Dell calling

So I finally got a call from Dell because of my blogging about problems with the company’s products and service, two months after it started.

Jennifer Davis of the corporate communications department rang me up and we had a pleasant chat: We discovered our sons share the same name. She said her mom thinks she’s famous when she gets quoted in media stories such as the ones on this corporate kerfluffle. Then there was an odd moment when she asked whether she was speaking to me on a cell phone and whether I was recording the call. I said I was taking notes. She said that was fine. Made me wish I had a recorder.

But nothing new came out of the call. I’ve spent so many years listening to PR people (and politicians) who are adept at sticking to their company line, I finally know when there is no hope derailing them to get anything more.

Dell’s company line is that they are trying to improve their customer service and that will solve everything.

There is no realization that there is an opportunity (and, don’t they now know, a danger) in this era of the empowered consumer-as-publisher. I kept coming back to that as my uncompany line: You have the chance to talk with consumers, to build a new relationship with the public in public.

“We do talk to people in public through the standard major media and through our forums,” she said.

She said they read blogs now as a means of getting “feedback from customers.”

But they refuse to see that they could connect one to the other: Rather than just talking to consumers, they could talk with consumers.

They “monitor” the blogosphere, they say, but they don’t engage in conversation in it. Davis said she “can’t comment on when or if that will change.”

She did then add they they are “looking at ways to leverage the blogopshere.” Leverage us? How? To promote products, she said. In other words, they’ll use it to sell.

I asked her whether she had a message to the blogosphere. One last time, I got the company line about being committed to improving the customer experience, blah, blah, blah.

They haven’t learned a darned thing and I hereby give up trying to help them to learn.

: SEE ALSO: Seth Godin on why negative feedback is more valuable than positive.

: Here’s a link to my piece about all this in today’s Media Guardian.

But this is more than a sort-of-happy ending to a consumerist nightmare. This is a story of customer relations in the new age – an age when, to quote blogger and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, “‘consumer’ is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. It implies that we are all tied to our chairs, head back, eating ‘content’ and crapping cash”. Now consumers don’t just consume. We spit back. We have our own printing presses.

  • The dumbest thing to come out of the mouth of an Official Spokesperson

    “Obviously, Mr. Jarvis’ experience could’ve been handled better,” said Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Davis

    Hattip to Shankar Gupta for the moneyshot.

    But Wait! There’s More!

    “We’ll also be glad to talk with him about the broader issues–we have not outreached as of yet, but we’re looking at the best way to do so.”

    Dear Jen,
    at the bottom of almost every post on almost every blog is a little link called Comment. With this arcane yet useful tool you can ‘outreach’ from the comfort of your chair.

  • Mr. Jarvis,

    I’ve followed your struggle with amusement — only because it’s not me. But, unfortunately, most “consumers” know that your tale is that of an everyman.

    What it does show me is just how spot on the Cluetrain Manifesto is. When I first read the 95 Theses, I was a bit taken aback. Surely, this is either revolutionary or dead wrong, I thought. Your Dell jeremiad shows, irrefutably, that it’s the former. No. 20: Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them. You have hundreds of readers, perhaps thousands, laughing with you at Dell, and they still don’t seem to understand.

    Incidentally, on the word “consumer”: I worked at a food pantry for a few years, and the touchy-feely word we were told to use in refering to our bottom-class patrons was “consumer.” Somehow, they viewed it as empowering — it would help train them to be the buying public so valued in this society. On some level, though, it just seemed patronizing. We are not consumers! We are free men! And we have networks like the Web to thank for it.

  • stuart wells

    I read your article in today’s Media Guardian and found out about this blog from there.

    As I see it, one of the problems with ‘anti’ blogs like yours, is that only ‘anti’ people use / read it.
    The same is true for almost any other forum.
    To paraphrase the old ‘dog bites man – not news. Man bites dog – news’ comment, ‘Things work fine – not news. Things go wrong – news’.

    I have purchased 3 Dell systems over the past year or two and have had no problems with either the systems or Dell’s customer service or technical advice.

    I have tried a number of times to get newspapers etc. to publish letters disagreeing with their particular slant on a story – like yours – without success.
    In fact I have rarely, if ever seen that sort of letter appearing.

    I shall be interested to see if this comment which does not agree with your opinion ever appears on your blog!

  • Fascinating that Jennifer Davis could’ve caught on that she had a unique opportunity- to continue the dialogue surrounding a problem resolution. I believe blogs and the like should give rise to “customer-service-crawlers”, employees tagged with seeking out and responding to complaints and issues against the company’s products and services.

    It’d be so forward-facing to have push-customer-service to augment their catch-customer-service. Sitting around waiting for a call? How about surfing around looking for trouble? I can’t imagine this would be costly. Besides, task the call center reps with doing this one hour a shift. It’d keep them fresh.

    Good post.

  • Well, Stuart, it appeared automatically. Who’s being the negative one?

  • W. James Au

    If Ms. Davis was genuinely interested in offering a substantial reply, she could have got corporate to visit Dell Customer Support, dig through the database and find all the trouble tickets associated with “Jarvis, Jeff” (they exist, unless the company is irredeemably incompetent), and track down just exactly where in the support and communication chain things got bunged up in his case. Then she could summarize her findings to corporate, have corporate fix the problem(s), and then call Jeff Jarvis up to explain what Dell is doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again– and then Jeff Jarvis would be blogging about how Dell is now taking specific, proactive measures thanks to his efforts in publicizing them. Instead, Jeff Jarvis is blogging about how he got a publicist to recite meaningless corporate doublespeak blather over the phone.

  • It looks like Dell is a little unsure of getting involved in a two way public conversation with complaining customers, a conversation they’d have pretty much no control over, and this is understandable.

    The problem is that blogs don’t work like the traditional media where a magazine or newspaper would write up a story reporting a drop in customer satisfaction and the company would send out their PR shock troops to counter it using traditional PR tools – press releases and story placements – with the aim of drowning the negative in a sea of positive. The magazine or newspaper with the ‘negative’ reporting line moves on to the next hot topic, maybe even provides some positive coverage of the spin being put out by the company they’d originally criticized, but blogs don’t work that way. Blogs are much more personal. Mostly, they’re written by regular people, customers, who appreciate a two-way conversation. If you don’t give it to them, it’s viewed as a discourtesy, similar to someone taking the time to call up a company to report their dissatisfaction and the company only giving them access to the automated attendant announcing over and over again that their call is being monitored for quality assurance purposes.

    I think Dell and every other company will come around to what’s happening (and what can happen) to their brand on blogs, and it won’t only be with the aim of shifting more products. That may be the way they would like to play it, but I don’t think people are going to be too receptive, not if the company has lingering product quality and customer service issues they didn’t address. For now Dell wants to play it the old way. Eventually they’ll pull their head up out of the sand and start responding to what the market, i.e., their customers, want – a give and take personal conversation on blogs.

    On negative feedback being more valuable or useful than positive – I’m not sure what Seth Godin is talking about. His post is a little short, but you never know, there might be something to it. For the moment, I can’t see how negative feedback can be considered better than positive.

  • whodat

    Stuart– you remind me of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. Anyway you wrote: “As I see it, one of the problems with ‘anti’ blogs like yours, is that only ‘anti’ people use / read it.
    The same is true for almost any other forum.”

    If you read some of the posts/comments in regard to the Dell Schmell, there were quite a few positive comments for the Dell experience. This is not an anti-blog.

  • That’s a darn shame – you’d think that as this has become such a high-profile case that Dell would have been proactive about the whole shenanigans, instead of remaining reactive.

    Heck, if I were a Dell exec, at the very least I would have hired Seth to sort you out… ;)

    More seriously, the point about conversation doesn’t seem to have hit the mainstream, though – but Dell are certainly not the only corporate seen to be apart from the internet, instead of being a part of it.

  • Several things.

    First, Dell is clueless because they are clueproof. Your call demonstrated the problem perfectly. They continue to operate inside what David Weinberger called Fort Business: .

    Second, I have to keep pushing back at you (along with others here) about using the term “consumer” when *customer* is the better and more literal term. A consumer is the most degrated and helpless form of customer. A Jerry Michalski put it, “a gullet who lives only go gulp products and crap cash.”

    Third, Dell’s PC business has lived for too long in the slowly collapsing monoculture of Windows-based computing. That era is as gone as cheap oil, and not coming back. It’s just not obvious yet. But it will be.

  • Doc:
    I’ll take my 30 lashes like a man for using “consumer” even after quoting you in the Guardian story and here.
    Same as I try not to call this thing we have media, learning from you.
    I need the Doc Searls Bad Word Buzzer. For me, it will shock me when I say consumer. And for Howard Stern, it will shock him whenever he says FCC.

  • I’d like one of those Doc Searls’ bad word buzzers too.

    May this whole saga Rest In Peace.

  • Terry, I’m sure Dell would like nothing better, but nowhere in the wide world are enough funeral directors to bury it for them. Just too many ‘stiffed’ customers.

  • Evonne

    I have to say that Dell really sucks and my whole Dell experience was lousy as well. I bought an Inspiron 8200 (their top of the line laptop at the time) in June 2002, right before I started business school. First of all, I have always been an Apple fan, but thought 99.9% of the student body and faculty in b-school probably use PCs, so I surrendered to Macs and bought my very first PC which I think now stands for “Piece of Crap”!

    2 weeks after I ordered the laptop, I still haven’t gotten it. I kept tracking it on the UPS website and nothing happened after they scanned it in Nebraska. And that was a week after they shipped it out. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and the laptop was coming from Texas, it shouldn’t have taken that long even if it was mailed by USPS. So I called Dell to find out what’s going on. The next day, they called me back and said UPS couldn’t locate my laptop, and they were going to rebuild another one for me and ship it out by FedEx this time. Unless the laptop had legs, I couldn’t understand how it could just disappear like that.

    So fine… I waited for the 2nd laptop and it finally arrived. I called Dell to tell them that I received the laptop, but I would like for them to extend my warranty because it has been a month now since I first ordered the computer and it just got to my house. The Dell customer rep said to me: “I am sorry ma’am, but we can’t extend it. That’s the reason why you got the warranty in the first place, just in case something like this happens!” You must be kidding me. I paid for one month of warranty when I didn’t even have the computer? What kind of service was that?

    OK, whatever. I decided that if my laptop ever dies, I will NEVER get another Dell for as long as I live and I will switch back to Apple in a heartbeat. Sure enough, in May 2004 when I was 7 months short of graduating from business school, the Dell 60G hard drive completely crashed. The computer wouldn’t even start up. Thank god I had backup copies of my files and my friend also retrieved some for me afterwards, but the hassle of trying to reinstall a new hard drive and all the files back onto the laptop… I ended up buying the Mac PowerBook G4 the very next day. I have been using it since and loving every second of it.

    I will NEVER buy another Dell, nor will I recommend it to anyone! Their customer service sucks and worse yet, their products are crappy! Steve Jobs, you are the man!

  • Jeff, give them my card – please.

  • Well, it’s a lose-lose situation right now for Dell. Is there a backlash against their customer service because parts of it are offshored? Maybe. Is there a backlash against their customer service because customer service tends to think of the customer last? Maybe.

    Is there anything they could have said that would have made the situation better for you? They did reach out to you, just not with messaging that you would like to hear.

    And, no, I’m not a Dell apologist. I had a Dell. Dell fell to cement. Dell died, but the CS team was very nice about it by walking me through what to possibly do to save it – it didn’t work, and I didn’t have the time to wait for a new Dell notebook, so I’m typing this on a three-month old Toshiba, with an I key that’s broken already.

    My training in philosophy made me have to see both sides of an argument – my favorite is still the utilitarian/organ scenario – so, I see both Dell’s side, and your side. It’s old media and new media converging in one place, where neither side is going to enjoy the response. Heck, I can touch base with someone I know that can get them my card, but it’s a company with A-type personalities, who might not listen to blogging counsel. And, that just might be the problem.

  • Jeremy: I got reaction from Dell only after I went to extraordinary measuares. For weeks, I tried to get any action out of their customer service department.
    I am now seeing scores of people sending me stories that are similar and the only reason they are doing that is that, like me, they feel they have nowhere to turn.
    It’s very simple, really: They sold me something for $1600 that didn’t work and that is not right. I, too, took philosophy but I wouldn’t say that’s very metaphysical. It’s business. You cheat me, I have every right to complain. That simple. Don’t overcomplicated it.

  • Amy

    The sad thing is that Dell is just one among thousands of companies, large and small, who just don’t get it. Exasperating.

    To Stuart Wells:

    You mention that you have only just come to this blog. Please take the time to look around it a bit more before you write it off as an “anti-blog”. That it most certainly is not. This is one of the most positive blogs I know, brimming with ideas and hopes for the future.

    Jeff Jarvis has one of the most innovative minds, the produce of which we are fortunate to be able to read daily, thanks to this wonderful thing called blogging. If you read him in more detail you WILL learn something. That’s surely why this blog is so popular. Heck, I’m thinking about changing my career into the IT/business world, partly as a result of the things this blog makes me think.

  • Gary Lucido

    I hate to say it but I’ve called Dell for support several times and the problem is that they’ve off-shored it and the people they have working the phones do not speak English as a native language. Not only can you not understand them but they can’t understand you. I don’t know how many times I’ve had them misinterpret my problem. And they compensate by repeating your name over and over. The best example was when I called to complain about the fact that the printer they sent me contained starter cartridges instead of the regular catridges advertised:

    “So, Gary, you didn’t get ink cartridges?”
    “Oh, I got them they just aren’t full cartridges”
    “So, Gary, the cartridges are empty?”
    “No, they’re not empty. They aren’t the cartridges advertised”
    “Gary, what did you get?”
    “I got starter cartridges”
    “OK Gary”……long silence
    “Gary, that’s the cartridges we give you”
    “But that’s not what’s advertised”
    “Gary, the printer comes with starter cartridges”
    “I know. But that’s not what’s advertised”
    “Yes, Gary, that’s what we give you”
    “Look, we’re not getting anywhere here. Do you realize that this is false advertising and I can contact the attorney general’s office?”

    They understood that line and took care of the problem right away. I don’t have a problem with off-shoring work and have nothing against people who don’t speak native English but don’t they monitor their operation?

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  • Jim

    I read an article that mentioned your computor problems, got curious as to what started the whole thing so I went back to your first entry. I hate to burst your bubble but It sounds like this whole fiasco was mostly your fault. First of all the symptoms you described are probably software related, most likely some third party program you installed causing the system to run at 100% cpu usage all the time resulting in every thing else being slow. Second an onsite warranty does not mean that the PC manufacturer sends someone to your house to figure out what you did to screw things up. It means that you cooperate with the technician on the phone, trouble shoot and if it’s a hardware issue they send someone out to replace the part. The only difference between PC’s and Macs is that Mac puts their own OS on their systems so they are responsible for supporting the software. How would you like it if people called you for support on their HP because your blog doesn’t look right on their screen? PC manufacturers have had to put up with that kind of attitude from customers for years. I have been in the PC business for about ten years and have had to deal with people who don’t take responsibility for their own actions, can’t seem to put cause and effect together, don’t take the time to learn their own software or even read directions. Dell, HP, Compaq or your local Mom and Pop shop do not write the software, how do you expect a phone tech, here or in India to know all about the crap you installed on your computer and why it doesn’t work the way you think it should.

  • Leslie Stevenson

    I have read your blog with interest. My husband has a Dell Desktop pc and I have a laptop, we have both been quite happy with our respective computers and the response and assistance we received when we have contacted customer service. I have found tech support both knowledgeable and and helpful. On the other hand, I have had the opposite experience with emachine’s tech support. My computer crashed a few months ago and had I followed their advice I would have lost all of my data. The tech told me repeatedly my data was lost (and got a little frustrated with me for persisting in trying to find an alternative solution), Fortunately I was able to figure out a way to save my data prior to reformatting. I found it quite frustrating that I with no formal computer training, was more knowledgeable about my specific problem than the guy who was supposed to be the expert.

  • We just launched a venture, and have integrated a blog ( to the website…….even allows comments too.

    Our goal is to be next to the customer and get feedback………warts and all, while having some fun.

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  • Michael Denial

    Well, Marcom, that’s it then! What you have just declared for all consumers should put the whiney bastards in check, huh.

    Who do you think should set the criteria for acceptable customer support treatment, if not DELL?

    I was taught at a very young age to do things willingly, and not reluctantly, especially when having to say sorry, and put right a wrong I may have made.

    Sure, you could argue, that I as a kid didn’t have much to lose. But pride exists in corporations too you know, at least in the people that run them.

    It’s pride for the corporations that is the key inhibitor that prevents them from treating the consumer fairly, and not that they are unwilling necessarily to put right their wrong, with the prospect of teams of disgruntled consumers jumping on the generosity band-wagon.

    In the case of DELL’s attempt at damage limitation, the consumer smells corporate fear, vulnerability, angst, hence it is only natural for consumers of all type to attempt to glean something for nothing, especially for those that got no satisfaction on previous occasions.

    So, back to the point then, “who should set the criteria for acceptable customer support treatment…”. Don’t tell me they don’t employ risk managers, analysts and lawyers to anticipate that sort of thing happening. Or, perhaps they do, and the advice for successful damage limitation is, ignore it and it will go away, or even, ‘How’s the bottom line look, Charles’, ‘Great!’, ‘Ah, then it’s not a problem; send them around the houses one more time, that should see them off.

    Let’s face it, it’s not just DELL, it’s any corporation that falls foul of their promise to providing a satisfactorily functioning product or service.

    What really gets consumer’s hackles up is how corporations take complete advantage of consumers by the suggestion of treating them on a ‘case by case basis’… what that really means is that they will attempt to limit the damage further by trying selectively to screw over those that are unable to defend their corner. What you might consider a level playing field will not be the same as DELL’s rendition of it. What was that you were saying about “favoritism”? Who defines “favoritism”, DELL, or the consumer?

    “Settlement agreements, it should be noted, do not constitute an admission of guilt or wrong doing”

    They should take immediate, unconditional responsibility, and act swiftly, decisively, in order to recover the situation. Not imply, f*ck you, we’ve got your money now, so piss off and leave us to sell our ‘Gerrald Ratner’ to some other mug.

    So, no, I don’t accept your ir-rationale.

  • Alice Bailey

    I have been dealing with Dell for over a month. Over a dozen phone calls, 8 emails……..THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCKS……they have totally not even responded to my last 3 emails.

  • haiki

    Think about a HP ink cartridge that has a warranty. Bad ink cartridge, color bad, light ink which appears watery, what-ever, they give you another one. That’s the way a warranty works. You buy a recycled ink cartridge, with no HP warranty. It may work momentarily, but then you get these same messages, remove cartridge. Why should my printer shut down after purchasing a recycled ink cartridge? But then if you buy an HP ink cartridge, your printer is up and running again. Or until that time HP thinks you have printed long enough, even if you have plenty of ink. HP forces you, according to HP predetermined usage, in order for your printer to work, to buy their ink cartridges, or HP will shut your printer down. Don’t focus on the ink cartridge, focus on the fact HP stops your printer from working, because of some silly game they are playing of cheating customers before the ink runs out, or wrong ink standards, or what-ever. I say, go ahead send these stupid messages, but don’t stop my printer from working. This is anti-competitive, and in violation of anti-trust laws.

    To be perfectly clear

    Hewlett Packard recycles their ink cartridges by promoting that HP cartridges be returned for recycling, using a self addressed, stamped envelope. Allowing HP, through their “refurbishing and reselling” effort to conserve resources, using the various recycling facilities of manufacturers around the world contracted by HP. Thus, the mere fact that there also are other recyclers available to refurbish, and recycle ink cartridges, but except for lower cost, and the free choice of the consumer, HP has restricted the consumer the full use, and the operation of HP printers.

    Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, ninth edition. West Publishing. Chapter 43; ANTITRUST.
    “Characterizing a type of restraint as per se illegal therefore has a significant effect on the prosecution of an antitrust suit. In such a case, the plaintiff need only show that the type of restraint occurred, she does not need to prove that the restraint limited competition…..Tying arrangements. A tying arrangement occurs when the seller of a product, service, or intangible (the “tying” product) conditions its sale on the buyers purchasing a second product, service, or intangible (the “tied” product) from the seller….Because tying arrangements limit buyers’ freedom of choice and may exclude competitors, the law closely scrutinizes such agreements.”

    Hewlett Packard has, unbeknownst to customers who purchased HP printers (tying product), tied as a condition, the purchase of new HP ink cartridges (tied product), or HP recycled ink cartridges, through the use illegal anti-competitive consumer practices.

    After all, what are we talking about, it’s a ball point pen refill morphed into a printer ink cartridge. It’s a recycled auto part! Again, I say Hewlett Packard, and the rest of your thugs, play your silly games by cheating consumers on ink cost, and supplies. I say go ahead! But don’t stop me from the use of my printer.

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  • I, like thousands of others have had their share of problems with Dell Support……but now there is a ray of sunshine! Here is a copy of the letter I sent to the Support Division in Aisa.
    Mr. Valez;

    I have purchased Dell Computers (12+) for my company many years, and in doing such I find the need to contact them {Dell} for service and support in the past. We are a small company and the need for good equipment, good price and fast service is paramount! As many have, I had nothing but trouble from the tech-support services of Dell in the past, then a new revelation emerged!

    Yesterday September 5, 2007, I had a need to contact the service and support center regarding a new laptop computer {Latitude/D830} for assistance in the telecommunications area. I spoke with Mae, one of your assistance.

    The level of concern, assistance and patience she displayed was, at the least, outstanding! Her command of the English Language was superb and her diction was eloquent. Many times I have needed to call back two or three times to have someone I could understand. I do not expect people to speak our language as if they were from the United States, and in reality, most of Americans can NOT speak another language anyway! I have been blessed to travel around the world in my business and do speak a small amount of Spanish and German, but the level of her ability should be applauded!

    Please pass on my gracious appreciation to Ms. Mae and let her know she must deal with a lot of difficult people in her job, but she is greatly appreciated in what she does. Her job performance is 10 out of 10 in my personal opinion. And by the way……I had to ask three times for a way to contact you……she was not wanting to cause me any undue trouble. She is a gem in your division!

    Respectfully yours,

    William H. Malpass
    Ark-La-Tex Investigations, Inc.

    Chief Investigator

    cc: John G. Spooner, C/Net
    Tech News

  • Hugh Jass

    As a blogger you have the power to improve the world. You assume this and other articles will make the boys with real power sit up and take notice of fellow bloggers. Meanwhile you’re achieving a separation of the minority thinkers from the majority of sheep who continue to feed on network media……the shepherds are leaving the flock unattended.

  • Te?ekkürler, iyi yaz?!
    Bu kendi yakalamak uzatmak için mü?teri hizmet itme olmas? bakacak kadar ileri duyar?m-mü?teri servisi. Arama için bekleyen yakla??k Oturma? Peki ya sorun ar?yor çevresinde sörf?
      Bu pahal?ya mal olaca??n? tahmin edemez. Ayr?ca, bu bir saat de?i?iklik yapmakla görev ça?r? merkezi fitilli kuma?. Onlar taze tutmak istiyorum.

  • That’s the way a warranty works. You buy a recycled ink cartridge, with no HP warranty. It may work momentarily, but then you get these same messages, remove cartridge. Why should my printer shut down after purchasing a recycled ink cartridge? But then if you buy an HP ink cartridge, your printer is up and running again. Or until that time HP thinks you have printed long enough, even if you have plenty of ink. HP forces you, according to HP predetermined usage, in order for your printer to work, to buy their ink cartridges, or HP will shut your printer down. Don’t focus on the ink cartridge, focus on the fact HP stops your printer from working, because of some silly game they are playing of cheating customers before the ink runs out, or wrong ink standards, or what-ever.

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