A Dell Computer Christmas Story… or… Are you really proud of your customer service?

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LATE TUESDAY UPDATE: I have canceled my order and plan not to give Dell business again. 🙁

TUESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: I received a call from Dell Customer service. The message said I could call back or email. I email. Nothing in return. My sadness is moving to anger as it is apparent that the problem is happening over and over again, as evidenced by this conversation. I am amused by the look at the bright side comment, “The positive thing out of this.. is, that Dell is now aware of this issue and how it affected the orders, and the Customers like yourself..So, perhaps they are indeed working on some resolution w/in to see that this doesn’t happen again.” It appears that after three months, Dell doesn’t get it. Other than their lackluster customer service, I have yet to receive one word from corporate, despite two emails and a couple of fruitless phonecalls. Sigh…

MONDAY UPDATE: The corporate customer service group called to update me just now (Monday morning, December 22). She needs another 24 hours to contact manufacturing to see if anything can be done (?). I remain skeptical…

Don and I have had a challenging relationship with Dell computer. We have used them to provide computers for our small business since 2002 and although we have been generally happy with the hardware, the customer service, especially at the time of sale, has been a lot less than acceptable.

Don reminded me the other day that his last two desktops purchased from Dell were hardly easy transactions. It took weeks to get the order processed for various reasons, the communication being underwhelming to horrible every step of the way. In fact, Don’s last two desktops featured an interesting trend: neither desktop he ordered was the eventual computer he received. Manufacturing problems, broken promises and frustrating customer service necessitated going with compromises.

On December 1st, I ordered a couple of items that had been advertised to me no less than a dozen times in October and November, the Dell Mini9 laptop. I paid for the purchases with a credit card (I have had problems trying with the leasing process before, so I didn’t give them that excuse…). I wanted the order as soon as possible, so I sprung for second day air. The order was confirmed and I was told that the items would ship on the 11th and arrive a few days later. No problem.

On the 11th, I eagerly checked for a tracking number, only to see the laptops were still being manufactured. Later that day, I received an email that “There has been a delay in fulfilling your Order Number listed below and we have adjusted the estimated ship date for this order (see Revised Estimated Ship Date). Based on the latest available information, we are confident we will ship your order on or before this new date.” This was extraordinarily disappointing but they are ready with this consolation: “We understand the importance of orders placed during the holiday season and appreciate your patience.” They did offer to upgrade me to second day air, a useless upgrade considering I already paid for that service. No reason was given for the delay but given the holiday season and the timeframe of my project for the machines, the new ship date of December 19th was acceptable.

On a whim last Thursday, I checked the order status only to find that the order had been canceled. I immediately called the number on the order status screen to see the situation only to be told that the ordered had been canceled due to “problems with the order” and that the new ship date was **January 11th**, 42 days after I placed the order. For a number of reasons, this is unacceptable to me but I was particularly angry that I wasn’t notified of this via email and that there was absolutely no satisfactory reason for this other than it was a “problem with the order.” I was also frustrated that my call center customer service representative seemed to have no answers beyond their script. I tried calling other Dell customer service numbers but anyone that seems to not be the human equivalent of an automated call system sent me back to the “worldwide” call center in India that repeated the script to me. There were “problems.” There is “nothing they can do.” They are “very sorry.” And my favorite… “nobody can tell you any different,” so asking for a manager or someone with decisionmaking power was met with that stock answer. The one break from the script was the second customer service representative. She actually suggested that I might have done something to delay the order.

After I calmed down, I also noticed that my new order didn’t contain all of the pieces of my original order. Awesome!

I read the Consumerist (an excellent blog on consumer advocacy) and am aware of their strategy of the “executive email carpet bomb.” I did some research and decided to go for it. I wrote a firmly worded last Thursday and sent it off to the 10 or so email addresses, including the Dell “Consumer Advocate” that contacted Don the last time he had problems with Dell. Then, I waited for the magic.

Last Friday morning, I received phone call and then a email midmorning from someone named Mamatha Eswar Rao, the “Executive Support Resolver” on the “Global Escalation Management Team” saying that she was responding to my email to corporate. I found this odd because I was assured by the customer service representatives on Thursday that there was no such thing as “Executive Customer Service.” I emailed her giving her several hours throughout the day in which she could contact me. She finally did just before the end of her shift.

That call? Absolutely no different that earlier this week. There were “problems.” Worse, she suggested it happens all of the time, hardly inspiring confidence. She has a NEW order number for me and this time, the computer will ship on the 7th of January, 38 days after my original order. When I say this is unacceptable to me, she told me that it was “possible, but not a promise” that an expedited order could be achieved but couldn’t tell me details or what that even means. She didn’t offer any explanation nor did she offer any definite time frame for when this would be resolved. When I finally pressed her, she offered to research and call back on Monday.

I know that readers of the Consumerist have had success with this strategy (and I don’t blame the strategy at all), but apparently Dell’s answer to “escalation” of customer services issues is to repeat the same, tired script about “problems with your order” without doing anything about it.

I did forward another email to the Dell executive team explaining that repeating their vague excuses is unacceptable but I expect no resolution or even response. The question I have? How can this possibly pass for customer service in a tightening economy? I have received NOTHING from Dell that didn’t smack of a call center script. I don’t expect hand-holding service from a global corporation but I do expect the aura that my business is important. I have recommend Dells fairly consistently over the last 6 years (including to customers that ordered more than a single computer… including outfitting a lab and a couple of offices) but I can’t imagine recommending a Dell to anyone based on this.

The easy answer is that I should just cancel and go with someone else. But, I feel burned by this. More over, I could have had the machines in hand by December 2nd if I had purchased any of the alternatives. Those lost three weeks (or four or five or six) mean something to me. Plus, quite frankly, I have no reason to believe Dell when they tell me a date of shipment or make a promise.

The salt in the wound? Dell has emailed me no less than six times since December 1st with advertisements for the items I ordered. They have sent me no less than four direct mailings with advertisements for the items I ordered. One email actually promoted a second-day air service! Ouch.

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