Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The perils of customer support

One problem of providing after sales support in the PC business is that the vast majority of people who ring you up to complain that "My PC doesn't work" aren't actually telling the objective truth. It may be true for them, but often it is what computer people sometimes refer to as PEBKAC (Problem exists between keyboard and chair). That is, there is nothing wrong with the computer, but the user is doing something wrong.

There also a reverse problem, which is that many people who work in support are not experts either. (If they were, they would have better jobs). In most instances I know at least as much as they do, so they are not of any great use to me. Therefore, I do not call support lines unless I utterly have to, and that generally means that there is genuinely a hardware fault, and I want the manufacturer of a computer to take it away and fix it.

Which is the case now. Dell's support lines were closed on the weekend, and the recorded message said to send them an e-mail, and I have been having an e-mail exchange. No problem. A helpful chap named S. Vishwanath initially sent me a list of "troubleshooting suggestions", designed to hopefully fix the problem if it was indeed PEBKAC. I knew that my problem was much more serious than anything that his suggestions would fix, but I went through them one by one to make him happy. I then really wanted to get the message across that I did no what I was talking about, so I used some jargon and even used the "I have a Ph.D. I know what I am talking about" defence, something I do not normally do. (In fact, I have no recollection of ever using it before). I even sent some photographs of the computer not working to demonstrate that I had done what he said, including one showing the computer plugged into an external monitor (and working), to show that it really was the display.

In any event, this was enough for Mr Vishwanath, so my laptop is being collected by Dell, and they are apparently going to give me a new LCD screen.

I can only assume that Mr Vishwanarth is in Bangalore or somewhere in India. Unlike many tech support people he appeared to know what he was doing. (Often, companies like Dell can hire better qualified and skilled people for this kind of job in India than the people who will do it in the west). His English had a slightly formal but stilted style to it. Although he obviously speaks English perfectly capably, it is also clearly not his first language. (It is also good that Dell assigned a single tech-support person to deal with my case until it was complete, and that he gave me his name as a matter of course. Companies that provide less good support are often very reluctant to volunteer the names of their employees that you are talking to).

I was also asked to remove "all removable parts, for instance the hard drive, the CD-ROM drive, and the battery and power adaptor" before sending the computer off. I removed the optical drive (actually a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo), the hard drive, and the battery as requested. (Actually keeping the hard drive is good, because it means that all my important files are still in my possession). I wasn't quite sure how they defined "all removable parts". I suppose I could have also removed the (internal mini-PCI) wireless card and the RAM, but that seemed to be going a bit far.

And now I get to see how long it takes Dell to fix it. (I wonder where they will take it to fix it too? Will they do it somewhere in the UK, or will they take it back to the factory in Ireland where it was assembled?).

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