As regular readers know, I’ve been a long-time fan of Dell’s high-end laptops. I’ve purchased four or five XPS 15 models and have been mostly happy. The last time around, I decided to go even more upscale and purchase a pricey Dell Precision 5540 workstation, with all the bells and whistles. Part of that purchase is the expectation of business grade support. After the hall of mirrors of the last two weeks, I wish I hadn’t. If I wanted to write a script for a sit-com send up of customer service, I would probably have fallen short of the reality. Here’s how things have unfolded.
The Initial “Simple Enough” Problem: A Dead Laptop
My Dell Precision 5540 (a high-end, premium-priced, mobile workstation) signaled its distress one morning when it complained about battery status, even though it was plugged in to a Dell charger. That was kind of scary, but unplugging and re-plugging the charger didn’t help. Neither did using any of Dell’s published reset options after the computer finally died. I suspected that given a fully-charged battery, it might still run, but the battery isn’t removable, and that option would only help for a few hours, so I opened a trouble ticket with Dell.
Dell Warranty Service: Or Not
Purchasing a Precision family product comes with a 3-year on-site hardware warranty. In this case, my warranty is good through July. Awesome. I opened a trouble ticket on May 16, and filled out all the details. Blissfully, Dell did not try and make me explain the situation again and again. They instantly flagged the situation as a Warranty Repair. I suppose one advantage of business class service is that they hope you’ve at least tried a few things before you file a ticket.
So far, so good. A friendly person named Royce picked up the ticket and explained that they’d order a new motherboard and the bits necessary to install it, while scheduling a repair person to come to our office to service the laptop. I would have been perfectly happy to drive to a repair facility (I live in the middle of Silicon Valley, so close to any number of tech companies and service locations). But apparently, as part of the way Dell contracts out to Unisys (no, they never mentioned who they contract with, but when Unisys started showing up on my CallerID…) there is no there, there. So they come to your office (well, in theory they do, since I have no evidence of it so far).
Then the service ticket seemed to get stuck. After noticing this, Royce was kind enough to start a new ticket. According to the Dell Support website, the error was caused by “data migration.” Okay, that made me feel much better. I could only hope that my data had migrated to a better, more-responsive, place.
However, my data was apparently just consigned to a different purgatory. But happy in its new home, my support request enthusiastically resulted in scheduling a service call for between 1am and noon on the 19th. Now, maybe you run a convenience market or a hotel, but we’re not open before dawn. In any event, it didn’t matter, as no one showed up. This was the first of many semi-wasted mornings for me.
Those Friendly RoboCalls
At this point, I started receiving daily robocalls explaining that due to gamma rays or high gas prices or something, that the service that was scheduled to happen that day would be delayed. Honestly, I don’t get any part of this. They have my email, and can text me, and have more-or-less no excuse for bailing on the appointment in the first place, but they bug me with a robocall. And of course, I have to actually answer, as it might be the tech calling to confirm a time. I don’t think they have a clue how actual customers view this experience.
To be clear: I get that there are shortages of technicians and components. That could be a reason for a long lead time. It isn’t an excuse for making promises over and over with no ability to honor them.
Oh, Yay, an Actual Appointment
Many of you might write off the preceding as one of those ugly preambles that precedes a service call. Fair enough. After escalating my situation through Royce, he got me a scheduled call with Unisys. Now, doubters among you might wonder about the fact that I received the notification of appointment at 8:32am on May 25 (9 days after the initial ticket), asking me to confirm that a time between 8am and 12pm on the 25th would be okay. I confirmed in about 20 minutes. I’d had other plans for the morning, but decided to stay in the office and make sure I could oversee the repair.
Okay, I can hear you saying now, “Sucker!” Yes I was, no one showed up. When I called the phone number I was given for the tech, it resulted in about 80 rings before I gave up. For anyone who still remembers, visions of Charlie Brown and the football started to loom large.
Now they’ve Gone Off the Rails
Well, since no one showed up, and the tech they assigned apparently either doesn’t exist or so far has never answered their phone, I clicked on the “Reschedule Your Appointment” link. Much to my surprise, it offered to let me reschedule the initial May 19 date, which was never even close to happening (based on the robocalls explaining to me that they’d made a horrible mistake and actually didn’t have anyone available to repair a computer on that day.) To skip ahead, that re-schedule didn’t work either.
After once again escalating, I got an appointment for May 26, which I confirmed. That morning a friendly-sounding robot called to remind me that I should be available from 1pm to 5pm. Okay, I’d cleared my schedule. Then they called to say that 2pm to 5:30pm was the updated window. Finally, in the early afternoon team robot called to explain that due to “resource issues” Dell’s techs wouldn’t be able to make it at all, and that they (either the calling robots or Dell, I wasn’t sure) were sorry. I could almost hear the chorus of “sucker!” in the background after I’d changed my plans for yet another day.
So then May 27th dawns. A new day. I’ve been promised by another friendly robot caller and customer service person that I’m really, really, important. Great. In reality I got a text around 8am asking to confirm an appointment with no date or time. I clicked on the link and only got options to reschedule for Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Now, Monday was a holiday for a lot of people, but as a result, it actually wasn’t a bad day for me to clear my calendar. So I opted for that. It had the gloriously short support window of 9am to 6pm, so I wouldn’t be going very far. No, that didn’t happen either, and no, no one called.
OMG, Now They Can’t Even Find the Rails
At this point it is no longer possible for me to have any idea when Dell will repair my Precision laptop. After a barrage of calls on the 27th, resulting in nothing, I figured the fallback would be to the “Re-Schedule” option I’d chosen for May 30th. But when on the 28th, when I happened to check the ticket status on Dell’s site, it seems like they started over with a new service order number and a new “we’ll order the parts for you and will hopefully get them to a tech for a repair visit sometime between midnight and noon on June 1.” I can only imagine this is some imaginary game Dell plays with themselves so that they can claim they respond to tickets before their customers throw their laptops through their TV sets. Bully for them in gaming their support metrics. Presumably it’s less-expensive than delivering quality support.
I wasn’t originally planning any kind of an article on this repair. I assumed, like any other small business owner would, that I’d simply report the laptop dead, and either drive it in for service or have it serviced. But after over two weeks of time-consuming, annoying, run-arounds, it is clearly a story. For starters, I’d love to know if my experience is unique. So feel free to chip in with your comments on either Dell or other firms small-business support. In addition, the final chapter hasn’t been written so stay-tuned for when and whether my laptop is brought back to life.
Whether or not it is, I’ve lost over two weeks of use of my laptop, and been lied to about non-existent service appointments that have cost me at least two days of “being available” when apparently there was actually no plan to have anyone actually show up, and no plan to have them let me know. Clown Car is starting to seem a bit unfair to clowns, since they at least know what they are doing.
Fortunately, I happen to have a Thinkpad Yoga that’s pretty sweet, and can Remote Desktop into a couple nice desktop machines for heavy lifting. But if I was truly relying on my Precision for my day-to-day business, I’d be in a deep hole.
Sadly, this is only Part 1 of the saga. After two weeks of wasted time and effort, the next phase will be June 1 where I’ve (once again) been asked to give up a morning waiting for a Dell tech. That’ll be a small price to pay if they show up. Stay tuned.
Even more sadly, this issue isn’t unique to Dell. Reaching out to some of my friends in the computer industry they had plenty of horror stories about Dell, Lenovo, and Apple. HP seemed to escape unscathed. I don’t know if that is because they are less popular or simply better at customer service, but I’m thinking of finding out.
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way!
It’d be tempting to conclude that modern economics simply don’t allow for quality support. If that’s true, then we should just write things off as throw-away, and leave it at that. But the truth is that companies who actually care about their relationship with their customers can make great support happen. I could provide many examples in clothing and consumer electronics, but my overall favorite example is LiquidWeb.
LiquidWeb is a great example of what is possible in terms of customer delight, and that it takes money to pay for it. I’ve had a server hosted there for a decade providing a variety of services. I like having my own Linux server because I’m a geek, but I like having someone else manage it because I’m a mostly-retired geek. LiquidWeb support is never more than a few minutes away, and they are all really good. Even “first-level” support techs are great, and they can quickly escalate to a second tier who are on a level with the techs who maintain the server farms for major cloud providers.
The flip side is that LiquidWeb servers aren’t cheap. But I’m more than happy to pay. It’s a great demonstration of how pay-for-quality service can work. That brings me back to Dell. In fairness, I didn’t spend yet more money on premium next-day service, so I don’t expect that. But I did spend several thousand dollars on a professional workstation that offers on-site warranty repair. However, Dell doesn’t seem to feel that they need to do much to keep up with their promise.
Original feature image by Oliver Gouldthorpe, Flickr