Hanging Up On Dell? Gripes about tech support are on the rise

Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
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#1
Hanging Up On Dell? Gripes about tech support are on the rise, and the PC king is scrambling to upgrade
Available online: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_41/b3954102.htm
It didn't seem as if he was asking for much. When the CD drive on Peter Ulyatt's Dell desktop computer failed this summer, he called the support crew at Dell (DELL ), where he'd bought the $1,600 machine nine months prior. Armed with an extended warranty that cost him an extra $300, the Pasadena (Calif.) retiree got on the phone and waited. After sitting on hold for 45 minutes, a technician whom Ulyatt could barely understand came on the line and diagnosed a "software problem." Ulyatt's call, transferred to the software technician, was dropped. Calling back, Ulyatt waited on hold another 45 minutes, asked for the software desk, and waited a half-hour more before hanging up. "At the moment, I'm not high on Dell's service," says Ulyatt, who plans to buy two new PCs in a year or so. "When I buy again, I will look at others beyond Dell."

Ulyatt's ordeal is not an isolated case. All tech companies have some unhappy customers, of course, but recent surveys suggest the ranks of frustrated Dell Inc. owners are growing. Complaints to the Better Business Bureau rose 23% in 2004 from the year before, and they're up another 5% this year. And Dell's customer-satisfaction rating fell 6.3%, to a score of 74, in a survey by the University of Michigan. Dell's score puts it right at the PC industry's average for the study, in which Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL ) led the way with an 81. Still, it's a big decline, especially for a company that has often topped the list. "We've never seen a drop like this," says professor Claes Fornell, who ran the survey.

Plenty of people are going public with complaints. Media critic Jeff Jarvis has recounted his frustrations on his blog. Web sites such as ihatedell.net have popped up. Helaina Burton recently spent three hours talking to a half-dozen Dell reps -- all to solve the simple problem of a faulty keyboard. "I certainly won't buy another product from Dell," she says. "I will make sure that any other prospective Dell customer I meet knows what kind of treatment they'll get."

Could such sentiment lead to trouble for the world's largest PC company? Over the past decade, Dell's dependable support, combined with competitive prices and build-to-order convenience, made it the default choice for millions of consumers. Its market share continues to rise overall, and it holds 28.8% of the U.S. consumer market, up from 28.2% a year ago, according to researcher IDC. However, a sagging reputation could slow sales, jeopardizing the company's plan to reach $80 billion in revenues by 2008. In the most recent quarter, Dell missed its sales target, one reason its stock has dropped 18%, to $34, since the start of the year.

MORE REPS
Dell is working to reverse the service slide. John Hamlin, senior vice-president of Dell's U.S. consumer business, says the company is hiring a few thousand additional reps this year and striving to reduce call transfers. Already, he says, hold times have been cut in half from earlier this year, and internal weekly surveys of 5,000 customers show a 35% increase in customer satisfaction from a year ago.

Now the company, which revolutionized how PCs are sold with its direct model, has plans to change how PC support is provided. On Sept. 28 it announced a line of higher-priced PCs, dubbed the XPS line, that will come with improved levels of service. XPS owners who call in for help will be routed onto shorter queues to dedicated teams made up of the company's "best" phone reps, says Michael A. George, general manager of Dell's U.S. consumer businesses. "The goal is for the vast majority [of XPS owners] to wait for less than five minutes."

That's one of several ways in which Dell will encourage customers who want more support to pay extra for it. In November the company will launch a slate of new offerings, including remote assistance so technicians can take control of the customer's PC to fix problems. And early next year Dell will introduce a series of one-year memberships so customers can opt for various levels of help, at various prices. One of the options will likely include a quarterly PC tune-up, in which a techie would remotely clean up the hard drive and check security settings.

All of this adds up to a quiet attempt to reset customer expectations in the PC industry. While execs won't say so publicly, the message is clear: That new PC you bring home comes with only the most rudimentary support. More hand-holding costs extra.

Indeed, Dell is rolling back some of the perks that now come standard. BusinessWeek has learned that in mid-October, Dell plans to redefine the term "free shipping" for its low-end models. Instead of delivering them to the customer's home, Dell will mail them to the nearest post office for pickup. These customers have to pay extra for home delivery -- although it comes standard with pricier models such as the new XPS line.

It's tough medicine that fits with Dell's pragmatic approach to business. The company is the No. 1 player in the U.S. consumer PC market. But sales to U.S. consumers carry margins of 6% -- compared with 11% for corporate buyers. The new "pay-up" strategy could help make sure the consumer unit doesn't eventually become a drag on earnings.

Some industry experts think Dell's plans are simply a practical response to plummeting prices. "Consumers want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want that $300 PC but expect the same support that came with a machine that 10 years ago cost $2,500," says Stephen Dukker, who founded home PC maker emachines Inc. in 1998.

Other key PC makers are increasing the pressure on Dell. Apple, which consistently ranks high in customer surveys like Michigan's, recently decided to start using chips from Intel Corp. (INTC ), making it a more direct competitor to Dell. And Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ ), Dell's biggest competitor, seems intent on distinguishing itself with customer service.

Over the past year, HP has launched several initiatives to build loyalty. One lets HP employees key in information on product glitches they hear about from customers, who then are supposed to receive a call from a rep within 48 hours. Another is a diagnostic tool HP developed to help consumers figure out what kind of problem they have, even if it doesn't involve HP gear. Dell won't help customers with non-Dell problems unless they pay extra. "Given today's digital lifestyle, it's vital," says Diana L. Bell, HP's senior vice-president of total customer experience. "We have to do more than say, 'here's the product, and catch me if you can."'

A common refrain from Dell customers is that the company seems to want to hide from them rather than help them. Edward Huebner, a Detroit sales manager, called Dell to ask about upgrading the software on a Dell DJ music player. He couldn't get the assistance he wanted on the phone, so he tried Dell's online chat service. But there were delays of as long as five minutes between responses. Huebner gave up and tracked down an answer on an online message board. Afterward he posted this parting salvo: "You've lost a customer for life." A Dell spokeswoman says a five-minute wait is "outside the norm."

Huebner's experience may be a warning sign. If customers don't go for the new "pay-up" plans and service keeps sliding, Dell may have to put more money into solving the problem itself -- or risk having more consumers defect to rivals.
 
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Wes Bucey

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#2
Jennifer Kirley said:
Hanging Up On Dell? Gripes about tech support are on the rise, and the PC king is scrambling to upgrade
Available online: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_41/b3954102.htm
I recall you mentioning once you had a Dell, Jennifer. What's your personal experience? Do you call for service and get folks you can't understand? Do you wait long periods? Do your calls get dropped? Do techies seem to be "bluffing"?

When the article mentions Dell hiring more reps - where are these reps located? what is their expertise? How are they evaluated? How are they compensated (by call? or by satisfied caller?)

I remember the early days of Dell when I bought a number of PCs for my organization: If we had a problem, we'd call and describe the problem, Dell would send some components by overnight FEDEX and a tech would show up on our doorstep the same afternoon to play with the components and get us running. Anything he replaced, he took the old parts and shipped them to where Dell directed - no further muss or fuss for us. Sometimes the tech would be puzzled, but he had access to a special tech line to talk HIM through a problem. Our personal involvement was limited to giving the guy room to work and unlimited coffee or soft drinks.

Alas, I fear those days are forever gone!
 

Marc

Fully vaccinated are you?
Leader
Admin
#3
I liked this one: "BusinessWeek has learned that in mid-October, Dell plans to redefine the term "free shipping" for its low-end models. Instead of delivering them to the customer's home, Dell will mail them to the nearest post office for pickup. These customers have to pay extra for home delivery -- although it comes standard with pricier models such as the new XPS line."
 
A

Aaron Lupo

#4
I love my Dells. I have only had to call them on two different occasions and the problem was solved very quickly and at no expense to me. In fact the last problem I had, from the time I called them to the time I received my laptop back was 3 days. I would have to say I have been very happy with the Dell products and service I have received.
 
L

little__cee

#5
New Dell

I have a 6 year old Dell and just bought a new one. I ordered the new one from a man that I could barely understand and it sounded like a wild office party was going on in the background - he had to keep placing me on hold repeatedly but ultimately I got my new pc ordered at a lower price than I could have ordered it online.

I have issues with Dell - not being able to get the tv ad price online, a frustrating telephone menu and 7 digit extension numbers. But I am happy with their product and the price I paid for it. I can tolerate the rest.

Overall, thumbs up to Dell - I hope they get their act together because this article is a bit scary!
 
K

Kevin H

#6
I recently purchased a new computer - a Compaq machine with 17" LCD monitor purchased trhough Costco. I looked at the Dell's didn't like their new service/warranty period of 90 days, Compaq was still offering a year. I originally purchased an emachine package from Best Buy - they didn't have the monitor in stock. OK, I can understand that. The monitor was ordered, I received the email from corporate it was shipped. I received the email from corporate that it was received. I stopped at the store (3 hrs time and 150 miles round trip - it wasn't there, no other ones were present) I was told it wasn't due till 2 days later, despite the fact that I told them I had received an email that it had been received. On Tuesday, I call corporate and wait to work through there computerized phone answering program. They check - it was shipped via UPS & the store signed for it. Thursday, I call the store to talk to a manager and spend a total of 30 minutes on the phone & she can't find the one sent anywhere, but they do have 3 in stock. Had her set one aside, but indicated that they may be getting everthing back instead. Saturday, I returned everything to a clueless clerk, at least they got the credit for the purchase done correctly. I returned everthing, because it was a package deal which relied heavily on rebates - if they couldn't get delivery right I didn't want to chance them getting the rebates correct without way more of my time than I wanted to spend. My guess as to the lack of a monitor that was signed for is that they gave it to someone else who came in and complained, or wanted it right then and bet I wouldn't be in before they got a shipment & then they didn't set one aside. The consequences are that they have also lost a customer for life.

I've checked, and there is no easy way to file a complaint with a request for corrective action with the company/compensation for time and money lost, or I would. It's a bit of a shame, as I really would have preferred the emachine model, but that one was available only through Best Buy. On the other hand I now have 1 less place to look for my next comsumer electronic/appliance purchase.
 
J

JerryStem

#7
No Dell experience, but a similar Best Buy problem. First laptop (mine) bought at the store, no problems. Second (wife's) bought online, more hassle but not major. Just won't buy from again.

Ordered hers online at noon on Thursday (Averatec model I've mentioned before, I like it myself) and paid extra for overnight shipping. It showed up Monday. They didn't process the order till Friday, then over the weekend.

Then, I see online the price had dropped $50 on Friday. But since I ORDERED on Thursday, I don't get it cheaper. Never mind they waited until the next day to actually do anything.

No more Best Buy computers.... (And don't get me started on rebates! 4 months on a memory rebate that involved the BBB)

Jerry :mad:
 

Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
Leader
Admin
#8
Wes Bucey said:
I recall you mentioning once you had a Dell, Jennifer. What's your personal experience? Do you call for service and get folks you can't understand? Do you wait long periods? Do your calls get dropped? Do techies seem to be "bluffing"?

When the article mentions Dell hiring more reps - where are these reps located? what is their expertise? How are they evaluated? How are they compensated (by call? or by satisfied caller?)

I remember the early days of Dell when I bought a number of PCs for my organization: If we had a problem, we'd call and describe the problem, Dell would send some components by overnight FEDEX and a tech would show up on our doorstep the same afternoon to play with the components and get us running. Anything he replaced, he took the old parts and shipped them to where Dell directed - no further muss or fuss for us. Sometimes the tech would be puzzled, but he had access to a special tech line to talk HIM through a problem. Our personal involvement was limited to giving the guy room to work and unlimited coffee or soft drinks.

Alas, I fear those days are forever gone!
I own a Dell laptop that recently ran through its three-year extended warranty--just after the hard drive died. Phew!

I am super lucky in that my husband is a Network Administrator for a newspaper near here. This means never having to call for my own problems, as he does the whole thing. He usually takes care of it online, I think, in the same manner as he would with his business account. There is never a service call for software related problems (I take issue with the term "demanding" customers as they have not qualified what that means--demanding a replacement for a broken DC ROM? :( ) He replaces the parts himself. We have five computers in our house so that parts can be ordered through someone else's machine when one breaks. He has this place networked with firewalls through a separate Linux machine, and he's fixed my computer to be virtually free of popups ad nauseum. (Can you say "spoiled rotten?")

I have talked with him about Dell's slide and he agrees it is sad, annoying and problematic but he continues to buy from them instead of, say, HP because it's a known quantity--meaning he knows exactly what to do when resolving a broken machine.

I have written a letter to the editor of BusinessWeek regarding this article.

Dell has been dealing with trouble with its outsourcing quality control. I don't know what metrics they use. Their current behavior reminds me of students returning to classes in the Fall--they seem to have forgotten much of what they learned not so long ago.

To hire more reps, they might go after some they laid off when switching to Indian reps. Some were rehired after they quietly switched back to Texas service operations for corporate accounts.

I have a problem with this idea of making a bunch of customer classes. Buy an upgrade model and get the kind of service the company built its brand upon? Outrageous! :blowup:
 
I

IEGeek - 2006

#9
I too HATE Dell. For no other reason then they refuse to support any equipment hooked to a Dell system that may or may not be causing the problem. with wireless routers, after market keyboards and mice, MP3 players, faxes, printers, scanners etc. I think the only thing my old Dell had hooked into it that was from Dell was the monitor. Their tech support is rude, incompetent and barely speaks english.

On a great note, I love my Apples. I now have three. I originally purchased a 14" iBook from an Apple store from a very knowledgable clerk, who asked me proper questions (i.e what is your primary use? what is your internet connection? etc.) We loved it and still love it. My only mistake was getting the stock RAM and HD ( I wanted to take it home that day) so I quickly outgrew it. It is now my wife's and she loves it. After I gave the iBook up to her, I purchased a 17" PowerBook with the upgraded RAM, upgraded HD etc. I love it as well. I use it daily. Then I purchased a PowerMac G5 (I like to play some stupid shoot-em-up games from time to time and it is hard on a laptop) and that too has become a revered member of the Apple family. We also have three different iPods (Nano, 60GB full size and a shuffle) We also purchased a Canon Digital Camera from Apple as well as Wireless Epson All-in-One Printer/Fax/Scanner/Copier.

In every purchase we were contacted by Apple within 72 hours to ask if we were happy with our purchase and if we had any questions and if everything got hooked up ok. We had an issue with the camera not uploading all pictures and video. The guy calling walked us through the installation and lo and behold it started working, no transfers, no call backs, nothing. INSTANTANEOUS RESPONSE.

On Saturday afternoon we also received a call from Apple asking us if we still liked our "new" equipment and to let us know they had a special price on a MiniMac if we were interested. They guy told me that the average Apple owner has several systems. I was having an imbedded video problem from umm ....cnn.com.... :nope: (not really but for here it will suffice) and he walked me through that as well and fixed my problem.

We have attended several Apple classes at the local store to learn how to use different features, programs etc for our computers and the guys and gals at the Apple store never talk above our heads, never talk below us, never talk around us, they are very knowledgable and good at what they do.

I am forever going to be an Apple guy!!!!!
 

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