Customer Service: The Saga Continues…

For those of you following along the Saga of Dell Customer Support, it continues. While I really don’t want to call out individual failures, I think it’s indicative of a systemic problem.

When we last left our hero, he was trying to desperately to get his faulty laptop repaired. A summary of what has already happened:

  • it took 26 calls in a 6 hour period to Dell Technical Support to diagnose a faulty motherboard and still not resolve the issue
  • the customer was contracted for mail-in support but asked them to mail him the part (which they said they couldn’t do) or make an exception and send someone on-site to fix it (which they also said they couldn’t do) due to his unusual circumstances e.g. being deployed in the Gulf of Mexico to help inspect the beaches for oil
  • Dell arranged for a return of the laptop when he returned home, which was not what the customer really wanted and left him trying to do work with a faulty laptop

I thought, in this age of Social Media, let’s engage the engines of the new economy to get some additional assistance. I blogged and I tweeted. I was contacted by @dellcares who offered to assist. I thought, it works. This is good. Now we’ll get somewhere. I emailed them to bring them up to speed:

I’m not sure if you’re the right people to talk to but maybe you can point me in the right direction. I have a friend who works for the EPA and was just deployed to Alabama to assist with the oil spill cleanup. He recently purchased a Dell Laptop just prior to his departure. It turns out it was faulty (motherboard) and I related his experience with Dell Technical Support attempting to get it fixed from rural Alabama in a blog entry “Shouldn’t Customer Service be a Marketing Opportunity?”…

Then the customer got this email:

I am with the Dell Social Media Outreach Team and I’m following up on the issues with your Latitude E6410. Please let me first state that on behalf of Dell, I apologize for any poor customer experience you may have received.

Upon review of your case history, Alan Berkson’s blog and your e-mail, I understand that you are having issues with the touchpad/mouse pointer of your system and would like to either have this returned for a full refund or repaired. I am prepared to assist you with either. I understand you may not have access to return the system right away, but we can make arrangements for a return once you get back to the mainland. Further, if you are interested in servicing your system, it would also be dependent on when you can have the system back on the mainland. Please let me know how you would like to move forward.

Apparently, Dell still thinks Mobile, AL is not part of the mainland United States.

I was assured this wasn’t the case:

@berkson0 Bottom line, Dell does consider Alabama part of the U.S. Not making excuses. This was definitely a rep error. Thanks, AB

A rep error. She had read my blog and my email but still fell into the same trap as all the other reps. Social Media = #FAIL.

What’s wrong with this? Social Media gets eaten up by the old school support system. Instead of contacting the customer and getting the story straight, this person read the notes in the system and fell in with the same false assumptions and misdirected conclusions. Engaging in Social Media doesn’t automatically make your CRM more effective.

I’ll admit I am not fully versed in the economics of customer service for consumers, however I have been in the customer service business on the IT level for over 15 years. Customer service is considered an expense that must be minimized. The best way to minimize the expense of customer service is to systematize it; lock down the process so individual reps are less likely to make mistakes.

The problem, as I see it, is that while you mitigate the smaller risks you leave yourself open for greater failures. Any good programmer knows you need to program for exceptions. You also need to know what to do with exceptions you haven’t anticipated. This wasn’t an intractable customer. He understands he has mail-in service. He’s not sitting home being unreasonable. He’s walking the beaches of Alabama trying to help with a national disaster. He needs his laptop to develop a program to more efficiently manage the cleanup. He’s asking for an exception but there was no process in place to handle it. No mechanism to cross the gap. This should have been redirected to a different department instead of continuing to try to pound that square peg into a round hole.

Throughout this entire saga there hasn’t been anyone in Dell Corporate who thought to take advantage of an opportunity for some positive PR by assisting an oil spill responder. Support is too insulated from corporate. Why is this issue still being handled by support? Where is PR?

As of the writing of this blog Dell has arranged for the customer to meet a technician at a location to-be-determined to repair his laptop. Wish him luck.

Update: 13-Jul-2010 – He got a call from Customer Service in Texas. She was told he wasn’t a US customer (outside the country). I guess the message hasn’t really gotten through yet. She explained that there was a delay because they were having trouble reformatting a drive. Why does he need a new drive? Wasn’t it the motherboard? He doesn’t need a new drive and, besides, he doesn’t have any install disks for all his other software. 24 hours later, still no repair.

Part 3 –  Dell Saga: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Part 4 –  Back In Business

  • Hi Alan,

    This is really starting to become pathetic. Not only have they continuously failed to deliver, they’re making the same mistakes over and over.

    They really need to implement processes to learn from their mistakes.

    Is your friend able to get any work done? If not, maybe he should go out and buy a different brand of laptop…

    Cheers and keep at them!

    • Eric,

      You are correct. It is compounded failures. I am curious how Dell’s self-review (which they must have, no?) process will handle this one.

      As for my intrepid hero, he continues to work — just more slowly and with no mouse pad. He has graciously sacrificed himself in the name of science to see how this all plays out.

      I will keep you posted.


  • Pingback: Shouldn’t Customer Service be a Marketing Opportunity?()