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Dell? Hell! - Comments

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I was glad to see that my Dell desktop PC came with a set of diagnostic lights, so that if the system crashed, I could interpret the cause of the crash from the lights. Ah, but Murphy works at Dell, no doubt! The mysterious crashes I get every week or so leave a distinctive pattern on the diagnostic lights -- it's just that it's one that Dell Support can't interpret!

One thing that works even if you don't have your own newsletter: "Spam" them. I fought long and hard over a machine with a defective motherboard, that was then replaced with another defective motherboard.

Tech support decided the problem was mine, not theirs, and started stalling me. After a week with no action on their part, I resent the last mail I sent them - and added "I still await response to the following." No reply came, so the next day I resent *that* mail - with the same comment added once again.

I did it every day for a week until the finally realized that it took me five seconds to keep myself active in their systems - and document their unresponsiveness at the same time.

They finally relented, came out with yet another motherboard, and the machine has worked like a charm ever since.

I still buy Dell, but am - like Randy - more cautious than I have been.

Unfortunately, it's quite frequent that you have to be somebody famous, or at least really, really aggressive, to get companies to fulfill the terms of the warranty they sold you.

For example, AbiWord, a non-profit Open Source project, had their whole donation fund ripped off by a PayPal employee. Paypal not only refused to refund the money, they banned AbiWord from Paypal when they complained. Then it went on Slashdot and 2 million people read the story ... at which point PayPal restored their account and their lost funds and apologized. But the less-well-connected just get screwed.

Sadly, this year's Consumer Reports star for good service (like Dell) will be next year's "please hold" nightmare. I used to recommend them to clients for home PCs. I don't anymore. I recommend IBM for customer service (although it's been getting worse) and HP for working out-of-the-box, and Apple if you're near an Apple Store (customer service at the Apple Store is great, by phone not so good). However, these recommendations are all ephemeral; in 2 years I'm sure one or all of those companies will turn into troglodytes.

Joe Average Consumer is partly to blame for this. Good customer service is expensive, and most Americans buy exclusively based on price and advertised features. People who read Consumer Reports and CNET and other resources and actually check warranty terms are outnumbered by those who buy whatever's $10 cheaper 20 to one. So these companies are responding to consumer demand.

I own a small computer sales and service shop. Dell and their service has always been an amazement to me. I don't understand how people can believe that a multi-national company can possible care about their individual issue. The best way to get a great product AND great service is to NOT shop for a computer. Hire a local computer supplier. Interview the ones available. Check with people who deal with them. Ask them for references. Then go and talk with them about your needs and expectations. The local guys know they have to compete with the multi-nationals and their strength is in SERVICE. With them you don't have to rely on 1-800-IGNORE or 1-800-YOU-DOIT. You don't have to wait for couriers. You just let your personal IT department fix the problem.

I bought a Dell when I went away to college because my school had a service contract with Dell - i.e. Dell had a store on campus, so service was always available. My laptop worked wonderfully for a year and a half....and then I started getting this message about power adapters not being recognized....and then my battery stopped charging....and then the computer wouldn't even work.

Sometime in the "battery not charging" stage, I called my school's computer store, expecting to be able to get Dell technical support. To my horror, I discovered that Dell wasn't working with my school anymore, although my service contract was still good. I called Dell, explained my problem, and was told it was a "motherboard issue," which is apparently something of a catch-all phrase when they don't know what's going on. So they came out and replaced my motherboard.....to no effect. At which point (we had now reached the "computer not working due to no power" stage) I was told there was nothing I could do. I panicked. I'm a full time student with three jobs, and couldn't afford to replace my computer, nor could I realistically function without one. I spoke to my boss (I work in IT at my school's library), who just happened to be the person who was in charge of purchasing 7 or 8 figures worth of Dell machines and support every year. Lucky me! Dell replaced my computer immediately. And then THAT one broke...but I dropped my boss's name and it was fixed the next day.

I have to agree with Randy that Dell tends to respond to those customers who have the right leverage....it makes me wonder about all of the unconnected customers struggling through Dell's Tech support maze....

I have found that if you cannot get a problem fixed the first time with any company that writing to the company CEO usually gets very fast and accurate results. Although most CEO's never see your letter they have a staff whose sole job is to answer these letters. I have never gotten nasty in those letters and give only factual information. With this method I have even had out of warranty items repaired or replaced.

I also had a issue with PayPal. An item for £50 suddenly appeared on my account. This had been debited from my credit card and paid to someone I had never heard of.

I queried this immediately with both PayPal and my credit card company. With PayPal I filled in the online form and then contacted the support centre by phone. I was assured that my complaint had been recorded and was being investigated.

After a few days I had heard nothing so I sent an email asking what was happening using the reference I had originally been given. I received a reply that they had no record of my complaint. I also phoned and got the same reaction.

I replied to PayPal with copies of all the correspondence including the reference number, but with no success.

I could see no evidence of anyone having logged in to my account. Being a computer support technician by trade specialising in trouble shooting, I began to get suspicious. This had all the hallmarks of an inside job.

To cut the story short, I repeated my email but added that I would refer this to the UK Financial Services Authority (not that I had any faith in them either). The transaction was reversed within a matter of minutes!

As in the AbiWord story, ordinary people do have clout if they know how to pull the right strings.

As a tech support worker, I see these things happen on a regular basis, sadly. The only difference between Dell and other laptop distributors is that Dell has an exclusive factory, so their lack of support in your case places them directly and horrifically at fault. There are really only a few laptop manufacturers, whose systems then go to various builders/factories. These factories distribute to resellers who sell the laptops to customers.

What this means for the customer is that tech support is only the first (and, unforunately, weakest) link in the chain, but we are the link that takes the most abuse, because most factories (with Sager, ChemUSA, and Whitebooks being notable exceptions) refuse to speak with the end user unless one of their clients has a special contract. Therefore, if a repair is delayed, we are the conveyors of the bad news, as well as the victims of the customer's ire, and most customers do not grasp the fact that, even if they were to speak to a technical support supervisor, it would not help.

With most laptop resellers, those individuals who actually have weight to pull with the factories are in the sales office, and I have had several customers become abusive when I try to explain this.

Laptops are imperfect at best, and the power of a laptop is almost directly proportional to its chances of crashing in a serious manner (which is why I loathe companies like Alienware).

Always research a company before buying a laptop, because you're not just buying the laptop, you're buying the company's (and their factory's) service. Find out who pays shipping to the factory if your system has to be RMAd (most notebook factories require the customer to pay shipping one-way), find out what the turn-around policy is for repairs (a standard among most factories with which I work is a promise to do their very best to have the laptop repaired within 72 hours. If it is not repaired within that time, they upgrade shipping), and find out what the process is if your laptop comes back to you with the same problem, or even worse than it left.

Consumer Reports' ratings, ultimately, mean nothing. Most companies are pretty good at picking up on undercover reporters (for one thing, they generally ask more leading, knowledge-based questions than regular users), and anyone flagged as a reporter is going to receive the very best service possible.

Just before begining my student teaching, my computer died, so I looked for a laptop with the quickest shipping time, so I ordered from Dell, and it was suposed to ship in 1 week. On the shipping date they called and said it would be another week. So I waited, but I had to change my shipping address since by that time I would be at a different address. On the next shipping date they called to say it would be another week before it shipped.

I gave them a piece of my mind and cancled the order. Then I noticed my credit card still had a hold on it from dell, and then the charged appeared! Three weeks after I cancled the order, the laptop arrived, at the first shipping address!! Sent it back, and got my money back two weeks later. And through this whole time, their website still said this particular computer would ship within one week!

I happen to work for a company that owns several thousand Dell computers, my department alone owns about 2300 Dells. I personally request and return 5-10 bad Dell parts a week. I won't say Dell's support is any worse than some other computer manufacturer because they all customer service problems. I also won't say buy from the small company because one has to consider will the company still be around in 3 years when your hard drive dies? However, I am more than willing to share a few of sad and some more humorous stories.

One day I was opening the 2-3 Dell boxes we receive a day and opened one box in particular. This box contained a hard drive; however, I couldn't recall ordering a replacement hard drive from Dell. I look through our online problem tracking system and can't find a bad hard drive either. It was then time to turn to the email interactions we have with Dell, and sure enough we found an email for the computer the hard drive was for. Only rather than requesting a hard drive we requested a mouse. So next I look at the packing slip for the box. It clearly states "2 btn optical mse". I asked the Dell technician for instructions on how to use a hard drive as a mouse and was only told that a mouse was being shipped and to ship the hard drive back.

One more story about Dell. We ordered 600 new computers from Dell a couple months before this computer's public release date. Well we get the first 6 of the computers in so we can start testing them and have issues with 3 of the 6. When the monitor was hooked up to the computer in a very specific configuration, which just happened to be how we hooked up all of our computers, the monitor would flash until the machine got into Windows. We diagnosed the problem to be the video card and requested new video cards from Dell. When the 3 new cards came in the same problem still occured so we ordered another 3 cards from Dell. Sure enough 2 of the cards were still bad.

At this point we decided something was wrong with all of the video cards and contacted support informing them of this. Support balked for about a week before we talked to our sales rep and support began to agree. We were told a fix would be out by the end of the month. The end of the month came and went without a fix. Then the next month came and went still without a fix. Finally, 2 months after support agreed the video cards had a problem we received a fix. It was just fortunate for us that we weren't planning on implementing these computers until a couple weeks after we received the fix.

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