Dell hell, continued: Self-service

Dell hell, continued: Self-service

: So Dell knows that my hard drive is broken but after two days, I still haven’t received a reply to the latest email, in which they said they’d set up a service call to get it replaced, whatever that means.

I was thinking about this service process, in which Dell and other computer makers make us suffer through service with them. They take some S&M glee in making us wait on hold and talk to their people for hours (costing them money, by the way).

In what other consumer product or service do we have to have such a role in service?

When my car breaks, I drop it off and tell them what’s wrong and leave. They fix it. They verify it’s fixed. They don’t make me get into the greasepit with them.

When my electricity goes fritz at home, I call in the electrician and tell him what’s wrong and he fixes it and tests it and I pay him and thank him. I don’t have to hang out with him and hand him wirestrippers.

But with computers, we are expected to suffer through the process; we aren’t allowed to say, “Just fix it: The machine you made is broken so fix it and make sure it’s fixed.”

Why the hell do we tolerate this?

  • tim Windsor

    When the hard drive on my 20-inch flatscreen iMac failed, the process was incredibly simple. There was a special web-form to help with the diagnosis. It eventually bumped me to a live web chat with someone who authorized a swap-out within a few minutes.
    (BTW, I could have done this all by phone if I’d wanted)
    The next day, the replacement hard drive arrived, with easy instructions on how to open the Mac case, swap the drive and repackage and send in the broken one (on Mac’s dime).
    It’s bad that the drive failed.
    It’s very good how they fixed it (and allowed me to move the process along very quickly and easily).

  • John

    I haven’t had to deal with the Dell service department, but do they outsource their phone techs/customer service reps to Mars (or India, as the case may be), the way Hewlett-Packard does? With HP, as much as they may say in this interconnected world, there’s no difference whether the call center is in New Jersey or New Delhi, but there does seem to be a bit of an aloofness (as opposed to hostility) and a lack of understanding when I’ve tried to work with the HP rep on the other end of the phone line, half a world away.
    If Dell (and others) are doing the same thing and customers are getting the same results, some company might make a dent in market share by promising to have domestic customer service reps who better understand the domestic market.

  • Right of Center

    When my on-warranty powerbook went belly-up. I took it to an apple store and picked it up 3 days later. No phone, no online forms. A quick stop at the “expert bar” or whatever they call it, they confirmed the problem and whisked it away.

  • Dell has a thing where you can pay extra and always speak to customer service reps who speak english. Its nice because the call itself takes much less time. (I had to reseat my processor once and I’m so glad the lady spoke my language.) But that doesn’t mean your computer gets fixed any faster. Their service has really jumped the shark lately, they used to be awesome.
    I wonder if Dell Realizes that Jeff publishes a popular blog and that lots of people are reading this and deciding not to buy Dell. Maybe if he were to point this out to them his computer would get fixed faster.

  • tim Windsor

    “Maybe if he were to point this out to them his computer would get fixed faster.”
    But why should that make any difference?
    OH you’re writing about this? YES SIR! Right away sir!
    Of course Jeff doesn’t work for Advance anymore, but using that kind of leverage is pretty much taboo fo anyone working in the news media. It’s unfair influence.
    Besides, it makes for a better story when he reports what happens to Jeff Average just trying to get his Dell fixed.

  • Your models are equivalent–it’s the expectation level that’s off. A car is purchased at a dealership and can be returned to the dealer for servicing either under warranty or for a fee. You, too, can march back into the store where you bought your Dell and ask them to service it, and do it under warranty or pay for the service. The difference is that you bought the item and are asking for service while sitting in your apartment, so Dell is making sure you have a problem you can’t fix yourself before getting into a two-way packing situation. Dell only “asks you into the greasepit” because wouldn’t you rather fix it on the phone than ship something and wait for it to get shipped back?
    The same goes for your electricity. If you had a computer technician come into your home and told the tech your problem, you could go make a sandwich and come back when the service is done, assuming the technician knows how to fix things. Of course, utility companies are a much different beast than consumer goods firms, so an analogy is difficult.
    It’s not a suffering process; it’s an authorization process. You want your computer fixed? OK, let’s make sure you need it done, and then we’ll take care of you. (Why Dell isn’t replying to your last email is another story.)

  • Addendum: I hadn’t seen your post from yesterday. That’s not fun. My analogies still stand, though.

  • There is a good point for thought here, and that is why do the computer service people have to make you jump through so many hoops? It should be like a car or any other appliance. it breaks down, you take it to a shop, get it fixed, you pay, they verify the work is done, end of story. I was staying out of this pretty much, but after having gone through hell recently with SBC’s DSL customer service over a bad DSL modem they are refusing to replace (they are trying to claim something is wrong with my system, which I actually had checked by a technician who says my computer connects to internet just fine, and it is a modem issue), I had to put my two cents in. I have seen some of the comments here on finding a reputable local shop and let them build something for you. Next time I am buying a new computer, I may just do that. I like the idea of an actual place you could take a computer in, not some hostile guy in India reading off a script.

  • Patricia

    Why is service this bad? Because there are enough dupes in the world who will give up and keep the bad machine, keeping the profit margin up long enough for the owner to make his jillions.
    I bought a Dell online, had trouble with it, could not deal with their “service” department, so returned it and got my money back. But you have to do that within 30 days, so time is of the essence.

  • Michael

    Why the hell do well tolerate this? Could it be that people are for whatever reason so deathly afraid of purchasing technology from anything other than a Dell, Gateway or Big-Box Store? In essence the customer service / warranty consequence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If itís not: the hardware company playing it off onto the software company and vice versa, or if by some chance customer X has not purchased through hardware company Y all related software, peripheral and minutia; either way the customer service guarantee, even a pricey preferred agreement is worth Z ñ zero. Buy from a faceless mega corporation and then wonder why when a call is placed, no one gives two cents ñ or even if they did, are still powerless to assist ñ when that particular model from that particular product line hiccups and creates chaos throughout oneís digital hub, small business, missile early warning defense system, etc.
    Why the hell do we tolerate this? Will this experience ñ well, this one maybe ñ deter further purchases from Dell, or whomever last left a bad taste in the consumerís mouth? Öprobably not, ìwell, it did end up dying on me, but overall I had no complaints and at that price ñ forget about it!î How many people drop cable television because of outages in service, or because there actually is nothing (HBO excluded) worth watching? More likely than not the overall experience and the quest for the bargain basement price alleviates any memory of crashed processors, frozen drives and incompetent operating systems.
    Why the hell does the majority of this planet tolerate Microsoft Windows?

  • brendan

    Give ’em hell, Kolar!

  • Tobe Berkovitz

    Acceptance of inoperable poorly designed consumer technology began with the clock and timer on VCRs. People stared at the flashing clock unable to program it or the timer. The alleged instructions for setting the VCR were like hieroglyphics prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. This began the conditioning of consumers to accept technology that didnít work. People were happy to record and playback TV. If the light flashed constantly, so be it. Computers in general, and Microsoft in particular, is the apex of consumers as lemmings. We have a classic love/hate relationship with techno-stuff, and put up with the problems. I am a mac user, but still frequently stare at the screen trying to figure out something any 10 year old can do. Too bad Iím 56.

  • I had a nifty experience with HP a few weeks ago. My drives weren’t showing up in My Computer, so I called the toll free. The first who answered was named Rasheed and spoke some tribal dialect. She hooked me up, though, with a girl named Janet from South Carolina who, in a very friendly manner, had me rip off the case and tighten the attachments myself. I asked her how I could learn how to confidently get into my ‘puter to do such minor things, and she told me that when she buys a computer for a family member, she also gets them a copy of Hardware for Dummies.

    I’d have proposed, but I am morally opposed to bigamy.

    I think computers have become a part of the private psyche of some people in a way similar to how automobiles were part of the public persona for some folks. With your Dell not functioning, a key part of the psyche has disappeared, leaving you uneasy.

    (I shoulda been a shrink, shoulda been a lawyer, etc.)

  • Jeff, one last comment: I have had some terrific experience with Dell’s service people. They helped me, over the phone, crack open the box, get inside and hook up a fan that had its power cord loosened in a move. They helped me figure out how to install cards, and other stuff.
    But honestly, the very best service I ever got was five years ago from Gateway. A lightning bolt hit next to the house and fried the monitor drivers on my Gateway. Somehow, with a half-baked monitor, they talked me through downloading new drivers. It took about three hours total.

  • Mike G

    You tolerate this because you tolerate this. You’re the sheep asking why you get shorn every year.
    Why didn’t one person who found BTK in their house stick a pencil in his eye? Why didn’t he walk out of those crime scenes with so much as a bitemark, a gouged eye, a ripped shirt? Because most people don’t think that way. They behave and hope for the best. That makes them the prey of the few who have no shame.
    No, Dell isn’t BTK. But the underlying principle of how people get victimized holds. Here’s what you need to do:
    1) As I said in an earlier post, mail it directly to Michael Dell with all your posts and all the comments neatly printed out for him to read.
    2) Contact your credit card and dispute the charge. Accept that you may be out $1000+ for a shit machine, if mailing it back doesn’t work, but that’s the price of saying to Dell, you make shit, it’s not worth any more of my time, fuck you. The reality is, you’re already out $1000+ on a shit machine, it just may take a few years of this agony as it breaks down weekly before the fact totally sinks in.
    3) Pursue the possibility of lemon law recourses in your state.
    What you need to stop doing is playing the game by Dell’s rules. (As every business book says.) Fuck ’em, that’s why you have a widely read blog is so that you don’t have to be a sheep for Dell. Start disobeying Dell. Start demanding things of Dell. Stop being Dell’s bitch. They screwed you, they’re laughing, time to go to the mattresses, which may cost you $1000 but at least you’ll be a MAN.

  • Mike G

    “Dell has a thing where you can pay extra and always speak to customer service reps who speak english.”
    Christ, what wimps you all are! If I pay even more, will they answer my questions civilly instead of mockingly? Is that what we’ve defined customer service down to?

  • Right of Center

    this must feel a little bit good:

  • RSA

    But with computers, we are expected to suffer through the process; we aren’t allowed to say, “Just fix it: The machine you made is broken so fix it and make sure it’s fixed.”
    This will be little consolation, but the analogy between cars and computers is not as close as one might think. Suppose I bring my car in to be fixed. When it comes back, the radio settings are gone, the defaults for the electronic climate control have been wiped, there’s new systems software on all of the 80 odd processors under the hood–and so what? I don’t care, I just drive the car.
    Now consider the same thing happening to my computer (in the worst case). Data and applications gone, new OS installed, new default settings for its behavior, etc., if that’s what it took to fix it. Most people, for better or worse, would freak out. So Dell and probably most other companies have an extremely conservative approach to fixing anything.
    I’m not excusing their behavior, which sounds intolerable to me, but trying to understand it. Call me a liberal.

  • In response to the suggestion above that some company would make a killing by saying they use only domestic tech. reps: no company will want to be the first to bell the cat and do that. The analogy would be the pre-Nader era in the auto industry, when it was was taboo to discuss safety, since the conventional wisdom was that you didn’t want buyers to think about car accidents in association with their product. The computer companies don’t want to mention service because then the customers will start thinking about the unreliability of the product (none of which are 100% reliable, although Apple is the closest).

  • Seb
    Stupid, stupid computer people

  • “What you need to stop doing is playing the game by Dell’s rules”. …Mike G
    Exactly. It’s hard to do, but once in a while the opportunity comes along.
    I remember my first new car. Finally, I would be able to drive around without feeling relief when I got close enough to home, where if ole Nellie Bell broke down, I’d be able to walk the rest of the way.
    Only my brand new Buick with only a few hundred miles on it, chattered, shuddered and shook with the motor on, and also stalled in traffic, nearly killing me a few times. (Once the problem …perhaps something loose, was finally solved… gave me fantastic service for the rest of the time I owned it) But, as I remember, I had taken it in, and the the problem still existed. And, here I was again, overtired and wasting valuable time.
    To say I lived in a perennial time crunch in those years would be an understatement. I had a seven day a week business, a house, just under two acres, plus two small kids to cook, clean and care for, and I was alone.
    I didn’t have time to keep running into the dealer and dropping my new car off, and clearly I was thinking I shouldn’t have to. Yet, that was what I was doing for yet another evening, cooling my heels in the waiting room of the repair facility in the back of the lot. I waited and waited. They had promised they would take care of me promptly, and they were not. I fumed thinking I had been better off with ole Nellie Bell.
    Wandering up to the front of the showroom I saw they were having some sort of a promotion. Lots of people.
    Suddenly, I knew what to do to have them want my problem fixed as much as I did. I ran back and claimed my keys from the repair desk, started up the Buick, that no one had even started to work on yet, and drove it shuddering and wheezing to the front of the car lot where all the prospective customers were milling about.
    Leaving the car running, I got out and began waving everyone over to “hear” the way a new Buick sounds when it runs.
    You should have seen the looks on the faces of the showroom staff.
    A car tech, appeared within minutes and whisked my Buick back to the repair area, this time straight on to a lift.
    I never needed to repair it again for as long as I owned it.
    That’s pretty much what I think Jeff is doing here. Dell just hasn’t noticed yet.

  • Heh, “Right of Center”.
    I wonder if there’s any correlation between the first web search return and the first image search return.

  • Dave G

    When the hard drive in my HP laptop (still under warranty) started clattering and whirring, and failing to boot, I called their call center (which I think was in India), and after I described the symptoms to the rep, she said they would 2-day ship a new drive to me. Changing it was simple, just remove the cover with a phillips screwdriver and snap the old one out and the new one in.

  • rosignol

    Why the hell do we tolerate this?
    Jeff, if you’d pay me the hourly rate you pay your mechanic or electrician, I’d be delighted to have you drop the computer off at my place to be fixed.
    I’m not kidding.
    However, there are good reasons why no mechanic or electrician offers to let someone call them on the phone to be walked through either fixing their car or wiring a house, for no more than the cost of the phone call. If you take a minute or two, I’m sure you can think of some.

  • Macintosh is Hardware For Dummies. The smartest dummies out there. Since 1983, I’ve never read a book, pamphlet, or manual to operate any of the Macs I’ve had. This post is being written on my 20-inch gorgeous G-5 iMac. Sure, it costs more than some dumb Dell. But when something goes wrong with a Mac, my experience is the same as that of the first person who posted. Fast, easy, no-hassle fix or replacement. And it’s fun to use..except when I’m writing my column on Microsoft Word…whatta dumbass program…and cursing Bill Gates.

  • Aaron

    In my opinion brand name computers suck.
    I just go to my neighborhood shop and tell the geeks that I want the best, most stable computer. Please spec it out and I will return later to approve.
    They might ask a bit about what I need it for, e.g. games or just word processing.
    Then I come back and pick up a very stable computer using the best parts. Yes it costs more. But it breaks down less often.
    My Acer I bought for my wife is so crap! They even skimp on the keyboard cord length. What a joke!

  • My computer problems (noted in the earlier posting) have finally been resolved. Of two software problems which were Dell’s responsibility, one was solved by me because Dell wouldn’t help, and one was solved – finally – by Dell. A third problem was caused by me and solved with the help of my hosting service.
    The way service works on computers generally makes sense. As with anything else, sometimes the quality of the service is bad. When the problem is hardware, the analogy with an automobile is fairly close. And, you can take your computer to a “mechanic” to be serviced just like you would your car. You could also work on the computer yourself – just as people work on their cars.
    With computers, you can also call a putative “expert” who can talk you through working on it. Wouldn’t it be nice if, when you’ve got your car up on jacks in your garage, you could call someone for help when you got stuck? In fact, it’s now becoming common to actually turn control of your computer over to someone who can do the diagnostics themselves. Of course, you have to be hooked up to the internet to do this.
    Generally speaking, the service I’ve gotten on various products, ranging from hardware to software, has been pretty good. Nor have I seen much difference between the helpdesk people in the U.S. and India in terms of their ability to provide useful information. (I kind of prefer talking to Indians, BTW. Once the problem has been dealt with I suggest that they move to the U.S. where they can make a lot more money.) I did have problems with Dell – in particular, the hard sell on the helpdesk service. I think those problems were in part a manifestation of bureaucracy and in part a policy/strategy to sell the helpdesk service.
    A final note: buying a computer from a local vendor is no guarantee. Our experience in that department was, to say the least, non-optimal.

  • Mike

    Because computers are 15-20x less expensive than cars, and the cost paid by producers for support is proportionally less. You can purchase a “computer warranty” at places such as Best Buy when you purchase a computer there, and, at least for myself, it is much more than I would be willing to pay.

  • Janie4

    I too have had numerous problems with my Dell in my case, getting online, which turned out to be a problem with the OS rather than the hardware. However, I would like to say this – my own Dell Inspiron 8200 laptop, who has horribly abused by its owner in an accidental dropping out of a locker, started having a hard drive failure last year. And mightily, that Dell booted up one final time to let me pull a fifty page paper off the hard drive that I hadn’t backed up in modified form (I am a bad bad girl, I know) before succumbing to hard drive failture. So I myself like Dells, or at least my Dell, who I am convinced has a personality.
    That being said, taking your computer to a nice local shop is not necessarily the easiest or the best thing in the world. My laptop was having connectivity issues – it seemed that power wasn’t getting from the power cord to the computer. The power would flicker on and off, which resulted in the batteries getting drained and not charged. Me being a technical ignoramus thought it could be an issue of a loose plug, as when I performed the universal “jiggle the power plug” manuever, could sometimes get connectivity back.
    I took it to Microcenter, to be told by the tech, who didn’t want to take my money and look at the computer that it had to be a motherboard issue, and that I shouldn’t waste $95 do actually have them look at the laptop, I should just buy a new one. Plugs were hardwired into the motherboard and they couldn’t come loose, so the motherboard was fried. When I insisted that the man actually look at my computer, he took it into the back and said “we’ve plugged it in, and it’s working now, but it’s not going to keep working, so you need a new laptop”. He also told me that motherboards for Dell Inspiron laptops were so expensive that it wasn’t worth it to even consider buying a new motherboard. He did not crack the case.
    I complained to another man, who told me that the first man was wrong, that as long as it was still working, keep trying the jiggle the plus manuever, and it should serve me a while yet. He also explained when I asked him to crack the case and look at the laptop’s insides, that they didn’t want to do it in case doing that made the laptop stop working all together. Liability issues, you understand. Even though I’d signed a waiver, they were scared of me coming back with a baseball bat.
    I went home, plugged the laptop back in, and kept jiggling the plug. Two days later my power cord threw off sparks and tried to set fire to my carpet. Bought two new cords, and have had no problems since.
    Taking the computer in to be repaired will be much more pleasant and practical for me when computer techs are, you know, actually willing to try and figure out what’s wrong with the damn thing and run real tests.

  • Otis Wildflower

    “Why the hell do we tolerate this?”
    What’s this ‘we’ shit, Kemosabe?

  • T

    The comparisons that were made are good and for the most part, laughable. Why? Well, letís see. When your car is under warranty it is YOUR responsibility to get it to the dealership for needed repairs. Depending on the vehicle type, YOU have to leave it with the dealerships service department and make arrangements for your own transportation. And, when the electricity goes on the fritz, YOU call an electrician and ìnote the key wordî, YOU pay him to fix the problem.
    Are you willing to pay to have a technician come out to your home or office to diagnose and fix your computer problem, when on average it can cost as much as $100.00 per visit? Letís say the issue is end-user related, so you pay for both, the service call and part (if needed). If the problem is indeed a failure due to craftsmanship and the equipment purchased is still under warranty, are you willing to pay, oh letís say a $50.00 set fee and the computer manufacture covers the remainder of the bill? Food for thought!
    Fact – The majority of all computer owners are not willing to incur the cost of repairs. They get angry and escalate and expect the computer manufacture to incur the cost. The over whelming majority of all problems are caused by the end-user who refuses to acknowledge he created the problem, but yet he will announce to the world that the problem is the manufactures, hence these titles “Dell vs. the blogosphere & Dell hell, continued: Self-service.”
    We all are so familiar with trying to load software that a buddy has given us and we run into problems during the installation that causes the operating system to blue screen or even worse, crash. Oh but it’s never our fault, so we blame the computer manufacture. Why? It’s the easiest way out and we hope by complaining we get it fix for free or upgraded.
    In most cases the end-user can be talked through fixing the system over the phone. There are times where a technician needs to be sent out and I will agree that having to open the system is scary, but if you just follow the instructions given by the technician, you can be talked through it and the experience is not always bad.

  • Rokker

    I gotta tell ya….I agree with T on this.
    Just about everyone I know tried to go cheap and install software that didn’t belong to them on their computer. Then when it screwed up, they blamed either the software or the computer manufacturer.
    Fact is, they caused their own problem!
    Let’s take cars as an analogy. If you owned a Chevy, and one day you and your buddy decided to install a turbocharger on the engine, and after installing it found out it didn’t run…..
    Would you blame Chevy?
    No! You wouldn’t.
    Yet a bunch of you here want to blame Dell!
    Also, how many people have a great computer for years then have problems and want to gripe. Again, if you had a high mileage car, you wouldn’t blame Chevy.
    Bottom line is that MOST computer problems are because the end user did something to create the problem. And unfortunately, too many people want something for nothing and will pitch a fit to try to get a freebie.
    And T is right. Not only can a tech call be a pleasant experience, you may actually LEARN SOMETHING! And that’s always a good thing.
    Now…quit whining and accept responsibility for your own fortune or misfortune!

  • Mark