HP Z3100 Support Woes
I’ve been enthusiastically sharing my experiences with my HP DesignJet Z3100. Most of those experiences have been great. The only problem with prints that I’ve experienced has been a problem with intermittent horizontal banding that, because I haven’t dedicated a large block of time to pursuing it, has up until now eluded my troubleshooting efforts. At no point have I been unable to get the print quality I’ve wanted, although sometimes it’s taken some fiddling.
So a couple of weeks ago, I’d discovered that I could generate a diagnostic print from the front panel of the printer. And when I did this, I got a diagnostic print which I interpreted as showing that I had pretty significant nozzle clog issues. Running nozzle cleaning cycles didn’t clear the problem.
So I called Hp Technical support, where the technician, Sean, guided me through about an hour of checking things, and then suggested pulling all the print heads, pressing them against a wet paper towel until the ink was drawn through the print head, and then replacing the heads. I was short on time, so I closed the call with Sean before I could give this a try. The next day, though, I gave it a try, and was dismayed to find that not only did it not resolve the problems, it didn’t actually improve the situation at all. I was fairly frustrated, especially because it was not really clear to me that Sean understood what diagnostic print I was looking at.
And then it was time for the Thanksgiving holidays, and I was away for a while. Yesterday, though, I was resolved to call HP back and get the matter cleared up. I’m planning on doing a lot of printing this winter, and I want the printer in perfect working order at the start.
First thing I did was to run another diagnostic print. This showed some changes from two weeks ago, and in particular, the problem with the PK/LG printhead had improved (but still with problems) and the problems with the B/GN head had gotten quite a lot worse.
So, because often such things are easier to work via email, I tried the HP onliine/email tech support, using the form on their web page to tell my story, complete with three part harmony and feeling. In 24 hours, I got a response saying, essentially, “It sounds like you have print heads that should be replaced. Please call our tech support people, who will arrange to get replacements shipped to you under warranty.”
So, armed with this diagnostic print and the email, I called HP tech support, where I answered the voice recognition prompts by telling the system that I was having trouble with a Designjet z3100 and I am using Macs, not Windows. So I got connected to a Mac technician, who listened to my story, and then told me that he was going to have to reroute my call because he was a Mac support technician, and I was having problems with the printer hardware. In the future, he told me, if I lied to the VR system and told it I was using Windows, I’d get connected to the hardware support group. When I pointed out that it might make more sense to adjust the voice recognition prompts so that customers using Mac and having hardware problems didn’t waste 15 minutes getting rerouted, he cheerfully agreed, and then put me in the waiting pool for the hardware folks.
When I finally got connected to the right support group, I was talking to Robert. I told my story to Robert, this time with five part harmony. And, rather than agreeing to just ship me new print heads, Robert wanted to go through another round of pulling the print heads, soaking them, replacing them, doing head cleaning cycles, and so on. Fine.
And there, the problems began. Robert didn’t know the menu structure for the front panel on the Z3100. In fact, I knew more about it than he did. He didn’t know what diagnostic print I was generating, even after I carefully described how to use the front panel to generate it. Every time he asked me to do something, we had this little cycle where I’d ask him to give me specific instructions on how to do that, and he’d have to put me on hold for five minutes while he ran off and found out how to do it so he could tell me. He must have put me on hold for a total of one hour out of the first two hours of the support phone call, much of that time to go off and research how to get the menu item he wanted me to use. This was complicated considerably when he gave me specific instructions about which menu options to pick, only to have me land at a dead end when the option he wanted me to pick wasn’t on my printer. (It turns out he was working from a different version of the firmware from what was in my printer). When Robert went off to generate a diagnostic print on a printer at HP, it took nearly half an hour because the printer he had access to was not warmed up and wanted to go through 15 minutes of calisthenics, and then it had to generate the print – all while I waited on the phone.
But, with tears in my eyes and with my frustration level mounting rapidly, I stumbled through removing all the heads, doing the ‘press against a wet lintless cloth’ thing, replacing them all, and running another diagnostic print. The net result was no change. He then had me try it again, this time just with the most problematic head. At this point, the B/GN head stopped working completely, and the printer was dead. It couldn’t do a print head alignment. It couldn’t make prints. HP tech support had managed to lead me through the steps of starting with a working printer with an intermittent problem and fussing with it until it had become a $4000 doorstop.
So, after about 2.5 hours, and with my blood pressure ranging upward into the ‘massive brain crushing stroke is imminent’ range, I asked Robert what I needed to do to get this whole thing resolved. Robert’s suggestion was to have HP ship me a replacement for the failed head – he would put me on hold, and go get authorization to do that. I suggested that, purely in the interests of having me not have a myocardial infarction, perhaps HP could see their way clear to replacing ALL the heads, so that all those other heads with problems would get resolved, too. Nope, he said. No way he could get someone to authorize that.
So I asked to talk to Robert’s supervisor, James. James gave me the old song and dance, and told me under no circumstances would he agree to replace all the heads. When I told him that ALL the heads were showing clogged nozzles that wouldn’t go away, he wanted the long form list of all the things we’d tried. Then he told me that a certain number of clogged nozzles was acceptable and that the printer could compensate (I actually believe this is true) but couldn’t give me a firm number on what the threshold of acceptability was. Finally he seemed to agree that any head with more than, say, 10 clogged nozzles or which showed banding on the diagnostic print should be replaced. Was I seeing that on any of the print heads? So I went through all six heads, and counted the clogged nozzles and the banding. And the upshot was that, after half an hour of arguing with me, he agreed to ship a complete set of print heads, as long as I would go through the process of giving Robert all the warranty dates off the print heads.
Naturally, it took Robert three tries and two five minute periods on hold for him to tell me where to find the warranty dates on the print heads. But after that, I gave him all the dates, and he said he’d get those heads sent out asap. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “it would be nice if you’d give me the support case number, so that when the print heads don’t show up, I can refer back to this entire debacle without having to go through the entire 2.5 hour ordeal again. And that was a problem, because Robert claimed that their computer system was being upgraded and he couldn’t give me a case number. He’d have to call me back, he said, and give me the case number and the order numbers for the printheads. And so we parted company, with him steadfastly promising to call back, and leave voice mail with those numbers for me, absolutely cross my heart hope to die stick a needle in my eye for sure.
And the next part of the saga was when I returned from the play last night, fully expecting to check voicemail and find a message from Robert with the case number and the order numbers. And of course, there was no voice mail. In fact, caller ID indicated no calls at all, so Robert didn’t even try to call. I had to call, work my way back through the voice tree, and then ask for Robert before I managed to connect with him and have him apologetically give me the case number and order numbers.
So here’s my advice to HP on how to improve their technical support:
- Don’t ask people to tell you if they’re using Windows or Mac if what you really want to know is if they’re having a Mac software problem or any other problem. It just pissed me off, and it would be so simple to fix it’s not funny.
- Your support people should have in front of them a copy of the menu tree for the front panel FOR EACH FIRMWARE REVISION, so that they are not forced to ask the customer to ‘read the choices back to me.’ When your support staff are getting help on the menu tree from the customer, something is desperately wrong with how you are handling things.
- As a general rule, support technicians should not throw their hands up in despair when the instructions they give the customer result in a previously working product not working at all. Instead, they should either coach the customer through getting it working again, or they should pass the case off to a more experienced technician who can solve the problem. I had to spend a frustrating half hour AFTER the support call cleaning print head contacts before my printer started even vaguely working again. You can bet that during that half hour, I was pretty much continuously engaging in imaginative language use regarding the genealogy of the support technicians at HP.
- After your incompetent support technician burns 2.5 hours of a customer’s time fiddling with a printer, getting ink all over his hands, pulling print heads and replacing them, and getting him well and truly frustrated, that’s NOT the time to suggest that the printer is actually completely within spec and there’s no problem to be resolved at all, it’s just a misunderstanding. That’s particularly true when the first question the customer asked was “So given that I have this diagnostic print that I interpret as showing nozzles clogged, is my interpretation correct, and are these nozzle clogs the source of the intermittent banding I’ve been getting?”
- When you promise to call back and give the customer a case number and order numbers, for the love of all that’s holy call him back EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE NUMBERS. If you can’t get the numbers, call him back and explain why you don’t have them. But if the customer has to call you back and ask why the hell you didn’t call the way you promised, no amount of abject groveling and apologizing will convince him that you weren’t trying to slip one past and renege on your promise.
- At the most general, your product support staff should not convey the impression that they find those customers with problems to be an irritant. Instead, your product support staff, especially those supporting really expensive printers, should convey the impression that they will not, under any circumstances, accept an outcome where the customer’s problem hasn’t been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES.
- When the retail price of a printhead pair is $60 US, the actual marginal cost to HP is probably $15. So when you tell me that you want me to spend several more hours fiddling with the printer to avoid you having to just replace all six printhead pairs instead of the one pair you broke, what you’re telling me is that HP thinks that pissing me off and valuing my time as free is a better choice than saying “You know what, Mr. Butzi? I’m worried that if we don’t just replace all these print heads that we’ve been fiddling with, you’re going to run into more problems down the road, and that will just cause you more lost time and frustration. So I think it would be best if we just shipped you a complete new set, so that you can move forward from this point with more confidence in the printer you’ve bought. Would it be ok with you if we asked to you take a few extra minutes to replace all the heads now, rather than having to worry that we’ll run into more problems down the road? We’d really appreciate it.”
- Let me just observe that your competitor, who has massive market share and who you are trying to displace, not only has given me excellent phone support but offers one year of next business day/on site support as part of the purchase price, so that when my 9600 fell over dead, I called them, they talked me through about 15 minutes of trying to bring it back to life (so that I could get back to work instantly) and then sadly informed me that they thought it was going to require a technician onsite to fix it, would it be ok if the technician got there at 8:30am since I’m in a remote place? Your printer is a wonder, but your support is not even remotely on a par with that provided by Epson. And you can bet that I will take that into consideration with the NEXT large format printer purchase.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the prints from the z3100. But I sure hope I don’t have many more problems that require technical support, because the phone support from HP is atrocious. It’s execrable. It’s horrid, it’s a travesty. It’s odious. If I had known that the printer didn’t come with next business day/on site service for at least a year, I would probably have bought an Epson.