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Synnex and the Pain of Hardware Distribution

At times in CWL, we sell hardware to customers. Often what this entails is a process of us procuring the hardware from various sources. Sometimes it’s directly from the manufacturer, and sometimes it comes from official distributors. In Canada, we have a few big top-level companies like Techdata, D&H and Synnex. If you’re looking for hardware or software, that’s usually the best place to get stock and decent pricing. These companies are unlike that of an Insight or a CDW in that they typically require manufacturer authorization and will charge a hefty fee to create an account. Along with these barriers to entry, distribution is often a cold process met with various difficulties. Today, I wanted to call out one such painful experience with Synnex and try to understand if this is a systemic problem, or if more is at work. To a company like Synnex, CWL is clearly small beans, but failures in customer service are a clear concern.

In September of 2012, CWL wanted to expand its distribution options by creating an account with Synnex. Since I noticed they had an office close; near highways 401 and 27, it seemed that this could be very advantageous. I started the expensive process of creating a Synnex account.

After a few tries at ordering hardware, Synnex seemed to operate well enough.

Small Issues Had Me Thinking

Synnex Links to Create a PO

The process of quoting and ordering was unlike anything I had seen before. When a request to quote on goods is returned with a lower price than Synnex’s web pricing, every quote email arrives with a link letting you “Submit this quote as a PO”. This is great because it gives the customer a chance to just take the order process to completion while saving time for Synnex on the administrative details. Unfortunately, when clicking on that link, you’re taken to an order screen that reverts all the pricing to what the web offers. When calling it to the attention of  Synnex, I was informed that I’d have to call in and talk to a representative and they’d correct it. That kind of defeated the entire point of offering a self-serve link, so I gave up on this promising process.

Later, I’d learn that the 401/27 location would provide little advantage because they don’t warehouse there, nor will they ship things to that location. Disappointing, but understandable.

Then, An Error

I still hadn’t seen Synnex make a real mistake, until June of 2013. As is typical, I quoted various goods for an order a little over $6,000. This hefty order was fairly basic: a few boxes of hardware and likely a routine process for Synnex. What Synnex did was create two orders and ship the same goods to two different locations. When I realized what happened, I immediately called my representative and determined this was a double ship. He assured me over the phone: “Just return the goods and we’ll process a credit within three days”. Reasonable enough, I thought. The goods were returned promptly and I began waiting for a credit.

So, I waited. And waited. Not only did no credit arrive a full three weeks after the order, Synnex made zero contact with me at that time. After continually checking the credit card balance and waiting, I decided to make contact. A full 21 days after this errant order, I made it clear that the credit had not been applied and that an urgent resolution would be needed to get things back on track.

48 hours and 11 email messages later, I was still without a simple credit card confirmation or any concrete details that this credit had happened. Growing incredibly frustrated with Synnex, this process had now devolved into a wait of more than 24 days from the order date and a little more response from the sales representative than “I’m trying”. This charge was now outside of the standard 21 day grace period credit card companies typically offer interest-free. As the interest accumulated, I continued to waste time checking the credit card balance, and emailing Synnex for updates. As it became clearer and clearer there was a problem; the response clarity and frequency from Synnex continued to degrade.

Meanwhile, I mentioned my frustrations on Twitter as a hail mary (no pun intended). I asked someone there to escalate this to anyone with the power to help so I might stop bleeding money over this massive error. Here’s the somewhat promising response:

Within the hour, I received a call from Keith Jalbert, the apparent Vice President of Sales who appeared not to be up to speed. I explained it all again and left off the call with him saying “I’ll get you an answer today”.

After an absurdly long period of time, Keith called again. He called to “assure me the credit has happened” (nothing I hadn’t already been told) and that he “hoped he has provided everything I was looking for”. I told him that he hadn’t and that I simply needed some sort of confirmation of this credit. Again, I was given “I’ll try to get that”, ‘”I’ll do my best”, something we clearly knew he wasn’t going to do since the background noise indicated he was in a car – likely driving home from the office. Given this, I must now wait another three days (until Monday) to see the credit.

What was most telling, I think, was when I asked him what Synnex was going to do to fix this. His response: “Prove to me that this cost you something, and I’ll pay for it”. Translation: “We don’t care what it cost you”.

The waiting continued. I had a document from Synnex stating that I was owed money, and no idea if a credit processed. Synnex still has money they earned in error. I continue to rack up interest on that money.

Finally, the credit arrives!

On July 10th, just a day shy of a month later, I saw the full amount returned.

Before that,  the sales manager offered a transaction reference. In the end, the credit card company would stupidly not verify this information (that’s a problem for another column). All that was left was to wait up to 30 days. Add insult to injury, I was offered a measly 1% discount on my next purchase. That’s right, they will only fix what they broke if I ordered more products from them. At 1%, that $60 on $6000. This doesn’t exactly say “We’re sorry for the time and costs we forced you to incur”.

In the aftermath of this ordeal, it’s quite clear that Synnex bumbled at every turn. Not only did they show a clear lack of urgency for fixing the errors, but it was also more common for me to hear from someone for the sake of pacification, not provide new information. Call after call from those involved offered descriptors like “isolated incident” and the “logistics” of credit card transactions were beyond them. Not one person took ownership. Rather they offered all sorts of excuses like restricted access and countless days of “I’m trying”. I recall saying to at least three people “Find a person who CAN access what I need, and get them to call me”. My fight simply devolved into seeing only the transaction reversed – not any sort of remediation for costs.

I’m quite convinced that Synnex’s systems are so completely compartmentalized that it’s possible some parts of them exist out of reasonable reach, or in another country. Given that, the red tape and departmental cruft must be astounding from the inside. Not exactly the kind of distribution partner that screams “Trust us to build your business”. I invite anyone from Synnex to approach me on record to prove this wrong.

Overall, Synnex deserves an “F” for how well it corrects its mistakes. I sincerely hope you never see them make one on your account. I’m curious if others have had experiences with Synnex they’d like to share?