Editor’s Take: How Dell (May Have) Lost Me
At press time, I had nearly completed this column when a rather unforgettable customer experience caused me to drop what I was doing. I wound up ripping up the old column and wrote this. Hopefully, there will be a lesson to be learned by all — at least by computer giant Dell on how not to handle a valued customer.
My wife, Donna, bought a Dell Inspiron 6000 notebook computer in July 2005. Naturally, it worked fine for her; that is, up until the day after press time when the battery apparently died. She and I figured we’d call Dell and have what was only a 14-month-old battery replaced quickly — and at no charge. This was, after all, our second Dell computer purchase over a four-year period, making us fairly important customers.
I called Dell’s technical support line to troubleshoot and make sure what I had was, in fact, a dead battery. I was connected with a rep who spoke like a robot, clearly reading through her tech and customer support manual every step of the way, asking me to turn the computer on and off, with the adapter in and out, etc. Finally, 25 minutes later she told me, “Your battery is dead.” Brilliant!
On Hold, On Hold, On Hold
Having had a number of past experiences, I can tell you that Dell techies put you on hold a lot, and it’s rare that you can get an issue resolved quickly. During one of my many on-hold periods, a recording noted that there had been a recall on some Dell batteries. So I brought that up, got put on hold some more, and the rep came back on to inform me mine wasn’t a recalled battery and that, in fact, the warranty for the computer’s battery expired after 12 months.
At that point, in her robotic Dellspeak, the rep said she would transfer me to Dell’s battery sales department so I could purchase a new one. This is where the nightmare began. I said, “Are you telling me that a $1,000-plus computer I bought came with a battery that’s supposed to die in just 14 months?” She repeated that the battery’s warranty was for one year and I could purchase a new one right away.
Without losing my cool, I insisted she put a supervisor on the phone or someone who’d be willing and able to talk to me as a person and treat me as a valued customer. (All along, I was going on the assumption that a new battery would cost about $75 to $100 — I’d later find out that it actually lists on the Dell battery Web site for $119.95.) She put me on hold for five minutes; then, another voice came on. He repeated what she said.
Now, out came my arsenal. I decided that I’d never buy another Dell product again if the company was unwilling to budge on this. So I very pointedly said to him, “We’re going to need to buy more computers in the future. We have a 16-year-old son who’ll soon need one to take to college. But if you don’t send me this battery, I’ll never buy another thing from Dell. You’re going to let a good customer walk away over a dead battery?”
He repeated: “I’ll check. I’ll have to put you on hold for three to five minutes. Is that OK?” By now, it had been more than an hour that I was on the phone. I told him this was unacceptable and insisted he check twice more. Both times he said that because the battery’s warranty had expired, there was nothing they could do about it. It was getting late, and with 90 minutes of my life wasted, I asked him to check again and to call me the next day.
The next day came and went with no phone call. So I called again that night. I reached a rep who repeated the same line about the warranty. Now I started to lose it. Again, I asked for a supervisor. I was starting to believe I was talking to actual robots, so to prove myself wrong, I asked this: “I’d like you to answer only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this question: Do you think a Dell battery should die after only 14 months?” He answered yes!
I said, “OK, then if this were your computer battery, would you want to do business with Dell again if Dell was refusing to send you a replacement?” He said nothing at first, and then said he’d see if he could do something.
Forty-five minutes later, the supervisor got back on the phone and at long last, after two calls totalling two hours and 43 minutes combined, he told me they would send me the battery after all, and at no charge. I was inclined to ask him why Dell suddenly was ready to do what it should’ve done in the first place, but by now I was spent. Also, I figured I’d better quit while I was ahead.
Favorable outcome? Yes, more or less. Positive experience? Far from it. Will I do business with Dell ever again? Hmmm … that’s a tough one.
—Paul Miller, Editor in Chief
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