The Dell Lemon-ade

by Chris Kenton on August 24, 2006

I’ve been offline for a couple of days doing a long overdue computer upgrade, and remembering just how bad Dell’s customer service can be. My workstation had been on a long-slow death spiral, and finally crapped out. I ordered one of Dell’s high-end XPS machines to replace it, and received assurances it would ship in a week. That’s a long time to go without a machine, but it was my fault for waiting too long. So a week passes, and at the end of the day my new machine is supposed to ship, I get an email saying it was delayed and wouldn’t be shipping for another week. I do a quick Google and find out that Dell has had problems shipping other machines in the XPS line, and a lot of customers are annoyed with the unexplained delays. Hmmm. Wish I’d checked that sooner.

So I decide to contact Dell and find out why the order was delayed. There was no reference phone number or link in the failure-to-ship notice, so I go to Dell.com.  When I get to the site, the option at the top of the contact list is "chat". Cool. I won’t have to wait on the phone, or wait for an email response. I click on chat, and they ask me to put in a customer number or order number. No problem. I dig out my customer number, enter it, and get a reply that says "The Chat Service is Not Available to You At this Time". Excuse me? You just charged me over $2k for a computer, failed to ship it, offered no explanation or support number in the notice, and now you tell me I don’t qualify to talk to a service rep online? I’m instantly pissed off. I go on to the next option, email, and send a succinct query asking them to explain the delay so that I know whether I can rely on the new date, or if I need to make other plans. Dell never responded.

The computer did ultimately ship 2 weeks after the order, and I’m happy with the product. But man, I hope I never have to rely on Dell’s customer service.

So I’m telling this story to a buddy of mine who runs IT for a mid-sized company. He has a lot of Dell machines in his organization. Like me, he’s pretty solid on the product, but he has a very jaded view of the organization. Recently, he’s had to deal with the laptop battery debacle–if you haven’t heard, you may be at risk of spontaneous combustion. Although the problem with the batteries originated with Sony, Dell was complicit in waiting out a recall of 4.1 million batteries until there was real, live evidence of catastrophic danger.

My friend, who isn’t usually prone to conspiracy theories, but as an IT manager is over-exposed to aggressive marketing, perceived a marketing agenda in Dell’s recall program. The way he describes it, enterprise customers with a lot of laptops were instructed to pass the recall notice on to each end user. Dell would handle the inconvenience of desktop support for the recall by dealing with each end user directly. I wouldn’t have thought much about that, but my friend immediately balked. Why, as a responsible IT manager, would he help open up a direct channel  to his entire company’s staff for Dell? I kind of marveled at his paranoia for a moment, but then I thought about the numbers. Millions of users hidden behind a corporate IT firewall, and a recall campaign financed by Sony. Maybe that’s how you make lemonade out of 4.1 million lemons.

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Victor Cook, Jr., New Orleans, Louisiana August 25, 2006 at 6:27 am

Dell’s Unintended Consequences?

Like you, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But I do subscribe to the theory of unintended consequences. And that’s what I call “Dell’s Lemon-ade.”

In Chapter 6 “The Battle for Your Desktop” in my book (Competing for Customers and Capital) I note that “The motivation to switch to Dell … might be achieved by allowing end users to configure their own systems within the framework of the corporate purchasing organization. But this in turn requires design and installation of new accounting and control systems to manage end user buying decisions. No doubt Dell and its major customers are working on how to add many of these features to their relationship. It’s a mirror image of how that company from Bentonville, Ark. had to forge a new relationship between its suppliers that closed the traditional arms-length gap between them (page 159, Tapping the Corporate Market).”

If Dell and its major customers were working on how to add many of these features to their relationship, and I believe they were, then you must chalk “Dell’s Lemon-ade” up to unintended consequences. And a fortuitous one at that, since Sony will have to pay much of the cost of the battery recall.

Having said all this does not excuse the company’s extraordinarily poor customer service.

Adelino de Almeida August 28, 2006 at 10:44 am

Seems too complex and dark to be planned by Dell. Benefits from the recall would be very hard to come by given the damage to the brand and the current turmoil with Dell.
As I pointed out in a blog entry, Dell is too focused on short term results and has too clean an image to engage in this kind of “covert marketing”

ILAN Geva December 20, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Sorry to hear about your DELL bad adventure. Problem is, the DELL story you just told is a very old one. It happened to me 7 years ago, and I’m still pi—ed off! It also happened during that time period to millions of other people.
But I learned.
In my book, DELL is a company for new suckers.
As long as there are new customers out there who are willing to believe what some idiot analyst has said, they are willing to give DELL the benefit of a doubt and try…
DELL lives on those “trials”, but I’m sure that if one analyst will bother to review the repeat purchases of individuals (not corporations!) he’ll find an astonishing statistic!
And I think that the brand is very tainted by now.
I’m sure that you will find some kind of solution to your problem, but I’m also confident you’ll view the brand in a different way, as a matter of fact you already do…
DELL isn’t L.L. Bean, that’s for sure!

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