My nightmare with HP's technical support center

A little bit of background before I start: I'm an undergrad at a public university, majoring in microbiology. My classes started last week. Around March or April of this year, I purchased an HP Envy 15-3040nr directly from HP with the intention of using it as my primary computer for my studies.

On August 11, I woke up in the morning and turned my computer on. Everything was working perfectly fine. After using it for about half an hour, I turned it off and left the house. I came back about an hour later, and tried to turn it back on. When I did, I received a blue screen with a "BAD_POOL_CALLER" error immediately after the "Starting Windows" screen. I let it restart itself, but it continued to give me the blue screen. I tried both running startup repair and restoring to the last known good configuration, but neither did any good. I looked online for answers, but struggled to find any. Frustrated, I unplugged my wireless mouse from the laptop and left the house. When I came back later, I tried turning it on. This time, it booted up normally. Puzzled, I quickly backed up all my files and tried to see if I could figure out was wrong with it. At this point, I had replugged my mouse into the computer. Still finding no answers, I turned it off. The next time I turned it on, I found it giving me the "BAD_POOL_CALLER" error. For some reason I had a strange suspicion that the USB device (which was still plugged in) was causing the error. After unplugging it, I rebooted. Again, it booted perfectly normally. I tested different ports and with different USB devices, and came to the conclusion that whenever I had any USB device plugged into either of the USB 3.0 ports on the left side of the computer, it would not boot properly. Plugging a device into the USB 2.0 port on the right side (or plugging into any port after booting) did not result in an error. At this point, it was late in the day so I decided to call HP's technical support line the next day.

On August 12, I called HP. After going through the automated support line, I was connected to a support rep almost immediately. This rep's name was Owen. To my surprise, he was very helpful throughout the entire call. He listened to my description of the error (and actually acted on what I had to say, rather than sticking with the standard "do this, this, and this" for things I had already tried), had me do a few things to rule out several possibilities (such as upgrading the BIOS, updating drivers, removing one memory stick, etc), and then informed me that it would need to be sent in for repairs. After doing all of those tests he was almost certain it was a hardware issue, likely with the motherboard. They would send me a box and shipping label through FedEx, and I would mail the computer back to their repair center in McAllen, Texas. Like I said, he was helpful throughout the process. I had previously had a Dell, and calling their technical support center resulted in me having a semi-broken computer for the next 4 years. So at this point, I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, Owen was the only bright spot of this entire story.

On August 14, the box arrived at my house. I mailed it back through FedEx's overnight service.

On August 16, I checked the HP's online service order status page to see if it had arrived at the McAllen repair center. The page said that the empty box had been shipped to my house, and they were waiting for me to return it with the unit. Confused, I called HP. Trying to use the "Check repair status" option on the automated line gave me the same response as the webpage (I assume the two are linked to give the exact same info), so I tried the "Technical support" option instead. Once I was connected to a rep, I gave them my service order number and they looked it up. They informed me that the unit had in fact arrived at McAllen the day before (August 15th), and it simply had not been updated on the website.

On August 17, I checked the website again. It still said that box had been sent to my house and they were waiting for me to return. I called again to ask why the website had not been updated. They didn't know why, but the rep had told me it had just finished being repaired and probably would be sent back out late that night or the next day.

On August 19, I checked the website. Still said they were waiting for the box to arrive. I called HP. This time, the rep I spoke to said it had not shipped out of the repair center. In fact, the rep told me the service center wasn't sure what was wrong with it yet. She reminded me that the normal repair time is 4-6 business days. However, she also told me to call back the next day when both the support line and the repair center were open, because she said it seemed like there may have been an issue with the repair.

On August 20, I called them back. When I told the rep what I had been told the day before, he told me that he had no idea what the previous rep was talking about. He said the repairs seemed to be going fine, and reminded me again of the 4-6 business day timeframe.

On August 22, I called them again. At this point, it had been 6-7 business days from when the unit was received (August 15th). When I talked to the rep, she told me that when she looked into it, it said the unit had not actually been received until that very day (August 22), a week later. At this point, I had enough of all the contradictory information. I asked if there was a supervisor I could speak to.

After waiting on hold for about 15 minutes, the rep told me my case would be escalated to the next level. I was transferred to someone in HP's Case Management division - where I assume customers are sent when their repairs are not going well. I spoke with a Case Manager, who gave me her personal extension and told me I would now deal with her directly if I had issues. She asked for the FedEx tracking number that I received when I mailed the unit to McAllen, and when I gave it to her she confirmed that it had indeed arrived August 15th as I was originally told. I asked her why the website still said I had not mailed it back yet, and she told me it was because HP did not have the tracking number for it. Which is odd, because they were the ones who supplied the label in the first place. She looked into my case and told me this time that there was a 7-10 business day timeframe for repairs. She said that because they did not communicate directly with the repair center, there wasn't really any way to check on it. She did say however that the repair center had not flagged it for any issues. She informed me that she would keep checking on it and that she would call back to monitor the situation.

On August 24, I finally received my "repaired" unit around 4pm. I say "repaired", because when I looked at the repair center's report it said that all they did was a "Software Reload" (I assume they reinstalled Windows) and a BIOS upgrade (which I already did under the direction of Owen). Hoping that it would have somehow fixed it anyways, I turned it on without a USB device plugged in. I installed a few things like Firefox and then turned it off. I plugged my mouse into a 3.0 port and turned it on. To my horror, I received that same "BAD_POOL_CALLER" blue screen. At this point, it was just past 5pm - too late to call the personal extension of the Case Manager I had talked to the other day.

Today (August 27), I called the Case Management office again. Although I called the extension I was given, a different manager picked up and I had to be transferred back to the original manager. At this point, I asked her what could possibly be done. I told her that we had determined that it was almost definitely a hardware issue to begin with, so I didn't understand why they only bothered to reload the software. I told her I didn't understand why the repair department was completely isolated from the customer service/technical support department - in fact, I asked whether the repair center was even part of HP or just contracted by HP. She told me they were actually part of HP, but agreed that there were communications issues since she had specifically told the repair center herself to treat it as a hardware issue. I asked if there was any way I could have it replaced. She said no, and that they only do complete replacements if the issue is, in their words, "unrepairable". I asked if there was anyway I could get a loaner computer while it was being fixed, since I need a computer to complete my coursework and it took the repair center about 8 days to do something I could've done in an hour. Again, no. Finally, I asked if there was any way I could just outright return the unit. Again, no because they only accept returns for the first 21 days. She did offer to try to get me an extended warranty or a coupon, but I told her that while I would obviously accept it, if all my warranty gets me is the ability to send it in for "repairs" for 10 days and not actually get anything fixed, it's not like it's really helping me. She told me that she only had one option and that was to send me a box to send it back to the repair center. She said she would have it shipped directly to the bench of a Senior Technician that she knew, and she would personally instruct him to address the hardware issue. Begrudgingly, I agreed as I had no other options.

So now, I'm going to be out of a computer (again) for another 10 days. What I haven't mentioned (at least not that much) is how difficult not having a computer has been for me. This past week has been drop/add week. In order to get the correct courses to fit my schedule, I have either had to use my phone (which is cumbersome, to say the least) or walk across campus to a computer lab. There have been several times where the line for the computer lab goes out the door and into the hallway. In addition, almost all of my courses have homework that is either entirely online or assigned online. Not having a computer is more than an inconvenience - with the amount of coursework that is now electronic, having a laptop is essentially a necessity.

In conclusion, it's hard to imagine a worse experience with these repairs. The lack of communication between the repair center and tech support is a huge issue. Actually, the lack of communication within the tech support department itself is a huge issue too. There's no excuse for being told something completely different every time I called. I don't blame any of the reps individually. For the most part, the reps (including my Case Manager) were as helpful as they could be given the resources they had at their disposal. But the system is obviously broken, and regardless of whose fault it is, I (as the consumer) am the one who ends up paying for it.