Lenovo Tech Support: 2015 Rating
Lenovo's tech support has been a source of frustration in recent years. The company finished with an overall score of 75 last year — down from a 78.75 in 2013 and a 85 in 2012 — mostly due to unhelpful phone support and mediocre online resources. However, since our last evaluation, the leading PC vendor made several key improvements, including a large database of tutorials, live-chat support and a callback service.
The company's Web support now provides easy access to a wide variety of solutions, both to broad Windows questions and Lenovo-specific issues. Phone-based support remains very frustrating, as two out of three calls lasted longer than 30 minutes as stumped reps tried to find the answers to our questions and sometimes failed.
To test Lenovo's support services, we used the company's budget-minded Ideapad 100S, which comes preloaded with Windows 10 but doesn't have any proprietary Lenovo utilities. For our brand-specific question, we asked how to change the top row of keys so that they act as function keys (F1, F2, F3) rather than media buttons (volume, brightness).
Web and Social Support
Lenovo maintains a dedicated support site at http://support.lenovo.com, which features drivers, manuals, utilities and instructions for every Lenovo product, along with support forums, live chat and the ability to schedule a callback. After I created a Lenovo account and entered the Ideapad 100S' serial number, the site listed the notebook under a header titled "My Products," where I could click on its name to see a list of product-specific information, such as drivers and user manuals.
You can also search for your model without registering it. However, when I visited the site without being logged in, every time I wanted to get the tech support phone number or initiate a new live chat, I was prompted to re-enter the laptop's serial number. When I was logged in, though, the system remembered my information.
The live-chat function is convenient, though wait times varied. When I initiated a chat session, a status window told me I was 12th in line, with a 32-minute wait. That turned out to be accurate — after a half an hour, I heard a beep, and a greeting from Marc appeared. After I asked him how to set up "Hey Cortana" on my laptop, he sent me a copy-and-pasted answer from the Microsoft Support site that explained how to fix the voice assistant if it wasn't working at all. When I explained that the solution didn't work, he sent me the correct one. However, when I initiated a second chat on a Friday at 2 p.m. ET, Chris came on to help me in less than 30 seconds.
I also did a search for "Hey Cortana" using the support.lenovo.com search function, and that yielded good results. It pointed me to Lenovo's "What is Cortana?" article, which has setup instructions about halfway down the page. The same article was available from Lenovo's Windows 10 resource page, which has about three dozen articles about different aspects of the new OS. There's also a Windows 8.1 page with just a bit more than a dozen articles.
Lenovo's support site offers a wealth of helpful tips. When I tried to find an answer to my question about how to change the Function key mode by searching for "function key mode" or "hot keys," I got literally thousands of results, and all of the results on the first page pointed to irrelevant information about other products. I wish that Lenovo would automatically narrow its search results to those that apply to your product.
However, when I typed "function keys 100S," I got a PDF of the instruction manual, where I found steps describing how to change the Function key mode by tweaking a setting in my BIOS. The same instruction manual was on the dedicated product support page for my laptop as well. Unfortunately, the BIOS didn't have that setting within it, which means the instructions were wrong.
Because the 100S' touchpad doesn't support multitouch, we also had to modify our standard trackpad question and ask how to enable finger scrolling on the laptop, rather than how to change its direction. The correct answer is that, on this notebook, you can't scroll at all.
Unfortunately, there's no documentation on what you cannot do with your notebook, so neither the instructions nor any of the search results explained that this common capability is unavailable.
Lenovo's support forums are loaded with thousands of threads from users looking for answers to very specific questions that, in many cases, other users or Lenovo reps have answered. However, there's no specific time frame or guarantee of getting a reply. After 24 hours, I hadn't received any replies on the forums.
Just as it did last year, Lenovo's @lenovohelp Twitter account provided a quick and accurate response to a support question. When I asked how to turn on "Hey Cortana" listening mode on an Ideapad, I got an answer 2 hours later with a link pointing me to a tutorial — which, coincidentally, was our Laptop Mag tutorial on the subject. However, as before, tweeting a question to @lenovo generated no response. Forget about getting help via Facebook. A message I posted to the Lenovo wall went unanswered.
If you're going to call Lenovo tech support, get ready for a long wait while the rep figures out a solution to your problem — or possibly fails to. Also, make sure you have your laptop serial number on hand, because you will be asked for it, perhaps more than once.
On each call, it took me 2 to 3 minutes to navigate through the menu options and listen to all the messages before I could get into the queue. Some of these messages informed me that, for Windows 10 problems, I should visit Lenovo's support site, contact Microsoft or call another number for paid premium support.
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When I called on a Friday at 2 p.m. ET, I was connected to Tariq after 8 minutes and 30 seconds. After asking for my name, he said that he was having "technical problems on his system" and took a description of my question, along with my phone number, and promised to have someone call me back. I waited all day, but I never received a call.
On a Monday at 4 p.m. ET, I called and again waited 8 minutes and 30 seconds, after which I was connected to Lou, a support tech in the Philippines. (All of my calls were connected to the Philippines.) She immediately asked for my laptop's serial number, my name and my phone number. After spending several minutes carefully repeating my information to her, I was asked for the same exact information twice on my next call.
I asked Lou how to enable scrolling on my touchpad, and after she put me on hold for 5 minutes, I allowed her to use remote login software to attempt to fix the problem directly on my computer. As I watched my screen, she spent a long time going through the Control Panel and a variety of menus on my computer in a fruitless effort. At one point, she stopped to ask me if I had a Chromebook — which is strange, considering she was actively navigating my Windows desktop at the time. After launching the Web browser on my computer to search the same Lenovo support site I could have used myself (and not finding any answers), she finally informed me that the touchpad doesn't support scrolling. Her investigation took about 20 minutes out of the 34-minute call.
I called again on a Tuesday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. ET and was connected to Kline, also in the Philippines, after 7 minutes. After she asked me for my serial number and complete contact information, I asked her about how to enable "Hey Cortana" on my computer. She had me go into the BIOS and restore default settings there. Then, she asked me to boot up my machine, look at the language selection in Windows and read her the options there. When we couldn't find the correct option there, she said, "Let me check it here," and stopped talking. After a minute and a half of silence, the hold music came on.
After I spent 5 minutes on hold, the phone rang, and a different support rep, Cherlynn, answered the phone. In a heavy accent, she said that I wasn't registered in the company's system, and asked for the same contact information and serial number I had given Kline earlier in the call. I had to explain my question to her again in detail, because she appeared to have difficulty understanding that Cortana wasn't broken for me; I just wanted to enable the assistant's "always listening" mode. After she put me on hold for another 3 minutes, she picked up again. "You mentioned earlier that you recognizes [sic] it when you're using the microphone or when you're turning it on," she said in broken English. "But sir, why don't you just set your microphone to 'always on'?"
Then, she told me that the answer to my question falls outside the hardware category and tried to convince me to "activate" premium support. I had to ask her two times for the cost; she eventually told me the price for this support is $19.99 a month, and I politely declined and ended the call, which had lasted more than 32 minutes.
Lenovo Callback Service
Lenovo really wants its users to schedule callback service online rather than directly dialing its support number and navigating through the phone tree. When you call the support number, automated messages repeatedly encourage you to hang up and schedule a call before you even get put into the queue.
After entering the serial number (which is now saved if you are logged in) and selecting "Give Me a Call" from the available options, I was presented with a brief online form, where I entered my phone number, a brief description of my issue and a callback time, which could be any day at any time or "Call Me Now." At 11 p.m. ET, I requested an immediate call, and my phone rang within a minute. An automated message informed me that I had to hold for a representative, but less than a minute later, I was connected to Joy, who was located in the Philippines.
When I asked Joy the question about changing the Function keys, she put me on hold for 2 minutes while she looked for the answer. After she picked up again, she walked me through the process of booting into the BIOS menu and getting to the configuration menu there, but unfortunately, the option to change the Function key mode was strangely missing. After a few more minutes, she concluded that my particular notebook does not support changing the Function mode, even though the Ideapad 100S is supposed to have that feature. Her answer was correct, but it would be nice if she had known it when I first asked.
Though it could be a lot better, Lenovo's online support system has improved significantly from last year by adding some helpful tutorials and a useful live-chat feature. However, using the company's phone support, whether you schedule a callback or dial in, was both an exercise in frustration and a waste of time, as representatives struggled to answer our questions. In either support venue, we wish the company did a better job of storing and reusing our registration information so we don't have to give every representative we speak to all of our contact data, and so we can find more tailored results in support search.