know how to take the time to fully research, shop for, and then “build” and “maintain” a custom system?

Justin Melendez: Assembling is probably the easiest part of building a computer. Not everyone is comfortable with it, but it is something almost anyone could learn to do. But, as the question implies, the research, configuration, and maintenance of a custom computer is definitely where the majority of the work comes in. When we go around and give talks about building your own computer, we spend most of the time on these aspects because they’re the most complex and often the hardest to learn about. So yes, I’d have to agree with the statement above.

Obsolete Gamer: Is it just about cost, finding the lowest price parts that work together, or is optimization the key to building a good, long lasting system?

Justin Melendez: The lowest price parts are often the ones that cost you the most. You need to balance many things when choosing your parts, but the most important elements of compatibility and quality are the ones that will govern how well your system works, how long it lasts, and how much trouble you’ll have when setting it up. That’s the primary message we try to drive home when advising people on how to begin their build: choose parts that are going to work together from the beginning, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. Of course, that’s what we do for all the systems we build, and avoiding these difficulties is a major reason people choose to buy their computers from us.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you think having a program such as this will hurt your business or custom PC shops in general?

Justin Melendez: At first, it might seem like helping people build their own computers or educating them about buying computers so they avoid buying parts they don’t really need would be detrimental to a gaming computer company. However, our stance is that a more educated public is a good thing for PC gaming overall. The PC world is often fraught with frustration, and we believe that helping people make good decisions about their computing needs will make them happier in the long run and lead to more positive experiences gaming on the PC. We also hope that having a central location where people can go to for their problems will be a boon to the community and encourage more people to game on the PC.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you think custom builders such as yourself are unfairly attacked by those who build their own system for what amounts to wanting to turn a profit?

Justin Melendez: It’s really a matter of personal opinion. Some people feel very strongly about this issue, and that’s fine. Most people understand that building your own machine is not for everyone, and it’s really up to each individual to decide what makes the most sense for them. A lot of people just want to use their computers, not spend time maintaining them, and those people often prefer coming to a builder like us. On another note, we agree with a lot of the points of the attackers, which is part of why we founded LanSlide in the first place. Many computer builders are overpriced and try to sell you things that you don’t really need. While we offer any configuration anyone could want, we will always recommend a more sensible setup that suits the needs of the user over something that’s going to put more money in our pockets.

Obsolete Gamer: What is your take on the eternal build versus buy debate?

Justin Melendez: There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you build your own machine, you’re likely going to get it cheaper than if you buy one, but you won’t have access to things like warranties and the customer support that comes with buying a computer from an established company. If you buy a computer, you’re likely going to pay more for the expertise that comes into play when assembling and configuring the machine; however, you won’t have to go through the headache of putting it together yourself or returning parts that aren’t compatible or are defective. Another plus is that you can be guaranteed that it will work out of the box, and, if it doesn’t, it’s someone else’s problem. So really, it comes down to personal preference and level of comfort.

I must say I like the idea of a group of people helping the gaming community to make it a better place and it looks as if the folks over at LanSlide Gaming PC’s are doing just that. So if you find yourself with a gaming computer question you should give them a try and let us know what you thought of the experience.

Obsolete Gamer would like to thank Justin and everyone at LanSlide PC’s for talking with us.

The Death of Customer Service – The Better Business Bureau III

Social Media logos
Social Media logos

The internet and almost instant access to information have changed our lives greatly over the last ten years. Today anyone can create a website or blog and connect with thousands if not millions of people. Often when someone feels they were mistreated they will turn to their blogs to tell anyone and everyone about it. In the past this action was mainly ignored by companies, but with social outlets such as Facebook and Twitter many companies created teams dedicated to seeking out issues on the net and solving them before they spread.

In part two of the series we talked about step 3, 4 and 5 from the eight steps important to being a member of the BBB.

  1. Build Trust
  2. Advertise Honestly
  3. Tell the Truth
  4. Be Transparent
  5. Honor Promises
  6. Be Responsive
  7. Safeguard Privacy
  8. Embody Integrity

Moving on to step six, Be Responsive, we devle into one of the main issues with companies and their responses to the BBB. Most of the time if you have an issue with a company, in this case a computer company, and you file a BBB complaint it will be sent to the company and directed to the person or persons in charge of the BBB complaint department.

Many larger companies create templates to respond to BBB complaints, but this is not just to save time. There are certain words or phrases that if sent to the BBB will be accepted as being responsive even if the overall issue was not solved.

For example if your system arrived damaged, but you did not report it within a certain time frame for whatever reason many companies will not be able to file a claim with the shipper. In this case they will tell you that due to you not informing them of the damage there is nothing they can do for you.

If you were to write to the BBB about this all the company would have to do is reply with a canned answer about the policy of the company and the policy of the shipper. They do not even have to reference your specific case. This will be accepted by the BBB and even if you file a rebuttal all they need to do is respond with the same answer and again it would be accepted. This is called ping ponging because this can go back and forth indefinably.

Many companies do not fear the BBB because it is easy to remain compliant which is why if you find a company that has a non-compliance with the BBB you know they have issues. Even large companies that receive many BBB complaints can have one agent answer them all due to the use of template answers. So what can customers do if the BBB fails them?

Originally customer complaints were limited to phone calls, e-mails and in some cases internal message boards. The main goal was to keep issues internal where they could be controlled. As the internet became more wildly used people began to create blogs and websites where they would talk about their daily lives and if they had an issue they would post about it. This was also done in public message boards.

At first these few incidents were ignored, but as some forums became wildly popular some companies created field teams to track down issues on popular forums and engage the customer there hoping to solve the issue and if not that bring the issue back under their control and out of the spotlight.

For the most part forums were happy to have representatives come to their boards because it would bring in more members. As time went on however, many board administrators would limit what these representatives could do. This was mainly done to keep them from posting about new sales or features or derailing topics.

In the end for many companies going out to forums backfired because now their representatives could do nothing to stop members from coming to those boards and posting about their issues. Sometimes information would even be leaked by disgruntled employees. Strong arm tactics aside these boards remained firm and the companies had no choice but to message the members in private hoping to solve the issue quietly.

Step seven, Safeguard Privacy, came into play not against the customer, but against the companies. Often when company representatives would contact customers they would offer free items or discounts to make the issues go away. Some of these members would post the e-mails, personal messages and chat sessions they had with the company representatives after they received compensation. This would lead to other members with issues demanding the same compensation which in turned caused some companies to withdraw from these forums.

When Facebook and Twitter became wildly used an old problem was given new life. Now anyone could easily create a blog, add hundreds if not thousands of friends via Facebook and followers via Twitter and post about ongoing issues with a company. Sometimes if the issue was serious enough other blogs and websites would pick up on the story and share it on their blogs.

This was a serious problem for companies because these complaints spread quickly as they were shared throughout the internet from website to blog to forum. Again teams were create to search out these customers and try to get them to stop posting. Some customers took it to the extreme and create hate sites which were only about complaining about a specific company.

At this point companies began coming up with different ways to deal with these issues. Some would give almost any compensation if the customer agreed to remove the criticism and or post something positive about the company. Large companies decided to abandon the field teams altogether feeling that even responding to complaints would just fuel the fire.

Step 8, Embody Integrity, also took on a different meaning depending on the company. Smaller companies would still seek to help their customer and engage critics on websites where as large companies felt it was not worth it.

It was easier to respond to BBB complaints and keep issues internal and ignore external complaints unless it was picked up by a major outlet. The result was larger companies receiving a lower customer service score, but this would be compared to sales and if the company felt the low score was not affecting the bottom line then no changes would be made.

Today there has been some pushback to larger companies who ignore or mistreat their customers, but as more and more companies merge there are fewer places for customers to take their hard eared cash.

It has become cheaper to cut back on customer service and instead put that money into marketing and sales. The idea is that if you only see commercials and ads you are less likely to see complaints. Some fault is also put on those who looked to take advantage of compensation policies by creating websites or blogs for small issues hoping to get something for free from the company.

Unfortunately the end result is customer service is looked upon even more as a waste of money for companies. This is why most customer service centers are overseas and the few located in the U.S. are understaffed.

The BBB can do little to help the customer and with economic hardships all around us many customers will return to the same companies that mistreated them because they have the lowest price.

The best thing to do is fully research any company you wish to do business with. Sometimes you will need to spend a little more if good customer service is important to you, but beware of some companies offering you “premium support” for a higher cost. These services are the same you would have received ten years ago for free, but have to pay out of pocket for today.

The Death of Customer service series will continue as we move into other aspects of dwindling support and service. If you have any issues you would like to see discussed please contact us via e-mail.

Click here to read part 2 of this article. Click here to read part 3 of this article.

Left Behind: Alienware’s Legacy Problem

Alienware Dell
Alienware Dell

There were rumblings from the fans base when Alienware was purchased by Dell that everything would change and that the cool, elite name of Alienware would be forever lost. That aside many felt that the support that Dell provided to home users was less than stellar and that level of service would become Alienware’s. There were also those who already felt Alienware support was on the decline and felt this would push it over the edge. For the most part these were concerns that would come up no matter who the company was, but in the end it was not new purchasers of Alienware/Dell that felt frustration it was the old ones.

Any transition is difficult and it is expected that there will be growing or in this case merging pains. You must also understand that in the gaming world it is common to hear many more complaints that compliments. The rule is, if you are doing good you don’t hear about it, but if you are doing bad you will clearly know.

At first the change came with little notice, customers began to see Alienware products on the Dell website and the name Alienware was mentioned more and more alongside Dell. As time went on there were more changes like links on the main Alienware page taking you to a Dell website. Again these were small changes that did not bring much change to the common user.

When the new Alienware systems were launched by Dell they came with much fanfare because they were well built machines and a decent price. Even some of the more harsh critics felt that perhaps Alienware would retain its status and even gain from the acquisition by Dell.

Soon after that, personnel began to be laid off from Alienware’s Miami based headquarters. Word spread across the net that changes were coming to the company as Dell took over more roles from the Alienware team. The question for many fans and owners of Alienware computers was what would become of the service team they were use to working with if Alienware HQ was shut down.

Before that question could be answered a new issue came to light with Alienware Australia. Customers began to report they were not receiving service for systems they purchased from Alienware AU. They stated they called the service line and would never reach a person and send e-mails that would not be responded too. Right away the forums fired off posts that this had to do with Dell and that all support would be moved and Alienware AU was the first to go. In the end, it was the Alienware Miami team that reached out to help the AU customers receive support.

It seemed as if there was a fire burning and at the same time firefighters were being laid off by the truckload. As 2010 came, past customers of Alienware began reporting frequently that they were not receiving support for their systems. They reported that when calling the same 800 number they always have for support they were being connected to Dell agents who could not pull up their information.

It was then the pre-Dell Alienware customers discovered their new title, Legacy. A legacy member was someone who purchased a system before the acquisition. Customers said that the way information was stored and accessed was different from the Legacy Alienware customers and new Dell/Alienware customers. What this meant was the Dell agents only knew how to bring up information on post-Alienware customers.

What became confusing was that the same support number was still in use, so customers would sometimes reach an Alienware agent who could assist them, but more often than not connected with a Dell agent who either could not assist them or had to scramble to help them and sometimes transfer them somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the troubles did not stop there. Fans began to post on popular sites such as Notebook forums, Notebook Review and Alienware Niche that the long time support e-mail of support@alienware.com no longer worked. This caused more frustration because service men and women who purchased systems had a harder time contacting Alienware for support.

As for the Alienware, official forums customers stated they no longer received support or feedback from that support line. Many customers said they wrote and posted to the forums, but their posts never showed up. It was believed that the forums were perhaps closed or moved to Dell forums and as one forums member noted there are Alienware subcategories on the Dell forum page, but the Alienware page still has a working link to their forums.

Where does the problem lie? It is unclear. Though there have been complaints about support for the most part when someone did reach Alienware Miami personnel, they reported their issues were solved at least to a satisfactory level. The main disconnect looks to be between the Alienware Miami staff and the Dell parent company.

One thing to note is that those who purchased any of the newer Alienware products made by Dell received a warranty by Dell. Therefore the conclusion anyone can draw is that those under the legacy brand had warranties under the old Alienware banner. Perhaps it is a matter of running out the clock and as those who had old warranties under Alienware legacy fall off the books the problem is swept under the rug.

Now to be fair this issue has not affected everyone under the legacy banner. There have been reports and praise from some legacy customers that they did receive support not only from the Miami HQ, but from Dell agents as well. There are still however those who feel left behind and have resorted to contacting the BBB, writing to online publications and posting on popular forums about their less than satisfactory experience with legacy support.

It is not clear what changes if any will be made. Some legacy customers believe they will be forgotten and once their warranty expires it is over. There as some who have said that support has improved and that calling the 800 number works, but as of this posting, the support e-mail is still discontinued and the Alienware forums seem abandoned.

It is an unfortunate turn for Alienware and for Dell. We can only hope something will be done for the customers who helped turn Alienware into the company Dell wanted to acquire. We also hope this treatment of legacy customers does not further hurt the Dell name which has shown improvement in home customers support and has always had excellent business support. However, you are judged on how you treat all your customers not just the latest ones. We will be watching to see if the legacy customers of Alienware will receive the support they paid for and deserve or if they will be left behind.