Open letter to Michael Dell

Industry veteran John Dickinson has a bone to pick with Dell's CEO: Your customer service just ain't what it used to be.

4 min read
Dear Michael,

Just before Thanksgiving, you announced that Dell is pulling back its commitment to overseas customer service. That's a good thing, because my recent experience with your once-vaunted customer service demonstrated that it has deteriorated remarkably.

Part of that deterioration must surely be the result of your company's remarkable growth, but no small part of it is due to the overseas talent that you have enlisted for this crucial function.

I think that customer service is crucial, and I take it personally that yours has deteriorated so much, because for years, I have recommended Dell computers to friends and family, and in computer magazines and computer Web sites, in large measure because of your personal commitment to high-quality, highly responsive customer service. I'm sorry to know that that commitment seems to have waned so much.

Not to bore you, Michael, but my saga began when, for probably the first time in my life, I needed customer service from Dell. I had ordered an incorrect memory upgrade component for my Dimension 8200 computer--which was no one's fault but mine--and I needed to exchange it for the right part, which would require some help from your customer service group.

Sounds simple, right? And it should have been, but making that exchange took about seven hours of telephone time--and an enormous dose of the sort of patience I'm not well known for--with your customer service people.

Just getting to the point of understanding what the issue was took several phone calls.
The first part of the problem was a registration system breakdown. It turned out that your database had no record of my computer's existence, and your people would not help me with my memory problem until that was corrected.

Just getting to the point of understanding what the issue was took several phone calls, which revealed a second problem. Your menu system, which is largely incomprehensible to begin with, is inconsistent. Dial the same number twice and you will get two different menu systems. I counted at least four different menu systems altogether. Try it. You'll be amused, I'm sure.

A third problem is that there is something called a service tag and something else called a service code, both of which are associated with each Dell computer. Neither was registered for my computer, and in any case, it was never clear which one mattered, because the answer to that question varied, depending on who I was talking with. And that led to the fourth problem, which was that no matter what department I got connected to or was transferred to, none of your people seemed able to help me figure out what to do to get my computer properly registered.

That situation was not helped by the fifth problem, which was that many of your people did not speak English very well.

Many of your people did not speak English very well.
Many were offshore at one of your call centers in India, and while English is taught in schools there, it is not anyone's first language. I should mention that I also talked with Dell customer service people in Mississippi, Florida, Mexico, and yes, even in your native land of Texas. Some of these people don't speak the brand of English I was raised with, either.

When I finally was able to get my registration problem straightened out (my log says this much of the saga took about five hours on the phone), I now had to get the parts problem straightened out, which brought on a simple human interaction problem--lack of courtesy on the part of your customer service people. A man in India hung up the phone in frustration, because he couldn't get his database to access the information necessary to issue a return merchandise authorization number for my incorrect part. A second man, again in India, was exceedingly impolite, and so I hung up on him. The young lady that finally did get me the return merchandise authorization was very nice, even as she turned down my request for an e-mail confirmation.

And so I was finally, after seven hours on the phone over the course of two days, able to return the old memory and order the correct part. Maybe I should just have bought the memory from Kensington--or shopped for it on eBay--in the first place. Then I would never have had to care that your system never registered my computer--and never found out that your customer service level had deteriorated to such a shameful level.

Michael, I can only hope that your change in policy about international outsourcing for customer service is the leading edge of restoring that service quality to the industry standard it once was. I really do care, because I'd hate to have to change what I tell people when they want to buy a new computer.


John D.