My Tribulations in Dell’s Universe: How Twitter Saved Two Reputations

I’ve always been a faithful Dell customer. I’ve never, ever had a problem that Dell Support couldn’t fix; in fact, in college, I once sent my laptop in for depot service and got it back the next day. If that doesn’t make for an impressive and accurate customer service and a model to emulate, I’m not entirely certain what does.

So, of course, when it was time to upgrade my laptop again, it was a fairly obvious choice for me: Dell was automatically in the running. I ended up choosing a Dell XPS M1330, which I got for Christmas in 2007. The laptop worked incredibly well for several months — long enough that I was fairly convinced that I had made another good selection. In April of 2008, however, I started experiencing issues with the laptop’s power — the battery would take an abnormally long time to charge, losing a full charge faster than it would charge to begin with, abruptly slowing down significantly on random occasions when it was plugged into the wall, and spontaneously shutting down randomly. I, of course, opened a ticket with Dell fairly quickly when I identified this as a systemic problem — taking over 6 hours to charge from around 10% battery charge to a full charge seemed bad, somehow.

Little did I know what I was walking in to at the time.

As the initial back-and-forth with Dell’s technicians ensued, I provided them with the following:

Some additional information: my laptop just froze again when I plugged it in – I physically removed the battery from the system, which corrected the problem immediately. I suspect this is a problem with the motherboard’s power connections, since that’s what all this tends to point towards.

The technician replied:

Peter, it cannot be the port on the motherboard because your computer works just fine when connected only with the AC adapter. I would go ahead and replace the battery for you which is causing this issue.

Okay, I’m willing to admit when I’m potentially wrong. They dispatched a new battery and power cord to me, and I tried that out, since there wasn’t any symptom to indicate that there might be something else wrong. However, that didn’t correct the issue, since the problem recurred rather quickly with additional symptoms related to video display. Contacting Dell again, I got a reply that stated that I had to contact their Live Hardware Warranty Support in order to further troubleshoot the issue – no problem! I signed on to their online chat and had a fairly lengthy conversation with the technician, who spent several hours walking me through troubleshooting steps, which strongly indicated issues with the integrated graphics card (in fact, the card practically failed as I was online chatting with them).

Technician dispatch time! At this point, it’s June 2008. A technician was dispatched to my apartment in Seattle and happily replaced my motherboard, and was quite social while she did it — the turnaround time was also excellent.

The problems began again in late August: I was once again encountering battery issues with the laptop. I once again signed in to Live Chat, after my excellent experience the first time, and the technician very quickly identified this as a recurring issue and dispatched a new power plug, battery, and a technician to replace the motherboard. I had moved down to Olympia as part of my summer internship for the MSIM program, so the part and technician were dispatched there instead of my usual Seattle address.

The technician called when I couldn’t answer the phone and didn’t call back again for an entire week despite my repeated attempts to return his call. After a week, I logged back in to Support Chat to report the issue to the agent – while I was doing so, I inquired as to whether depot service would be an option rather than waiting for a technician, and was told it wasn’t. Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to be home for a technician, I also changed the address of the dispatch with the consent of a friend of mine who was also in Olympia and was willing to let me leave the laptop with him while waiting for repair.

Another call from the technician — or, at least, the same number that the first call to me came from — went to my friend’s phone, but no voice mail was left. Attempts to call the number back resulted in no answer. The service call turned into a cat-and-mouse game of the technician calling my friend and not leaving voice mails or not being able to get in contact with them and vice versa. Getting a little desperate after several days of this, I started grumbling about the issue on Twitter and caught the attention of one of Dell’s Social Media Liaisons, Chris Byrd, who promptly verified that the dispatch details were correct and monitored the case. I once again had an agent (not Chris) recreate the dispatch to be sure that the details were correct, but the problem continued. By mid-September, I had moved back to Seattle to continue my work in the MSIM program and had a dispatch created for my Seattle address – the technician was very quick and corrected the problem within two or three days of the dispatch being created.

It literally took a month and a half for the issue to be corrected this time around. My complaint to Chris insisted that my feedback about the problems I had with the technician in Olympia be moved up the chain:

The biggest part of the problem is that the techs never left voice mail with contact information with him, but always with me. I had this same issue with the first dispatch – they called, but never left accurate contact information where someone would pick up. Your technicians need to leave voice mail with EVERY CALL they make, otherwise it’s useless. Having a technician assigned to it is useless if that technician refuses to respond to calls or refuses to leave voice mails so that the person that needs to schedule it can do so.

Please do pass that along – if nothing else out of all this, I’d like there to be some sort of process improvement on your end. [My friend] indicated that he consistently got calls from a particular number, but that they never left voice mails after calling and went straight to calling me.

Not to be outdone, the video card once again started failing again on February 28th of this year. I knew it was exactly the same problem, because it was exhibiting the same slowing down behavior that it had the last two times the failure occurred. Instead of going straight to Dell Support, this time I went straight to Chris Byrd, who had at least been somewhat helpful the last time this happened. A coworker had pointed out to me that there were known problems with the graphics card the 700M shipped with, something that I was unaware of in my past dealings with Dell, and something that Chris reassured me was likely corrected by now. He also pointed me at Dell’s Resolution Expert Center to reopen my past case if the problem got worse. Since it was indeed getting worse, I reopened the case on April 1st (the failures were intermittent up until the point where the case was reopened and didn’t warrant grumbling about it until it was clear and obvious that there was a reproducible issue).

Thank you for contacting Dell XPS hardware Support. I would be glad to assist you with your Dell XPS 1330 with Windows Vista on it.

It is very unfortunate that you had to undergo so many problems with the computer. It is very rare situation that the motherboard has been replaced 3 times and that you still have issues with the computer. I assure you that I will help you fix this issue.

I have checked the previous case history and decided to pull this computer to our repair center so that we can have a thorough check of the system and see to it that the issue is fixed. The reason me suggesting you to send this computer to depot is because a technician will just replace the part and see if the computer is up and running but at the repair center we can keep the computer in observation and once we feel the issue is fixed then will send the computer back. This complete process, I mean by the time you get your computer back it would take 7-10 days.

My reply, which copied my father, who originally purchased the system, and Chris, since he was still monitoring the case:

I’m a student, so I can’t afford to be without this laptop that long (at least, not at this point in time – once the academic year ends in June, maybe, but it may have completely failed by then). Are there any other options, such as a potential replacement of the machine?

Dell’s reply:

Peter, the only resolution insight at the moment is to pull the computer to the depot location where it can be serviced. So I suggest you to let me know when I can set up a depot dispatch. Sending a replacement computer is not an option.

As you can imagine, this was a little irritating, so I shot back the following e-mail:

I would like to know what your procedure is if the depot return turns up no problems and the failure continues after the laptop is returned. I am reluctant to submit this machine to depot service and make my classwork harder while also having to deal with this issue continuously. I understand the need to monitor the machine and attempt to reproduce the issue, but this issue has surfaced a sufficient number of times that I believe further action is warranted than "we will return it within 7-10 days". I recognize that you’re trying to help, but the case history on this laptop makes me uncomfortable enough that I need to know what the plan is if the depot checks turn up nothing.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my dad chimed in with his own far more acidic assessment of the situation — I would reprint the e-mail in its entirety, but suffice it to say that it was strongly worded and highly critical of Dell’s practices. He wrote what I would have written if I had gotten another canned e-mail back in reply to my message above. I forwarded the message to Chris — it couldn’t make the situation any worse, could it?

Chris –

Please see below.

I hate to say it, but Dad is absolutely right. This case has already lost me as a Dell customer, and I cannot recommend Dell purchases based on this experience. It’s really a shame, because Dell support used to be incredibly responsive. If you have customer experience people to route this to in upper management, please do so. If you ever need a case reference for redesigning Dell’s customer support experience, this one needs to be at or near the top of the list.

Since I’m looking for a job upon graduation, I almost added "if you would like to hire me as a process redesigner…."

At this point, I have to give Chris Byrd a lot of credit – what he did next was thoroughly surprising and unexpected:

I agree, this issue has not been handled in the way that we like to provide support here at Dell.

I’ve contacted the agent handling this case and they have agreed to set you up with a system exchange. The system exchange will be of like or better hardware, to include all software originally configured for your computer. The agent will be responding to the email referenced below, with dispatching information shortly.

Chris is an excellent example of what customer service is all about. He recognized a systemic problem that was drastically affecting the satisfaction of not one but two current Dell customers and moved to rectify the situation by simply completely replacing the machine in question. His intervention is the entire reason why I’m not still completely stuck in the mire of Dell support, attempting to get a resolution to something that wouldn’t go away. My new Studio XPS 1340, which I got three days ago, is a fairly significant upgrade from my old XPS M1330, with upgrades across the board (including a 64-bit processor!).

It’s not quite over yet, however – Dell didn’t ship a return label for the defective system, and didn’t ship my new Studio XPS with Bluetooth. While the return label is now on its way, the Bluetooth module they sent seems to be for my old machine. Whether this is an error on my part in not being explicit about which machine I was requesting the part for or an error on their part in not looking at their records and figuring out that it’s probably for the system sent as a replacement to the defective one doesn’t really matter. They were at least prompt at recognizing that they had erred in not shipping the system with the correct parts and working to rectify the problem.

Dell’s customer support isn’t perfect, and perhaps it took the original purchaser of my M1330 getting a little irate and taking it out on Dell to get them to react appropriately, but Chris’s intervention gives me a little ray of hope that maybe customer support doesn’t have to always be bad and hopeless. This post is, in a way, my nod to him for a job well done, but it is also a warning. In this age of increased digital interaction, where globalization creates situations where cultural boundaries collide and where companies are doing their best to save the most money possible, it is the kiss of death to treat your customers badly. If Chris had not intervened, I can assure you: I would have made sure that no company I worked with ever bought Dell products, and when I work in IT, that’s not as insignificant an action as one might think. Twitter quite literally saved Dell in this case from two very dissatisfied customers. Listen. It might just make the difference between life and death.

  • http://luciandipeso.com/ Lucian

    Well done, sir.

  • http://luciandipeso.com Lucian

    Well done, sir.

  • Bill

    Dell lost me as a customer a long time ago because of their horrible customer service. I, like you, had long been a Dell fan. But when I had a problem with a system that was obviously a hardware issue and they flat our refused to fix or even call me back, I decided I would never buy another Dell system. I work on computers for friends and family all the time. And they all come to me for recommendations on what to buy. I’d say that Dell has lost at least 10 computer sales because of their lousy support. 10 sales to them is like a single grain of sand on the beach. But if they support all their customers like this I’m sure that number of lost sales is quite a bit higher.

  • Bill

    Dell lost me as a customer a long time ago because of their horrible customer service. I, like you, had long been a Dell fan. But when I had a problem with a system that was obviously a hardware issue and they flat our refused to fix or even call me back, I decided I would never buy another Dell system. I work on computers for friends and family all the time. And they all come to me for recommendations on what to buy. I’d say that Dell has lost at least 10 computer sales because of their lousy support. 10 sales to them is like a single grain of sand on the beach. But if they support all their customers like this I’m sure that number of lost sales is quite a bit higher.