Shouldn’t Customer Service be a Marketing Opportunity?

The holy grail of public relations is turning customer service into a marketing opportunity. Yet it seems like, with all our technology, the gap is still fairly wide. A friend recently purchased a Dell laptop prior to being deployed as a government responder in Alabama to assist in the oil spill cleanup. 12 days after purchasing the laptop he hopped on a plane to Alabama.  He had started noticing issues with the mouse pad but with the hectic nature of prepping for his deployment he didn’t get around to addressing it until he arrived in Alabama. He called Dell Technical Support.  There, the odyssey began… On his first call, after explaining the issue to the support tech, he was told that the motherboard was faulty and would need to be replaced. Disconnected. No call back. Tried again. Spoke to another tech.  His extended warranty didn’t cover on-site repair. He tried to ask for an exception due to his unique circumstances. “Can I speak to a manager?” Escalated.

“Can’t you send someone out to fix it? I’m deployed in the Gulf helping with the oil spill cleanup. I need it to do my work.” We can’t help you. “Why?” You’re not in the country. “What do you mean?” You told me you’re in the Gulf so you’re not in the country.

What followed was a series of misinformation, ineffective techs, managers and failed connections. At one point he asked if he could just return it. He was told it was a refurb so the normal 30 day return policy was only 14 days.

“Can I get it extended?” No.

Get’s disconnected. Never gets a call back. Tries again. Different tech.

“Can you extend the return period to August 1st when I get back?” Yes. I’ll set it up for you. “Can you put it in writing”? No.


Call back another person, another manager. There is no extension in the system. “Ok. I can do that for you.” Authorizes a return and sends a UPS pickup which expires in 10 days. That’s a week before he gets back. No good. Call back again, another manager. Need it in writing. Manager can’t transfer. Can’t tell you my name. We can call you back.  Nothing that can be done for you. Hang up. Find another technical support manager. All told he made 26 calls between 9:10am and 1:32 pm. From a cell phone. In rural Alabama. He has a broken computer they won’t fix and hopefully he can return it when he gets back (to the US) from Mobile, AL. Now am I saying my friend was entitled to special treatment? No. Aside from, perhaps, getting his problem solved in less than 26 calls. One of the challenges of global outsourcing is a cultural disconnect. Is there any informed person in the US who doesn’t know we have a major oil disaster in the Gulf…of Mexico? There is a challenge giving staff a proper frame of reference from halfway around the world. Outstanding customer service means understanding your customer. What we do have here is a missed opportunity – if they could have gotten the right person to recognize it. How would Texas-native Michael Dell have responded had he known there was a Dell customer lending a hand in the Gulf cleanup who needed a little extra attention? What public relations opportunity was missed? This gap represents an opportunity. Social media, CRM, SCRM. They’re all buzz words. Where the rubber meets the road is where we have the lowest end of the pay scale disproportionately responsible for customer satisfaction. How do we empower them to be more effective? Who is ready to step up to fill the gap?


Part 2 –  Customer Service: The Saga Continues…
Part 3 –  Dell Saga: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Part 4 –  Back In Business

  • Alan Berkson

    I forgot to add the part about where the tech guy, after the defective motherboard had been confirmed, suggests he reinstall windows to cure the problem. What was he thinking – heading off to the Gulf without his windows disks etc.

  • Alan Berkson

    The saga continues. Adding insult to injury, he called Dell because they referenced a different service number in his extension to return the laptop than the one he had been given on the phone. The tech guy who looked it up for him said that he had had this problem with a traveling salesman once and just set up an onsite repair for the person.

  • Mike

    Try getting advice how to handle this by e-mailing:

    [email protected] to the attention of:

    Ron Rose …
    serves as senior vice president of where he oversees global online platforms for Dell, including the Web site, its customer Premier Pages and online customer support. He is responsible for driving the strategy, execution and measurement for, one of the leading ecommerce destinations for people around the world.

    Dell Director, Ross Perot Jr. …
    who is chairman of Hillwood, which he founded in 1988.

    Or he can call them at 512-338-4400

    Alternate folks to get advice from if all else fails:

    Alabama Governor Bob Riley (334) 242-7100

    Alabama Emergency Management Agency (205) 280-2200

    Good luck!

  • Mike

    By the way … pardon the cliche …. sales makes the first sale, but service makes avery other sale.

  • Alan: Sorry to see that we haven’t done a good job supporting your friend up to this point. That’s obviously not representative of how we should be supporting our customers. I’ll be happy to connect him (or her) to someone from our support team who can get to the bottom of it.

    Feel free to share m e-mail address with your friend. Otherwise, I can be reached via Twitter at

    Bottom line, if I can connect with your friend to get some specifics. I can connect them to someone who can help.


    • Alan Berkson


      Thanks for the follow-up. I have forwarded your contact info.


  • Lack of empowerment and consistency at the front lines is too common, isn’t it? Often the root cause is self-inflicted complexity in the steps the company takes to solve a customer’s need or anticipate what they need next. SO MANY what if’s and I don’t know’s in your friend’s story.

    Imagine the ROI if Dell simplified these policies, creating better consistency and transparency for customers. It reminds me of this post I wrote about similarly complex experiences – those of major airlines:

    Fingers crossed Lionel gets your friend to the bottom of this one. Time will tell if the experience overall improves. LCI

    • Alan Berkson

      Is it too complex or too structured? Aside from the silliness of thinking he was not in the country it seems the structure of the support org limited Dell’s ability to deal with exceptions.

  • Wow! Lionel at Dell to the rescue! The Intelligist Group has JUICE!

    Congrats on the new blog launch, Alan. I’m already an avid reader.

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