I was prompted to write this post after reading the article, “Growing pains hit Dell’s customer service,” at CNet News. I have been recommending Dell products for over five years to my clients. Throughout that time I have seen a lot of changes with the company, which one would expect with any fast-growing organization like Dell.
I noticed the quality of technical support for desktop products deteriorate to almost unacceptable levels within the last year, when Dell started outsourcing many of those calls to overseas technicians. I am in no way prejudiced against this sort of outsourcing. I understand the business needs that lead to choices like Dell’s. The problems I experienced were specifically related to the way in which my calls were handled, i.e. the technician was unable to do more than follow a troubleshooting script and not able to think independently about the problem I was describing, and the communication skills of the technician were greatly lacking with regard to their ability to speak clear and understandable English. That being said, I have seen the quality of support increase over the last few months.
My problems did not end with technical support. I had order delivery problems, including a lost desktop computer that was actually shipped via US Mail with no real ability to track the package and a customer service department who’s response was for me to call my local post office to track down the package. The quality of the customer service team at Dell has deteriorated to what I believe are unacceptable levels. I recently ordered a server that took almost two months to deliver, and I could NEVER get an answer from customer service about the expected delivery date beyond the cryptic information I could look up myself on the website. I was only able to get final resolution by speaking with a sales person.
The last major problem I saw was with the initial release of the Poweredge 2600 servers, specifically with regard to the RAID controller firmware and bad motherboards. I installed 3 servers within a few months of the release, and two of them had serious problems – one required a complete replacement, and the other a replacement of the motherboard within one week of installation.
Not being one to only complain, here are a few of my suggestions to Dell to improve some of the problems I see currently:
- Better order status information – the current online order status information is woefully inadequate. Delays are not explained clearly, and shipments take between two and three days from the time of the notification to provide tracking information. I can’t believe that Dell isn’t better able to provide tracking numbers for their shipments, when almost every other vendor (even the small ones) with whom I work can tell me the tracking number immediately after shipping the product. Further, if I do call the customer service team, I expect them to be able to tell me WHY the machine I just ordered is projecting a four-week turnaround, rather than just quoting the same information that I get on the site. I understand that certain components get backordered, but I would like the ability to consider changing my order if one particular component is causing the hold-up, if I need the machine faster.
- Closer relationships with independent technology consultants – the computer hardware industry does not have a lot of room for profit margins on product, especially in the space where Dell has positioned itself. That being said, the key for companies like Dell is volume. A lot of that volume is generated through advertising and marketing, as well as Dell’s direct sales staff, but one thing that Microsoft has learned very well is that you can get past the need for a serious direct sales staff through close relationships with independent vendors. Dell should follow a similar model, not just with regards to certification for supporting its products, but through education and partnering events to roll-out new products to the IT services world. Dell may have a way for large independent vendors to have relationships like the one I describe, and the recently launched Solution Provider Direct, which is geared towards providing “white box” solutions to this channel. I can tell you, though, that having called the Solution Provider Direct folks, they are no where near as knowledgeable or as pleasant to deal with as the other sales staff at Dell with whom I have worked.
- Bring customer service and tech support back to the US – I know this is a hot-button issue right now in the technology sector. I am not advocating this position just because I don’t want jobs leaving American soil. Frankly, I believe that if we want to keep the jobs here, we have to show why there is a value in paying the higher salaries American workers expect. In the arenas of customer service and technical support for Dell, I believe the value is clear. Customers will respond better to people who do not have accents that make them difficult to understand. Further, by bringing the departments back to the US, Dell will have a greater degree of control and may feel comfortable in better empowering there support personnel to make decisions for their clients. When I first started using Dell products, I called technical support to report a problem and could explain my troubleshooting steps and get the person to replace a defective part in a very short period of time. The same type of call today takes markedly longer – the support person has to get management approval to send out a replacement part, and they are EXTREMELY reluctant to skip any step in their troubleshooting guidelines, even if you can explain that you already did what they are asking you to do with no positive result.
I know this was a fairly long post, but I feel strongly that Dell really has been better than their competition. The problem with the growth they have seen is that they are starting to simply be the least of the evils rather than the excellent provider they once were. I do think, however, that these problems are solvable.