Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dell Screws Up a Good Thing


Thanksgiving dinners have been a little touchy the last few years, in my family.

My sister works for a large Palo Alto-based printing giant that made the mistake of acquiring a large, poorly run, Houston-based computer company a few years back. Now, I have nothing at all against HP or "The HP Way"—HP has been very good to my sister—but it so happens I run my business on computers and printers from Dell.

So, what with the general controversy surrounding former CEO Carly Fiorina, not to mention the complete absence of HP products around my office and our house—except for an old HP printer down in the basement on which the cats like to perch—we haven’t really seen eye-to-eye about which company, Dell or HP, constitutes “best of breed” when it comes to the IT needs of a small business owner.

It seemed obvious to me that, like all storied franchises in technology, HP never grasped the shift that undercut its multi-tiered distribution-based model. It always surprised me to hear HP executives mock Dell at every opportunity as nothing more than “a distributor” lacking the kind of R&D that made HP what it had become…which was, in my view, a slow-moving, high cost personal computer company completely out of touch with what made the direct sales model so compelling.

As a small business guy, I don’t particularly care if my printer has the latest ink cartridge technology or my computer has fifty gigaflips of terabytes. And I absolutely don’t want to have to deal with some Office Depot salesman trying to hit a month-end quota in order to buy my office equipment.

I want a good computer system I can order online or over the phone; I want it shipped to my office; I want plug-and-play so even any idiot, including myself, can get up-and-running before the market opens; and I want great support if I need it.

And Dell satisfied those needs for more than ten years, because Michael Dell understood the time value of technology.

But that was then, and this is now: and what happened now is that I spent five hours off and on last night dealing with a mish-mash of toll-free numbers and incompetent or not-my-department technical support people at Dell.

Poor service at Dell is not necessarily new-news. I’ve been hearing since last summer from various friends and acquaintances that Dell tech support was not all it had been cracked up to be. But since I haven’t called Dell Technical Support in over a year, I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Today, I am paying attention.

All I needed to do was change some settings on a Dell TrueMobile wireless router, which is not a big deal: Dell’s formerly ace support people walked me through the exact same routine a year ago. Took maybe ten minutes.

But all of a sudden, it is a big deal.

Every blind alley in the new ghetto that is Dell customer support led me to a paid help desk—despite the fact that I have what is supposed to be “Gold” technical support.

Worse, they wanted to make me first go to a salesman in order to buy the paid help desk service.

What happened here? Did Dell outsource its technical support to Milo Minderbinder?

I suspect that, in its desire to satisfy the shareholder base that still thinks of Dell as a growth stock, the only way to “hit the numbers” now that both the law of large numbers is kicking in and Mark Hurd has begun to revive HP as a force to be reckoned with, the number-crunchers running Dell are simply cutting what made Dell great.

And since they can't cut R&D—because as HP always pointed out, Dell was never an R&D-driven company—they cut the customer support that won it loyalty, and sales, from small business customers like me.

I don’t know if this is an over-reaction to one data point that means nothing in the long run, although given the grumbling from other quarters since last summer I doubt it. And I don’t know if Dell’s business model is at risk. Nor do I have a strong opinion about whether Dell’s stock is over-priced or under-priced.

But I can tell you Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a lot more comfortable next fall: I’ve bought my last Dell.



Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up


© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


57 comments:

BP said...

Not surprising to hear that, I've had HORRIBLE service from Dell, and two desktops that died on me over a period of five years, both of course after the warranty expired. I swore off Dell, but when I looked for a new machine (a laptop this time), nobody came close on price, or offered me EXACTLY what I wanted, and I begrugingly bought another Dell. Fingers are crossed, but they really offer the rock bottom price.

kevinmr said...

Here is my Dell experience:
Bought an Inspiron 8600 (our third Dell) and exactly one year and two days from purchase the machine does not boot. Dell support tells me since my one-year warranty has expired (two days ago mind you!) I need to buy a new hard-drive. I put in the order for the hard-drive and decide to check the forums where I find the solution (easy!) and of course cancel my order for the new hard-drive. Approximately two years after purchase the LCD screen goes on the blink. Tried to open a ticket with Dell and of course they tried to sell me the support! Once again went into the forums where a kindly soul detailed how to perform LCD diagnostics.

It seems sad that Dell has let us slip away a happy repeat customer.

tahoe kid said...

Perhaps this is the opportunity Best Buy sees in the Geek Squad business.

chaseinvirginia said...

One little column and you've convinced me not to buy a Dell.

And now they wanna sell us TVs too? Ha!

TG said...

Dell's service has gone from marginally OK to poor. Their laptops are not even second rate- I no longer will buy them even if they are the least expensive entry for a given spec set (which they seldom are anymore) because of their unreliability. Seems like an opening has been created for a competitor who can offer a better purchase/ownership package. Any credible entries out there?

TG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
gvtucker said...

My business is similar to yours, Jeff.

It has been two years since I've moved away from Dell, for exactly the same reasons. HP provides better support and less expensive computers.

For larger buyers, my understanding is that Dell is still price competitive. For smaller businesses (like mine) Dell is trying to milk the cash cow and hope that people don't comparison shop and still believe the low cost-high service myth of Dell. I don't think that's working any more.

enrico99 said...

Welcome to the party man !
Just like you, I used to be a 10-year Dell fan. I converted all my friends and family just to have a $3000 laptop die on me overnight. No need to comment on the lack of support, as the laptop was something like 13 months old. The fun part was that Dell made an offer to repair for a thousand bucks. I noticed that they said maybe they would use old parts to repair my laptop. So I asked how long is the guarantee after the repair. Answer: 3 months. At this rate my laptop costs me just under $4'000 a year. Talk about total cost of ownership. Anyway, the sales guy says "But there is no reason for the laptop to die again in 3 months". Like there was a reason why it died after one year in the first place. My answer: "if you expect the repaired laptop to last longer, why is the warranty only 3 months". Never heard of the guy again. This message was typed on a Thinkpad.

PS. bp it's because people sometimes act like you did buying again from Dell, despite them treating you like sh*t, that Dell can follow this stupid strategy. Nothing personal man, I've also given business to people I shouldn't have, but we should all avoid doing that IMO.

Athena_Sword said...

I hope you'll all be switching to Macs. Great interface, so easy to use monkeys can figure it out, and,best of all, no more allegiance to the evil empire MS. Then there are the other perks: no viruses, no 'defragging", reformatting, security pacs, yada, yada. Customer support is great too. Helpful, patient, pleasant uber geeks...ok, so sometimes it's outsourced to Canada. But that's not so bad, eh?
And what was that Michael Dell was saying about Apple throwing in the towel a few years ago....

gvtucker said...

Alas, athena, Bloomberg doesn't run on a Mac OS, so a Mac is pretty much useless these days in the securities business.

Alexander said...

Same problem here with Dell. Brand spanking new and their wireless card won't recognize my Linksys router. Spent 45 minutes on hold until I got someone who walked me through it. Not the best use of my time...

MikesMess said...

As an admitted computer junkie, I've taken our family from Micron desktops in '97, to Dell laptops in '00, to Alienware laptops and desktops in '04 (just ordered another Alienware desktop this month). The Micron-to-Dell switch was necessitated by Micron giving up the ghost on their PC business; the Dell-to-Alienware switch was borne from unacceptable service. One caveat: I am a home user, I can't comment on Alienware's acumen as a small-business provider.

Bob said...

I too am not surprised to hear what you are saying, although I arrived at the same conclusion from a different direction. Last summer, I bought a Dell laptop for my daughter, who was going to college. Calling the toll-free number, I was immediately offered an interest free loan to purchase the laptop, which of course I accepted. That got me thinking: Dell in effect discounts its products to generate sales and book revenue. And presto, it makes its numbers. But I would be curious if the cash flow is also holding up.

BDG123 said...

Welcome to the club. BUT, before everyone does a pile driver on Dell, let me assure you it is the same at HP. You see, I have HP gear and their service is worse than worse. If I told my stories, which are repeated many times over, you'd think Dell was a peach.

In defense of the entire crew of outsourcing idiots, I will say that small business and home computing has become significantly more complicated thus requiring someone with a brain in support.

No one has accepted that fact at HP, Dell or IBM. That is likely one reason IBM chucked its PC biz.

I cannot even begin to tell you how pathetic HP small business and home support is.

Parkite said...

Same problems with Dell as a small business owner..........i will be in the market soon for more equipment and am leaning toward HP. I just have a real problem rewarding Dell with additional business with the poor support they offer.

johngalt said...

had the same experience - suckass service. How solved? bought an iBook from Apple. Much better machine & service - Lexus v. Yugo. Try it - you will never go back to PCs.

bubbles said...

A few years ago I had product/service issues with HP after which I vowed never again. Switched to Dell, since then I've purchased 2 more desktops from them. I've had no problems, so I can't comment on Dell's service, but their pcs have been great. Don't know if its because I'm lucky or just running simple low tech pcs. My issues with HP were mainly related to their pavilion notebook and their outsourcing to incompetent tech people. As bdg123 said welcome to the club. Someone is always going to get bad service, maybe it was just your time.

bubbles said...

I wish I could switch to a Mac OS, but the programs I run aren't available.

ostiguy said...

Various thoughts:

1. Apple has only a one year warranty on their MacBook Pro laptops. For the prices they charge, this is foolish. If you think OS X does not have security issues:
http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798

They have a good record, but don't drink the Kool aid.


2. IBM/Lenovo service on thinkpads has been outstanding - I am 4 months into a new job at a mongrel shop (vs a straight HP shop), and have had great service with IBM, whether I wanted the parts to do the repair myself (keyboard swap), have a tech do the work, and even for fee out-of-warranty service. I would have no hesitation recommending you get a Thinkpad, provided you determine how long you want the warranty to be (I believe IBM is like HP in that discount laptops tend to have 1 yr terms). At my last place, we had good experiences with HP for reliability, such that when we refreshed all the end user machines, we stuck with HP. The HP nc6000 and 6230 business class laptops had excellent build quality.

3. Dell is selling out their desktop to the highest bidder. Their low end business desktops and laptops ship with:
A cut down Intuit quickbooks package that when removed properly, still assualts the user with pop ups after most reboots
An Installshield update app that sits in the system tray (near your clock), and seems to hang, throwing an error when you attempt to shut down the machine. I also think it does not work at all, although that might be the DVD burning software update applet.

If you want a high traffic gamer site's take, see this:
http://www.hardocp.com/article.html?art=OTI0

As for Dell service, I recently expended way too much effort getting them to fix my client's server (1 yr into a 3 yr. warranty). As an IT professional, I feel I did not get any credit at all for all of the troubleshooting I did before I called them. I also had to keep reminding them to send a tech - a main theme of my calls with them was that I was 200 miles from the server, and yet I was asked at least twice if they had to send a tech instead of shipping the parts.

Finally : don't buy a non Mac retail. The consumer oriented machines are vastly different in quality that the corporate oriented ones. This means T and X series thinkpads, and n* series HP. I am not as familiar with the other "letter" series IBM, but you probably cannot go wrong with those two.

Aaron Koral said...

Apple makes nice looking laptops, but they don't have the same level of software availability like PC laptops from Dell and others do. Maybe with the Intel chip switch, however, Apple will change that (I could be wrong though...)

zephyr said...

I have had very good experience with Dell desktops, but find their laptops to be of inferior quality.

It seems that they may have intentionally designed their laptops to die young. They overheat and damage the chip or otherwise self destruct.

Yes, Dell laptops are the lowest price for the features. But they must be replaced on a more frequent basis. So in the long run (not so long) they are a very expensive choice.

The pleasure of the bargain is soon replaced by the pain of poor durability. However, there is some randomness to this. You could have good experience. But don't count on it.

zephyr said...

I have had great experience with IBM Thinkpads. However, I worry about the future with the new ownership of the product line.

Chug-A-Bug said...

Never, ever, ever again will I purchase a Dell product or have to rely on Dell "customer support."

1. Few years ago, desktop crashed for no apparent reason. After way too long on "support" they walked me into reformatting my hard drive. Ummm, screw that. Called a real human being to come over and fix the problem.

2. Stupidly bought a Dell laptop. Was suckered into a 14" latitude b/c they promised me there wouldn't be a Pentium 4M 12". Lies. It came out a month later. The laptop has a hard drive that is slower than molasses. Takes 15 minutes to boot up.

3. Desktop crashed again. This is coming at you from a Gateway.

4. Dell DJ MP3 player. Please don't get me started.

In Dell's defense, I'd say that it took a home-grown degree in computer science and many trips to the geek squad to get all the software and all the peripherals happily working together on the nwe machine, then a phd thesis in networking to get that going. Weird conflicts is just a way of life with these machines when new.

But the Dell design/quality is atrocious and the service is insipid. I don't care what it costs to buy from somewhere else. My time is too valuable to deal with their version of "support."

I'm jealous of the wife's apple, but it has NO RIGHT CLICK. And yes, I'm a slave to too many windows only applications.

Albany Lawyer said...

While I had always liked Macs, I had been a longtime PC user. I didn't buy Macs because I was price-sensitive. Bought a Dell when I started my law practice in Albany, New York.

Once I got the practice up and running, I discovered that computers are deductible. In a fairly short time I have purchased 4 Macs. 1 for the extra office for the rare day when my wife comes in. 1 at home which I use primarily for work. A laptop for when we travel. And I can't even remember where the 4th one is.

But I'm still stuck with the Dell, because I have been using MS Money for my business, and Ultrasoft has something that lets me keep track of all that stuff on my Treo 650. I was going to switch over to a Mac at the start of the year, but it seemed like the transition was going to be too difficult. My new printer (also a Dell, and I love this printer -- fast with a copier/fax/scanner -- Dell 1600n, I think) probably won't work on a Mac.

The Dell has been getting worse. I have to reboot about once a day because it chokes on too many applications. By comparison I reboot the Mac at home maybe once a month.

So maybe next year I'll finally switch to a Mac and dump the Dell.

I can't comment on Apple's customer support because I've never had to call. The problem with Dell is not Dell so much. It's that Dell runs Windows.

ednedn said...

I love my DELL computers. My HP hard drive died after 14 months. They fixed it, then died 2 months later. I think HP charged me and never really gave me a new hard drive.

Gateway is the worst. My girlfriends laptop is cracked all down the side. She called the company and they said the are aware of the problem with those laptops, and they will fix it for $250.
My other Gateway died after 18 months, my friends Gateway died after 24 months. DELL might not be perfect, but they make one damn good computer.

Todd Kenyon said...

I have had the same bad experience with a Dell laptop (Inspiron 8100) - hd burned up, lcd panel missing strips of pixels, crappy support. There was a HUGE forum thread on the design issues w/ the 8100, talk of a class action, etc. Dell shut it down (it was on their support site). Our co desktops have been fine however. For the average consumer, I don't see where Dell has any edge anymore. Seems I can always find something (HP, Toshiba, or Emachines for desktops) at one of my local stores that's a better deal. There goes the price advantage. And there is certainly no service advantage and no discernable quality advantage.

BRGuy said...

Had to pile on, and note one cost of outsourcing customer service to foreign call centers... I described a wireless connection problem to tech support that occurred while having coffee at Starbucks. After I described the problem to the tech rep., 'John', he told me he understood my problem, but had one question...

..."What is a Starbucks"

p.s. longtime lurker who enjoys reading your commentary, thanks.

dsamp said...

When I first received my laptop and was trying to set it up (I have wireless internet and was having an issue with it) I was on the phone with them for two hours, and then the next day for an additional 45 minutes. They actually had me taking my computer apart to check to make sure wires and such were together properly. I tried to be put through to their complaint department to have something on record and was told their computers were down (I'm not kidding). Every time I call I have to set aside a chunk of time and end up going over the same information over and over again. I will NEVER buy a dell again and have advised my friends to stay away from them.

BlackLab said...

The solution to your woes lies here:

www.hypersonic-pc.com

They are best known for making high end PC's for gamers. So why would a small business guy want a gaming PC? Because gamers want a PC to be stable. And since Hypersonic uses only the latest components that have been tested for compatibility with one another, you end up with a rock solid PC.

They run their computers for 72 hours before they ship them out. And they have a policy that the guy who puts your machine together is the guy who does the technical support. It goes without saying that they know a few somethings about which they speak.

The times I've called tech support (I have one of their desktops and one of their laptops), the phone hasn't rung more than 2 times before a live human picked up. No voice mail tree, no non-Engligh speaking clowns, no BS. My questions have been answered - quickly and accurately - every time.

You pay for the priviledge to own a Hypersonic. But it's worth every penny. Particulary so if you value your time.

Peter said...

I too have had terrible service from Dell. Once they messed up an order which I had Financed with them. They would put me into a never ending loop of phone messages which i documented and sent to the texas attorney general. I then recieved a letter from michael dells office and someone helped me straighten out the order. Recently the casing around my screen cracked a week before my extended warrenty ended and they said they would sent me a box to ship it to get fixed. I never got the box. I tried to call back but it is difficult to stay on hold for so long. I need new computers and I don't plan on buying anymore dell.

Athena_Sword said...

For those who said they couldn't switch to a mac because certain applications won't run. There's always Virtual PC. I'm sure the performance is pretty slow, but then if your Dell isn't working anyway, then slow is better than nothing. Read more about Virtual PC at

http://www.apple.com/macosx/applications/virtualpc/

Plus, know that Macgeeks are working hard to get windows to boot on the new Intel processor based macs and have a prize for the first to implement a successful kludge.

robyn said...

First off - I have to say you guys - and I assume all of you are guys - are basically ninnys when it comes to maintaining home appliances (and computers are home appliances these days - and they're a heck of a lot cheaper than most refrigerators or ovens or high def TVs).

What is it you expect of your home appliances? That's what you have to ask yourself when you buy. On my part - I expect an average computer or computer system component (like a printer) to last about 3 years. It's not a thing that I'm buying - it's a continuity of service. So I buy something I deem acceptable with a 3 year in home extended warranty (yes - the warranties are expensive - people cost more than "things" in the computer business these days).

I currently have in service a Dell desktop - an IBM thinkpad - and 2 HP laser printers. I have previously owned computer products from all 3 companies - as well as others - some of which still exist - and some of which don't (I go back to the late 1970's with computers). All have had issues - whether it's an HP printer dying for some unknown reason - or my husband getting a terminal case of spyware/pornware on his Dell - or my Thinkpad being delivered with defective pixels on the screen. All issues have been resolved satisfactorily by tech support under warranty. Do I sometimes have to stay on "hold" on the phone when waiting for people to pick up to help me - yes. But try getting Kitchenaid on the phone if you think Dell is a problem.

Note that I run a lot of financial software - including a lot of legacy software - some of it written in DOS - so Macs are not an option.

I also have a whole house electric surge/lightning protection system - UPS on all components - and keep good backups. How many problems have you had that are attributable to the lack of one of these things?

Finally - I don't think it's fair to dump on any company - including Dell - simply because when you're talking to tech support - you're talking to someone in India. They know we're so spooked talking with foreigners that every Dell tech support person in India has adopted a phony American name - like - "hi - I'm Karen". That's pathetic. I would rather talk with a competent person in India than an incompetent person in Georgia (although - for the most part - I have found most tech support people to be reasonably competent - if I get on the phone with a tech support person I think is a clunker - I hang up and call the next day to get a better one). Robyn

BDG123 said...

Ninnys? Maybe. Although, I'm not exactly computer illiterate. Let me give you a point of reference when you poo poo the people on this board as possibly technology illiterate. I'm a former microprocessor designer who has also written microcontroller OS code and on and on and on.

ie, Dell, HP and IBM desktop/laptop support personnel are typically retards. Dealing with a competent person in India versus an incompetent in Georgia? Are you kidding? HP's service personnel in India aren't as capable as an associates degreed tech from the local community college who, btw, are usually extremely competent.

The support for PCs just plain sucks. Now, maybe it should. How can you sell a $500 product that is loaded up with millions of permutations of third party SW/HW and expect someone to fix it on the other end of the phone? Especially when the profit on the product was probably $50 bucks in the first place.

Likely, a resetting of consumer expectations is required. One reason Apple has great service is because they charge a significant premium and likely can use that premium for better training/staffing of support personnel. They also have a closed system and own the OS so third party HW/SW created problems are easier to control. They also aren't bashful about charging beyond a year warranty.

Jim said...

Dell used to be the buisiness model to beat. Not anymore. They're as bad as Gateway now.

StealthMouse said...

Dell and HP are both pitiful. I can't comment on IBM, I've never owned one. I owned one of the early Macs, but can't comment on that either, because I never had a problem with it, nor did I when I worked in consulting with Macs. My comment on Dell echoes everyone else here - go ahead and get it, but hope it works, because God help you if it stops working, even 1 day after you receive it. And HP makes 3-in-1 printer/scanner/fax machines that it knows won't work with several versions of Windows, but rather than fixing the problem with their own code, they blame it on the Evil Empire (MSFT). As for being a ninny, I'm no programmer, but I know how to fix crap, and it's pretty obvious when you call tech support and tell them what you've narrowed it down to, they give you 4 hours of stupid BS tasks to perform instead of listening. Also, most of the website tech forums out there do a better job then the OEM websites or their live tech support.

Clyde Doggie said...

Robyn,
I think that if you look past the bitching and moaning going on you will see that the underlying *investment* discussion has to do with Dells changing business model. I am an IT consultant myself and up until last year I would always respond to the deluge of F&F requests for computer buying recommendations that Dell was worth a few extra dollars due to their outstanding support. I think that is how Dell originally separated themselves from the pack. Now Dells support,on their best day, is on a par with everyone else, so unless they are significantly cheaper I am now recommending HP/Compaq or IBM/Lenovo. The impact this has on their bottom line has yet to become apparent I believe, as their is some inertia in their reputation in the marketplace.
I also agree with the comments of a previous poster, though, that if you are looking for stability and support it is worth the extra +-20% to go with Alienware or another high-end gaming machine. For me, if I can save an hour or two and get a correct answer the first time and talk to someone in the States or Canada, this would be worth the $500 difference in cost between a high end major manufacturer and a high end gaming machine.
A note on Indian vs NA tech support - I am not biased against Indians per se, but as another person pointed out the quality of the support I have received when dealing with an Indian operation has generally been very poor. I don't know whether this is due to language difficulties or training issues, but most everyone in the industry I talk to about this echoes this thought.

BDG123 said...

To all of the supposed business experts on here, I'd like to throw out a question.

Why is Dell's business model outdated? It's easy to throw out fancy words without any answers. You do know their model is closer to Apple's as it pertains to sales and support than to HP or IBM. Is Apple's business model broken? Does Dell need to be a technology leader? A patent engine? Pshaw! How do they fix their supposed business model problems?

The issue is one everyone deals with in the Windows PC space. Here's the $64 question. You are the CEO of Dell, IBM, HP or others. You ship a product loaded with someone else' software. Once the consumer receives it, they immediately load millions upon millions of third party sofware products, attach third party disk, tape, memory, drivers and on and on and on. You make $50 per PC. Raising the price would cut sales at the expense of your competitors or reduce the demand for your product because the consumer is extremely price sensitive. That would drive you to an immediate loss because your model is predicated on volume. Oh, and your product will only get more complex in the future. How do you address the issue of post sales support? And please don't tell me that they used to be good at it because they never were. No one has ever been good at PC support outside of the corporate world where clients sign tens of millions of dollar support agreements. Oh, and corporate customers have large IT staffs that create a reference PC platform. You are NOT allowed to deviate from that reference platform. ie, They tell you what model of PC, what level of OS, what drivers, what third party software, etc that you can load on the corporate PC. That is because the support teams spends thousands of hours integrating and testing that for compatibility then develops support procedures and help desk procedures around that reference platform. That is why corporate clients typically have PCs for years. The refresh cycle is highly complex. Most corporate customers will only buy a PC that has a life span of years without even a microprocessor speed change. Or, they buy thousands of PCs and warehouse them as they roll them out over months or years even though they know a "cheaper" PC will be available tomorrow. Because cheaper means variation from the reference platform creating more complexity in support and costing millions more in infrastructure, support and process. ie, The PC is the smallest cost component in total cost of ownership. When you are talking 10,000 or 50,000 pcs, you are talking massive costs.

The answer to the retail/small business consumer of PCs is...............deal with it. Or call the Geek Squad. Even with a gold service agreement where you pay an additional $150 bucks a year, there is likely little anyone half way around the world can do to help............The American consumer, in its desire to get a deal, has created a race to the bottom of the barrel. That is why Wal-mart thrives and Sears went kaput. Who cared about customer service. The product is 30% cheaper.

robyn said...

BDG - I don't disagree with you. When I used the word "ninnys" - I didn't mean to imply lack of technical expertise. I did imply that when you buy a bottom of the line anything - with a short warranty - you can expect problems. So end-users have to ask themselves what they want in a computer - the Rooms to Go version or the Baker furniture version? The Kia or the Lexus? With all that implies - including post-purchase product support.

Kind of depends whether this will be a computer for an 8 year old who's likely to spill chocolate milk on the keyboard - or a machine that will be used for critical business apps - or something in between. Even then - there's probably no "one size fits all".

I've had lots of computers over the last 25 years. For a while - Dell was my favorite. But my last notebook was a Thinkpad. Don't know what will happen now that Thinkpads aren't IBM. Will have to check when I buy my next notebook. My husband's last desktop was a Dell. (I run critical business apps - my husband doesn't.) We have had good support from both companies when we need it (which isn't too often). Although we have - of course - run across the tech support retards you mention.

For all I know - LG or similar companies will be making computers next year (if they aren't already). And then I will have to check them out too next time I'm ready to buy.

And to Stealthmouse - we've had satisfactory support from Dell and HP when products failed. Both my husband and my father - after going through the admittedly tedious process of dealing with Dell tech support - had someone come to the house to install new hard drives. I had HP overnight a new multi-function laser printer to me when mine failed shortly after the warranty expired. It was a refurbished model - and I had to pay them about half-price for the thing including a 3 year warranty - but that was ok on my part. The refurbished one looks like the dead one - and works a whole lot better - smile.

And to those of you who mentioned corporate operations - I agree with you too. I'm a retired lawyer - and I sometimes wonder why so many lawyers are still running Wordperfect (frequently in ancient versions). The answer is that retooling - even in a small business environment - is expensive. Much more expensive than buying hardware. And - at least for lawyers - Wordperfect has something called "reveal codes" - which are incredibly useful when it comes to writing legal documents. On my part - I am part of that mentality when it comes to other business apps. My most important business apps were developed years ago to run on PCs with Intel Pentium processors. Will I take a chance with another Intel chip - or an AMD - no - even if I have to spend more to get that Pentium - or Pentium type - processor.

I'm not sure what the fuss is here in terms of investing. I look at consumer computer hardware as a super-competitive low margin business. You're talking about customers who - when buying something like a TV (and I think TVs are more complicated than computers these days) - don't understand the difference between standard def - EDTV - or HDTV - or how to get HD even if they buy a HD TV! How can they understand everything there is to know about computers?

Anyway - I don't think any hardware company is likely to be a huge investment success in the next 5 years (unless you buy it when it's totally in the toilet). Robyn

Gap Trader said...

In the last 5 years, I've had 2 out of 4 Dells bomb because the hard drive failed. One was out of warranty (by about 6 months), but the other (1 month shy of warranty expiration), was replaced free with only a 20 minute phone call.

You get what you pay for. But Dell is definitely losing is reputation as a quality computer manufacturer.

Jeff said...

I just went through Dell support for a Dell DJ Ditty. I had phone support on the line for 20 minutes. In that time we attempted debug, concluded it was broken, arranged warranty replacement, scheduled a "confirmation of delivery" follow-up call (Sunday am) and a "confirmation that the new unit is working" call for Wednesday 2-1-06. Both follow-up calls were suggested by the Dell customer service rep from El Salvadore.
The bulk of the comments from my perspective focus not on customer service but on the computer hardware failure or software conflicts. These are just a function of computer manufactures efforts to build faster, cheaper, and more feature rich machines utilizing the MS operating system. Sales drives this industry not the stability of the product. If stability was the marker than we would still have DEC PDP11's which could withstand bomb blasts and keep on going without a parity error.

Charles W said...

I have also had ridiculously awful customer support from Dell however I am not sure where everyone saw “great customer service” as vital to Dell. Dell sells cheap PCs that can be customized by you and delivered to your house, period. Dell is a home computer specialist that branched into corporate operations and is awful at it. They are still the best for the home computer market simply for customizability, lack of having to deal with “salespeople”, ease of delivery and price. The corporate market might have had more issues with serviceability though. Simply Dell got too big to grow in the home market and now has awful service which is not a key to a home users decision but is a key to corporate users.

Chug-A-Bug said...

Robyn,

Sorry for taking this a little off topic but as a current lawyer running the latest WordPerfect 12, I can attest to the fact that WordPerfect is superior to Word not just for legal documents, but for ALL documents, period.

The difference in functionality and power between WordPerfect and Word is just plain astonishing, still to this day. If Corel made a successful operating system, nobody would be using Word. Word is Exhibit A in the triumph of marketing over quality...

Which, brings us back to Dell.

Eventually, it will catch up. I don't know if WordPerfect will ever come back, but Mac is taking back share from Windows, Mozilla has taken huge share from Explorer, and in what's left of the non-Mac PC market, Dell's share will, eventually, catch up with its problems.

Equitywonk said...

On my most recent Dell purchase, I did'nt even bother to buy a service contract, I just realized that I would be a user of the Geek Squad or hire someother tech help. I just can't stand waiting on line and then speaking to someone in India reading from a computer prompt not knowing what the hell THEY are talking about, then being passed onto the next clueless soul in someother god forsaken part of the world after holding for 47 minuets. Dell's service is history!!!

robyn said...

Chug-A-Bug - I will go even further off topic - smile. Don't know how old you are - but the best legal/overall word processing software I ever worked with was the software in an NBI (nothing but initials) dedicated word processing computer. Back in the early 80's. Before the PC was widely available. It left the scene a long time ago.

I think the most important thing about a computer is having it run the apps you want and need (and the needs of a graphic designer or a gamer may be very different from those of a lawyer). Robyn

Chips Whitesugar said...

Purchased a Dell system for home use about a year ago - at the same time recieved a new HP system at work - nearly identical processor/memory/harddrive opsystem wise. I was pleasantly surprised by the HP (having used Compacts years ago) - it was well styled and constructed, whereas the dell seemed a bit dated and clunky. After
a year of use the HP still operates as
fast and reliably as when it was new, while my dell has slowed to a crawl. Since I'm the only user on both systems I know there is no extraneous software on the dell - no explanation for the performance difference - but I am inclined to go with HP's in the future - although I love my Toshiba laptop as well.

Jeff Matthews said...

Looks like we stirred up a hornet's nest--but apparently it is not just me noticing a decline in Dell's service and support.

My story has a happy ending: as I wrote the blog in a coffee shop, a group of young men in bright red jackets with the logo "NerdsOnSite" were having a meeting at a table nearby.

When their meeting broke up, I asked them if they could help me. An hour later one of the nerds appeared at my office, sat down at the Dell, worked his magic on the keyboard and had me up and running in less than half an hour.

I happily paid him LESS THAN what Dell had tried to get me to shell out for "Dell on Call" (despite the fact that I had paid-up coverage from so-called "Dell Gold" support), and he was on his way.

If NerdsOnCall was a stock, I'd buy it--judging by the response here, demand for NerdsOnCall is going, as they say, "up and to the right."

One observation: losing your computer is not equivalent to losing your "Kitchenaid" dishwasher or refrigerator. One is an inconvenience, the other is money.

Jeff said...

Robyn, our first wordprocessors were CPT's. We would save our briefs on 8" floppys. In the early 90's we replaced it with Macs running Wordperfect. We still had one running in 1997 when I left to join the tech world. It had become a legacy machine at that point. I don't know if those guys still have it sitting there or not. How's that for memory lane.

Bernie Wojcik said...

We've been saying the same sort of things to our Dell reps. Guys are you listening?? If you lose our business it will be because you have *given* it away!

OhioUser said...

I write to add my story. I own a Inspiron 9100.
My problems started with an intermittent POST problem. When I tried to start the computer, the lock lights would flash once and nothing more would happen. I called technical support, attempted to explain the intermittent nature of the problem, and explained my belief that the motherboard temperature sensor was failing. Thankfully, the unit was still under warranty, so Dell authorized a return. I sent it to them, they claimed to fix it, then sent it back. However, the unit continued to fail intermittently. So, I called again.
I learned that the depot hadn’t done anything to the computer even though I had taken the time to include a written summary of the failure mode and my speculation as to the cause. So, off to the depot again. This time, Dell replaced the video card. The unit still didn’t work. On my third call to tech support, I was instructed to flash update the BIOS with a download from Dell’s FTP site. This seemed to resolve the problem. (I now wonder if this was some sort of work around.)
Shortly thereafter, the AC adapter seemed to fail. I called Dell to order a replacement. I was told that Dell did not carry the AC adapter in stock anymore and that a request to order the part would need to be initiated. Eventually, Dell shipped me a refurbished AC adapter at no cost and with no warranty.
Three weeks ago, the computer started telling me that it was unable to identify the AC adapter.
Then, last week, the computer ceased to POST even with the AC adapter plugged in. When the adapter was initially plugged into the computer, the light on the adapter would show green. Shortly after plugging the adapter in, the light would begin to dim and eventually go out.
Assuming that the problem lay with the adapter and/or the batteries, I decided to order replacements. I first attempted to purchase the replacements on line. However, when I searched for the parts, Dell’s online catalog instructed me to call sales (a bad sign). I called and asked to buy the battery and adapter. The sales person gladly accepted my $230 order and assured me that the correct parts were identified in his system and would soon be on the way.
Today, the parts arrived. Unfortunately, I was sold a battery for a 9200 and an adapter for an 8500. I immediately called Dell and, after pressing four buttons, was connected to India.
I explained my problems to the tech support person. He told me that I had been sold the wrong parts (no kidding) and that I would have to call sales to get the correct parts. I told him that I had called sales. I also expressed concern that the problem really resides in the motherboard. Of course, we can’t troubleshoot the computer without powering it up and he can’t authorize a repair call until we first go through the telephone diagnostics. Yes, I had purchased the two years on site service when it was offered near the expiration of my initial one year warranty. Eventually, he looked up the part numbers and initiated a call record. After looking up the parts, he told me that he had to connect me to customer service to place the order for the right parts.
After a lengthy wait, I was transferred to the Philippines. The customer service rep wanted to immediately arrange for the recovery of the incorrectly shipped parts. I asked him if he would be able to place the order for the correct parts. “No,” came the response. I would have to speak to yet a third person to place the order for the correct parts. Unwilling to arrange for a return until I could confirm my access to the correct parts, I insisted to speak to sales. Another wait. Now I was transferred to Texas.
I again asked to purchase the battery and adapter for the 9100. This time, the sales rep told me that he could sell me the battery, but that he could not order the adapter. Getting somewhat frustrated, I asked if there was one person at Dell that I could talk to who could resolve my issues. “No,” came the response. I would have to talk to sales to order the battery, customer support arrange the return of the parts that Dell had incorrectly sold to me, and to tech (again!) about the adapter which he suggested could only be obtained from reworked returned adapters.
UGH!
Two calls and three different Dell representatives later....this is the best that Dell could do.
A refurbished adapter is being sent to me. I don’t know when it will be sent. There is no guaranty that it is the right adapter or that it will work (or for how long it will work).
THIS IS SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE!
Dell, if this is what you do for your customers with on site warranty coverage.....well, I can’t even finish the thought.
Sadly, I note that Dell recently reported favorable financial results. So, I guess cheap products (and I don’t mean price) and non-existent customer service yields profits in the short term. Beware that your name becomes mud in the marketplace. Your short term strategy will not work for long!

OhioUser said...

Hey, I heard that Dell has a serious design problem with a number of its laptops. My 9100 shares the same problem with the 5100 and 1150. Google "Dell Overheating 5100" and you can find more information. Also, check out Dell Forums under Inspiron--General Hardware. Search "Overheating 1150." I hear a major class action law firm is considering suing Dell. All of this has to effect their sales and profit. Boy, if I owned any, I'd sell my Dell stock as fast as possible!!!

Tim said...

I was an IT support person for a convenience store chain that specifically used Dell desktops in their offices. Whenever there was a problem, I called Dell support and always got great service. All of these machines were under warranty and they always shipped replacement parts the same day or next day. In the two years I dealt with Dell, I recall only one time when they did not fulfill their obligation. I have two Dell laptops. One is an Inspiron 1100 and the other is a 600m. The 1100 is three years old and the 600m is a year old. Both have performed flawlessly.

I think people have missed something very important here. Whenever you buy any type of computer, it's a crap shoot. Yes, you're buying a Dell computer but the internal parts are made by a host of "other" companies. For instance, I also own an HP laptop and it has Seagate hard drive in it. If the hard drive goes bad, I'll contact HP but Seagate ultimately is the one responsible for making an inferior product.

As far as Dell goes, I'll continue to buy from them. Fortunately, I have had nothing but good experiences with them.

Jamie B said...

heh...just to let you folks know, I HAD a Dell Inspiron 8100 that worked great....when it worked. It recently gave up the ghost for good. Upon taking it apart to part it out, I found that not only was the heatsink on the processor poorly attached, there wasn't even any thermal compound on it!!!! So you tell me. Did they plan obsolescence? I think so. Someone should start a class action suit.

Peggy said...

Goodbye 2006 and hello 2008! But Dell's customer service has not changed. Purchased online a Dell notebook despite better offer at the fair and hoping for better service being direct with Dell. How wrong I was! Delievery was late by 3 weeks or alternative parts! Contacted them and they repeated hung up on me! Yes they hung up on a customer! Talked while I am! Feed back to the supervisor . . . guess what? No different attitude and admitted all the negative comments thrown at them! Great customer service. Last but not least, she agreed being not interested in future patronage and recommendation!

Peggy said...

well . . . they postponed the delivery again . . . to 1st April . . . April Fool . . . what a service!
worst off, they offered more freebies for the same set . ..paid for it, not yet recived it and the price has dropped . . .am I over paying for it?

cheap computers said...

In my opinion HP provides better support and less expensive computers as compared to dell.

Anonymous said...

I cancelled an order after a frustrating encounter with support. It was a 2K laptop. well imagine my suprise when I receive the wireless mouse I ordered a week later. This made me go online and check and found they had re entered my order the next day without my knowledge. well I freaked on them and they cancelled the order and asked me to ship back mouse. Because of the holidays and a scheduled vacation I was not able to even after they called asking for it on Christmas eve. These orders were on the 15 and 16th of Dec. and i checked online and they showed as cancelled.Well imagine my shock when I received a laptop today. I went online and it appears that they re entered the order on dec 22nd again without my knowledge. Is that not fraud?? I have not called them back yet because I am too mad at the moment to talk to a call center in India that is clueless. I figure I have a free laptop but of course judging by my experience I am afraid that they will screw up my bank information. Lets see what they say tomorrow. I am willing to close the bank account that I gave them for fear of fraud by forigners..Grrrrrrrrr

plantronics headset said...

Dells does screw things up as they need to stick with computers and stop selling other products.