How Are We Doing?


Once I took a cab to the Cairo Airport. It was a better-than-average cab for Cairo, which meant less than 30 years old with working seatbelts. Mohammed, the driver, was a genial fellow, but it was all strategic. He spent the hour-long trip relentlessly congratulating himself for every minor development – every traffic jam avoided, every checkpoint successfully passed. “You see, my friend? You see?” he would crow, all with an eye on the tip to come. I found myself wondering if he had ever worked for Hewlett-Packard. My HP experience happened a few years ago. I’d had my HP printer for roughly a year when the colour cartridge finally drained. I bought a new cartridge and, like so many other printer owners before me, suddenly discovered where the profit margins are made in the printer business. The idea that it is often more cost-effective to throw out a printer than to buy a replacement cartridge was not yet conventional wisdom – at least, I hadn’t heard it. Worse still, my printer rejected the cartridge like a transplanted organ. “One or more cartridges have failed,” read the display, despite the undeniable fact that the pricey new cartridge was in place. Sometimes it also said, “Left cartridge not compatible,” perhaps just to make conversation. Foolishly, I bought another cartridge. Same problem, but now with twice the expense. Time to contact Hewlett-Packard Support. The first responder was named Amee. She was really nice. Her email carefully repeated the problems as I described them and went on to suggest possible solutions. “I want to be sure the troubleshooting steps I provided resolve the issue,” Amee wrote. “If the issue continues, please reply to this message with the results. We will be glad to assist you further. Sincerely, Amee, HP Total Care.” Total Care – how nice. I briefly wondered if there was any way to take our relationship beyond the troubleshooting phase, but that would have to wait for the resolution of the existing problem (surely an encouraging basis for future relations). Unfortunately, the problem was proving stubborn. My repeated emails to Amee might have seemed like flirting, were it not for the fact that they were necessary. My printer continued to limp along with only black and white. Some of HP Total Care’s suggested resolutions seemed dubious. At one point, they went to the trouble of sending me an entirely new power cord, an expensive and, as I suspected, useless move. As our fruitless exchanges continued, one of Amee’s emails contained the following: “You may receive an email survey regarding your email support experience. We would appreciate your feedback. HP Total Care is a J.D. Power and Associates Certified Technology Service and Support Center, recognized for consistently providing ‘An Outstanding Customer Service Experience.’ ” Sure enough, a questionnaire was emailed to me shortly thereafter. It asked me about my experience, satisfaction level, etc. This was tough. I liked Amee. I wanted her to do well in her career. But as the problem had not been fixed, it was hard for me to assess the value of our interaction. There were more tech support emails. None of the suggested solutions worked. But the questionnaires didn’t stop either. At least two or three more “How are we doing?” requests arrived. It began to seem that the emphasis had now shifted from actual problem solving to the gathering of feedback. Perhaps at a certain point, the service machine was programmed to automatically declare victory and shift over to fishing for compliments. Sadly for Amee, the compliments did not come – and now my black and white cartridge is low too. Then in September, Hewlett-Packard announced worldwide layoffs of some 24,600 people. No word on whether the cuts will hit harder in the Can We Help You? department or the How Are We Doing? department. But I have my theories.