Another Reason Not to Buy Dell Anymore

by bob on April 26, 2007

Once upon a time I was a loyal Dell customer. And like a lot of consultants, I was influential in getting a lot of Dells purchased by my clients. That all stopped about three years ago when I began to experience the growing gulf between the friendly, knowledgeable Dell salespeople and the increasingly witless, clueless and powerless Dell support people. Much of this, as you’re about to see, had to do with the outsourcing of Dell’s support operation to personnel who often seem to be mindlessly reading from scripts. You’re about to witness something that makes you wonder if there aren’t just computer programs at the other end of Dell’s support line now, spewing stock phrases in response to keywords. Such software exists, after all.

Below is an actual instant message session captured by consultant Randy Miller of Peoria, Arizona. Randy shared this on the Arizona Internet Professional’s Association (AZIPA) discussion list this morning, and gave me permission to pass it on here. Thanks, Randy!

Read Randy’s account, and weep:

What follows is an actual transcript of my recent attempt to upgrade a client laptop from Windows Media Center Edition to Windows XP Pro. We purchased the CD from Dell for the upgrade and received a bad product key. It has been a month and we have still not received the new CD you will see promised in 3-5 days by the supervisor. I changed the names of everyone and obscured some address data, but otherwise this is exactly how the conversation went.

Session Started with Agent (Dell_Rep)

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you for contacting Dell Technical Support. My name is Shivani and my rep ID number is xxxxxxxx. How may I assist you today?”

Customer: “Hello”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Hi Customer.”

Customer: “I am trying to install a copy of Windows XP that was sent to us by Dell. The problem is the license key on the sticker you sent says invalid. I have made sure that I typed it correctly”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you for the information. I’ll be glad to assist you. Please give me 2 to 3 minutes to pull up your account information. In the meantime, May I also have your telephone number, along with the
area code to update our records?”

Customer: “I am a tech support person and this is my customers laptop his number is xxx-xxx-xxxx”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you for the information. We will not face any connectivity issues in our interaction. However, in case the chat still gets disconnected, we will call you back to ensure that the issue is completely resolved. Please confirm if we can reach you on the telephone number xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Is there any alternate number?”

Customer: “Yes, could we get through this and discuss my issue now?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Sure.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “As per our records, you have Inspiron 9400/E1705 with Windows XP as the operating system. Am I right?”

Customer: “Yes, I do, but it came with Media Center Edition. You sent a CD for XP and when I try to install the key is not valid”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Okay.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I can see from our records that you had contacted us for battery issue and you had run some troubleshooting steps to resolve the issue, with tech telling you that you need not change the battery being the last step, am I correct?”

Customer: “Would you please tell me what the relevance of that question is to you sending the wrong key for XP?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer we are just recalling the last issue for which you contacted us.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Just wanted to know that was it resolved?”

Customer: “And I am in a hurry to fix the current one. Please focus on that. As I said, I am tech support and I have no idea if Mr. Smith fixed the battery issue.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I understand your issue and I will personally attend to your matter. I assure you that I will do my best to provide you quality service. Please be assured, I am here to assist you.”

Customer: “When can we get started on that.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “If I understand you correctly, you need the product key to install windows XP. Is that correct?”

Customer: “Yes”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, did you fill in the product ID that is written under the system.”

Customer: “Duh!”

Customer: “Of course, if you would read what I am printing here you will see that I have said that already. It is INVALID!”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Okay Please give me the key that you filled in.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Did you attempt PC restore?”

Customer: “BxGx8-Bx7xG-Bx8xY-Wx8xD-9xKxG”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Did you attempt PC restore?”

Customer: “No I don’t need a system restore, I just need to upgrade the OS to XP Pro”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I see.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, did you buy the CD for Windows XP pro to install the operating system?”

Customer: “Do you have a supervisor. I explained all of this already.”

Customer: “Scroll up”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I understand your concern.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, as I can see on the records the system was shipped with Windows Media Center.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “And not windows XP pro.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “If you are using a retail version of the CD you will need a product key,”

Customer: “Please read carefully: The computer came with MCE, Dell sent us a new CD with XP Pro, the Key is INVALID,”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “If not then you will not need a product key.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, did you buy the CD from dell or was a replacement CD was shipped?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Do you have the order number for the CDs?”

Customer: “Is there a chance you can help me? I will try to explain this one last time. the laptop came with MCE, we contacted Dell because we needed it with XP Pro. Dell sent a new CD with XP on it. They also sent a product key. The key is not valid however and we need a new /different key. The Dell Order # is xxxxxxxxx

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Okay”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you very much for the details.”

Customer: “Are you going to help me, or transfer me to your supervisor?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Yes.”

Customer: “Yes, what?”

Customer: “What are you doing?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, please be assured.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, since you have bought the CD from sales, you have the product key as well.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Dell does not recommend operating system reinstall.”

Customer: “Maybe your command of the printed language is not good. Yes, I have the product key. IT IS INVALID”


Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, since the system was shipped with MCE.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “That is why it is giving you the Invalid key message.”

Customer: “Please explain”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “System will not take the product key.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “That is why Dell does not recommend operating system reinstall.”

Customer: “You sent an XP disk, You sent an XP code, the code claims to be invalid.”

Customer: “Please transfer me to a supervisor immediately.

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Okay.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, please stay online for 1-2 minutes.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “While I transfer the chat to the supervisor.”

Customer: “Yes”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Hi Customer, my name is Ketan, I am the supervisor in technical services.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “How are you doing today?”

Customer: “Hello Ketan, I have been trying unsuccessfully to get my issue addressed. I have a laptop with MCE, it should have been ordered with XP Pro, I received your XP Pro and Product Key but when the key is entered it says it is invalid”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “I understand your concern Customer.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Let me explain you everything in detail.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “As per records, your system has been shipped a long with Windows XP Media Center Edition.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “So, it is configured accordingly.

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “As far as Windows XP Professional is concerned, Dell doesn’t recommend installation of any other operating system on your system apart from Media Center Edition.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Its for your system’s stability and compatibility.

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Could you please confirm from where you have arranged the Windows XP Professional CD?”

Customer: “OK, now I will try to explain everything to you. Windows XP PRO is REQUIRED for this system and your sales Representative sold it to me. I need to install it on THIS system and connect to a DOMAIN. Something MCE is not able to do. I PAID you (dell) for it and it has an invalid code. I need a correct code.

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “As you have purchased it from Dell, so you can get its product key from the CD cover.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “One more thing.”

Customer: “Maybe you did not understand. I have the key you sent. It is invalid.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “There are chances that sometimes we enter wrong numbers like instead of 2 we enter Z, instead of 0 we enter O, instead of 8 we enter B, and like wise.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “If you have already tried all of the possible permutations and combinations, then in this case, I would suggest you to contact Microsoft to get the correct product key.”

Customer: “Yes we d0 50metimes, but as I said I have checked my spelling, so have the 3 other people here. I have entered it correctly and it is still incorrect. and as this is OEM software Microsoft in accordance with your agreement to sell OEM software requires that you assist me with this issue.

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “I understand that.”

Customer: “Ketan, are you still here?”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Yes, we are connected.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “In this case, we have one resolution available.”

Customer: “?”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “As you have already tried different permutations & combinations, so we need to replace the CD for you.”

Customer: “When”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “We will ship you another Windows XP Professional CD. We will create the dispatch now.”

Customer: “Will it have a valid product key?”

Customer: “Empasis on the VALID”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Certainly, it will have the valid product key.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Could you please stay online for 4-5 minutes while I check the details for you?”

Customer: “I only ask because so far you are 0 for 1 on that”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “I certainly understand your concern Customer and apologize for the inconvenience.

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Could you please stay online for 4-5 minutes while I check the details for you?”

Customer: “yes”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Thank you for staying online. I appreciate your patience.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “I’ve checked all of the required details.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “To get this issue resolved, we will replace the Windows XP Professional CD for you.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “You will receive the CD within next 3-5 business days.”

Customer: “Thank you.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “You are welcome.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Customer, let me connect you back with Shivani. She will create dispatch for Windows XP Professional CD. She needs to confirm shipping details.”

Customer: “fine”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Thank you.”

Agent (Dell_Supervisor): “Please stay online while I connect you back with Shivani.”

Customer: “Yes”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you for staying online. I appreciate your patience.”

Customer: “Yes”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Okay.”

Customer: “Will you confirm details please”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Sure.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Before we proceed; may I have the name, phone number and the original shipping address? This is for the verification purpose.”

Customer: “Are you being intentionally annoying?”

Customer: “Mr. Smith”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, I understand that you are not the original owner.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “However, we need to confirm the above details.”

Customer: “The owner was here over an hour ago when we started, but now is with a patient and cannot be disturbed.”

Customer: “You verified me before and I just need you to do as you are supposed to. Send the CD”

Customer: “I seems you are more interested in covering up your error that correcting your mistake.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Customer, fully understand your concern.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Please give me the shipping address.”

Customer: (Address removed to protect identity)

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you very much for the details.”

Customer: “Are we finished?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I will give you the case number and the dispatch number.”

Customer: “We began this chat at 11:22 and it is now One Hour and twenty minutes later. As I bill 107.50 per hour your customer is now out over $200.00 for a simple error on the part of Dell.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I understand.”

Customer: “But you don’t care.”

Customer: “I do.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Is there anything else regarding your Dell system that I may help you with today?”

Customer: “NO, do you have the dispatch number?”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Yes.”

Customer: “do you have the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “do you have the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “do you have the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “What is the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “What is the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “What is the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Customer: “What is the dispatch number?”

1 minute later

Agent (Dell_Rep): “I have included your Case # 160129520 to reference our interaction today. Please keep this on file; it will assist you when contacting DELL.”

Customer: “Thank You, I honestly did not think Dell Tech support was as bad as I had heard, but may I say that you have managed to remove all doubt from my mind.”

Agent (Dell_Rep): “Thank you for contacting DELL Technical Support and allowing me the opportunity to assist you. If you still feel that there are additional DELL Hardware related concerns that need to be addressed, please contact us again at 1-800-624-9896 or Click on “Chat with Technical Support” at the following web page and enter the Service Tag.

It was really a pleasure to assist you and I really appreciate your time. Have a nice day!

Bye, take care.

Session Ended

Whew! Randy isn’t just an anonymous prankster; he’s willing to put his contact information on this evidence. Here it is:

Randy L. Miller

4480 W. Peoria Ave, Suite 105
Glendale, AZ 85302

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen Weber April 27, 2007 at 6:11 am

Thanks for the amazing look inside a communication that lost its focus on customer care, Bob. It would be interesting to see the scene played out by an expert customer service leader. What a case study this would make of what NOT to do when it comes to others. Great post

Marcelo L April 27, 2007 at 8:02 am

One word. Outsourcing.

’nuff said.

Bob responds: As much as I think outsourcing (especially, offshoring) is generally a Very Bad Idea, it isn’t that it’s inherently impossible for it to work, at least as level one support, if it’s properly structured and managed. It’s just that in the real world, it isn’t usually properly structured and managed, as you can see here. It’s clear from this transcript that elaborate effort has been expended to train representatives to spout soothing phrases in response to certain stimuli, but absolutely no effort has been made to give them an actual understanding of their task; it is very much a cookbook / decision tree approach. In this case the goal is not to LISTEN and SATISFY THE CUSTOMER; it’s to quickly pigeon-hole the customer complaint, respond with the closest parroted answer in their play book, rinse and repeat. Also, in my personal experience, even when the rep is willing and able to understand the issue and provide actual help, they have very little freedom or authority to do anything useful.

Charles C April 27, 2007 at 9:12 am

Question – isn’t much of today’s CRM software designed to steer the agent into such cookbook / decision tree approaches? This enables the software to offer up metrics, etc., manage (minimize) contact work time, etc. Also allows the agent to mindlessly multitask (work 3-5 contacts active at the same time).

Bob responds: I have no first-hand knowledge of CRM software typically used in telephone customer support scenarios, but have absolutely no difficulty believing that CRM software purchased by such operations has responded to the buyer’s desires. Customer support centers generally have a misguided desire to turn customer support people into thoughtless monkeys. Actually I doubt they think of it in those terms, but that’s the net effect. If you want to see how call centers should work, I highly recommend the QA Q&A blog. If you’re managing customer service, go there, and get wisdom!

Ryan Smith April 27, 2007 at 9:39 am

My last attempt at purchasing a Dell was for a laptop for my mom. It was late at night (1:00am or something) and I was feeling buzzed and generous. I first tried to use their online chat to get my questions answered as I generally despise talking on the phone. Turns out that the online chat wasn’t 24-hours.

Fine, so I called the sales support. Just an answering machine with nobody to answer my specific questions. That’s when I realized that Dell has really gone downhill and I won’t be purchasing from them again.

Shame – they use to have such good deals.

Bob responds: I don’t know that I’d fault any company for not answering the phone at 1 am; I’d be willing to wait until business hours for quality customer service. For example, Falcon Northwest prides themselves in not having customer service at odd hours, and their reasoning is hard to fault: what kind of people are willing to work the graveyard shift? Since Falcon built their business on gamers (they do sell business machines now, folks — hint!) they certainly have more reason than most to be open 24 hours for support, but they choose to pick their battles and do a good job during expanded daytime business hours.

My experience with Falcon tech support has been stellar compared to Dell. I won’t give Falcon an A plus, because there is still a bit of a tendency to make you go through a lot of diagnostic “hoops” before they are allowed to send you the replacement part you clearly need, and they can be slow to return calls at times; but it is light-years beyond what Dell has become in recent years, that’s safe to say! And by gosh, they *do* return calls!

Neil May 8, 2007 at 8:32 am

I’m with Dell’s Online Community Outreach and having just finished reading that I can honestly say it’s definitely not the norm and is by far one of the worst examples of chat support I have ever seen. Over the years in Dell Support I’ve audited many phone calls, chats, and email chains, for quality and there is no reason that session should not have lasted over within a few minutes. There’s no excuse for that, and I can imagine how frustrating that must have been. I’ve also pulled the records of it and am looking into this particular session further because I am still at a loss for why this happened.

Dell, Inc.

Catherine Susans August 11, 2007 at 12:50 am

Never gave it any thought that the USA had to contend with Indian call centres too. We are now 2 months down the line with a problem with 2 home laptops. One needed a new power port, after X amounts of emails the laptop finally came back about 7 days ago but without a wireless network, the other needs a new hard drive and the courier came to collect a couple of days ago. The laptop needing the wireless network puting back on is still sitting here as apparently the courier can’t find us as we are so remote (not), wonder how they managed on the last 2 occasions when they came to collect?? I am now so confused that acually I am now sure which laptop is here and which one has been sent away, maybe that’s Dells game plan. However have used the escallation email so we will see what happens.

Beth August 18, 2008 at 10:37 am

I realize this is responding to a very old comment, but I had to, being someone who has worked graveyard shift for two different companies (food service and call center). What kind of people are willing to work overnight? In my experience: people who are naturally night people, college students, people working two jobs to make ends meet, parents who want/need to be home to get the kids off to school and home when they get home from school, people who work an opposite schedule to their spouse so that they don’t have to worry about paying for childcare, people who work an overnight shift because it pays $.50-$2 (sometimes more!) an hour to work a non-standard shift…the list goes on. Yes, sometimes you do have doped-out stoners, but for the most part those aren’t folks in the call center.

There’s almost always fierce competition for graves, too. People WANT that shift and work it well. Just because people are awake at night doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t provide reasonable customer service. And frankly, it’s insulting and unfair to say otherwise. The only downside of calling during overnight hours, typically, is that often OTHER departments aren’t there, so you may not have the full scope of service (for instance, you might have access to basic technical support, but not advanced; if you’ve had a problem with a face-to-face technician, you’ll have to wait until “normal hours” to talk to dispatch; things like that.) However, nearly every person I’ve worked with has been happy to do everything that was personally within their power to help–and at the call center I worked in, we actually had a bit more power than day shift folks because of the nature of our hours.

andy June 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I requested 2 day shipping,

hopefully I will see it after 2 weeks if I’m lucky enough.

avoid then if you can

andy June 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

where is their customer support located?

what continent?

Bob responds: At various times Dell has used both onshore and offshore support. Three or so years ago you could purchase some of their Precision workstation models explicitly with domestic US support, at least as an option. As to exactly where they offshore, I’m sure it goes to the lowest bidder. I’ve had the impression a lot of it is in India or Pakistan, but in all honesty I gave up on Dell around the time of this post in ’07 and have never gone back. I had a brief flirtation with Falcon Northwest; although I found their support to be first rate, their systems integration left much to be desired. I went through chronic heat dissipation issues with the RAM modules they were using on their systems, and finally abandoned their hardware as unreliable. In fairness to them that was in late ’07 and early ’08 and may well have improved since.

I then had experiences with Lenovo and (for low end kid usage) Compaq which were acceptable but not impressive.

After that I started using Apple hardware and have been very happy with a Mac Pro running Windows 7 in a VMWare Fusion virtual machine alongside OS/X. I now have that, a Macbook Air and several iPads around the house, although I still have a Dell Precision workstation and a Lenovo laptop holding on to life.

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