Saturday, August 27, 2005

Do I need help

I am in Aarhus in Jutland in Denmark, on my way to see the longest bridge in Europe. When going through security at London Stansted airport this morning I realised that I was carrying a laptop, a PDA/Pocket PC, a Blackberry, an iPod, a mobile phone, and a digital camera. I think this might be excessive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Dell sins, that may not necessarily yet have condemned them to the special place reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theatre

Jackie has been referring to Jeff Jarvis' ongoing "Dell Hell" customer relations saga. There are no comments on her blog for me to leave a description of my own slightly odd Dell customer service experience, so I may as well blog about it myself. I haven't had "Dell Hell", but none the less I have just had a customer service experience which might suggest that their eyes aren't entirely on the ball.

I recently decided to send my Inspiron 8600 off to Dell to have them repair it. This laptop is nearly two years old, was well made (if a little heavy and not all that elegant) and has served me well. However, due to the best part of two years of intensive and at times a little rough use, it had suffered some damage. This was mainly physical damage to the case - its electronics were still working okay, although damage to the connector between the on switch and the motherboard also meant it was on the brink of becoming non-functional.

However, I didn't really want to throw the laptop away, because it was a high end machine when new and if it is in good order then it will still be useful for at least a couple of years, it has a beautiful (WUXGA - 1920x1200) screen, a new laptop of a similar spec would still cost about £800, and (although it is not my "travel" laptop anymore - I have a Sony T2XP for that, and although I do have a desktop as well) it is in many ways my "main" computer. My e-mail and my definitive music collection, as well as all my correspondence and financial information, are on its hard drive. (Yes, I do also have backups). As the damage was mainly to the case, I thought it likely it could be fixed for a lot less than the cost of buying a new one. Therefore, I thought I would look into getting Dell to repair it.

I sent them a description of the problem, and some photographs, and they quoted me a price for the repair. Fine, they sent a courier to pick it up last Thursday and I sent it off. A day later my credit card was charged the agreed amount.

Now, Dell have a strict written policy for out of warranty repairs. They look at the machine, they make a quote, if you agree to the quote they fix it and if you don't they return it without charging you anything. No trouble there. That's a good policy. However, on Friday, Dell left a voicemail message saying that additional parts needed replacing above those that I had already been quoted the cost of, and we needed to discuss this. Okay. Not entirely happy but I would talk to them on Monday. On Monday morning, I received the laptop back, returned to perfect as new condition. Several bits were replaced that I wouldn't have asked them to replace.

I then received a phone call from Dell telling me again that several bits needed replacing. We didn't get to discussing the price because I mentioned that I had already received the laptop back. The Dell guy on the phone from Chennai was puzzled by this, and said he would get back to me on Tuesday.

I haven't heard from him since. I assume that either (a) they have decided that since they have returned the laptop to me, there is no reasonable way they can now ask me for more money (particularly given that they are in breach of their own contract) or (b) the mistake was actually having this guy call me, and that in fact they decided that they would ultimately do the full repair for what they quoted me, and forgot to tell him that.

What is interesting here is that if it weren't for the two phone calls, I would actually be very happy with Dell's customer service. They did an excellent job repairing the laptop (what was a very beaten up laptop has been returned to as-new condition), did it extremely fast (I received the laptop back two business days after it was collected) and what they did charge me was quite reasonable. However, having received a quote, then having received phone calls telling me that they were taking that quote back and charging me more, and then not calling me when they said they would does ruin the experience somewhat. In a sense I don't mind never hearing from them again, as I have my laptop fixed and I am not at this point going to pay them any more money, so there is nothing to discuss. Still, however, I think there is merit in calling people when you say you will.

I also recently had a service issue with Sony, and the impression I get is that Sony's official service policies are less kind to the customer than are Dell's. They charge you more and for more things, and they are much more eager to find a loophole to their warranty in order to make you pay. And the people at Sony act in a reasonable well coordinated way to enforce these policies.

However, Dell seem to have logistical and organisational problems at this point. The left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing. It might be a "The company is now too large" proplem, I think. I didn't get the impression that there was anyone who has not trying to help me, and I also didn't get the impression that Dell's service policies were bad. They just don't seem to be implementing them that well at the moment.

Update: A different gentleman from Dell has just rung me up to tell me that there are additional parts that need to be replaced in addition to those for which I was initially quoted a price, blah blah blah. He seems to have no knowledge that somebody else rung me up for the same reason earlier this week, or that that person said he would get back to me and then failed to do so. This is not impressive. The temptation to turn my phone off in the hope that they will go away is strong, but I am not in truth going to do this.

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