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Dell customer support is fast becoming an oxymoron

Any computer owner that buys retail systems has likely had at least one run in with manufacturer that was lacking in the support area. With the fast growth of Dell, it tends to get the worst press for its customer service, and often the bad press is well deserved.

At the same time, most in the industry and most consumers understand that it’s only the bad service we commonly hear about; people tend to talk about the bad more than the good. Still, even Dell recognizes that it has an issue with its customer support. reports that in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) where computer makers were ranked, Dell scored 74 out of 100 while Apple, the PC leader, scored a rank of 79. In 2000 Dell had its strongest showing with a ranking of 80 showing a decline in satisfaction. Consumer Reports recently ranked tech support with major PC makers and put Apple tech support at the top and it put Dell above average in the tech support arena according to a survey of its subscribers.

What caused the decline in Dell’s customer support? says that it’s a combination of a maturing industry and Dell’s business model. Outsourcing of customer and technical support to other countries -- especially countries where support agents don’t speak native English -- makes things hard on customers.

There is no shortage of PC owners who call tech support only to be connected to someone in India or the Philippines -- where Dell opened a second call center in 2007-- who can barely speak understandable English. Couple the language barrier with customers who often can’t tell a USB port from a modem jack and you have a recipe for unhappy customers. The lower labor costs in India probably save Dell and other computer makers money, but it is doing good to the company’s iamge.

Improving customer satisfaction according to Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI at the University of Michigan, could lie in more customization options for consumers. Customer satisfaction is measured in three ways says -- price, product quality and service.  Fornell says, “The one that's the most critical of all is rarely discussed. The fit between the customer’s specific needs and wants and what the company is offering.”

Dell started off with custom, made-to-order PCs shipped directly to the consumer. As its business model has changed to pre-built computers offered at retail locations some users end up with systems that simply don't meet their needs or expectations. This leads to the feeling by consumers that the system is not reliable and more calls to customer or technical support. According to Dell, 80% of the calls it receives end with no finding of fault in the computer hardware.

In other words, the majority of calls to Dell support are from user error or the computer in question simply not being right for the task the customer is trying to accomplish. More customization would allow systems more tailored to customer needs possibly resulting in less calls to support and happier customers.

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Alternative for Dell
By SoCalBoomer on 5/9/2008 1:45:51 PM , Rating: 5
I think this may be a situation where Dell can definitely learn from Apple. Apple's stores, with knowledgeable staff (how knowledgeable is an ongoing debate. . .), at least gives the customer a place to go and a face to talk to.

I think it would behoove Dell to start this type of thing as well. NOT putting "Dell Centers" or kiosks in retail stores. . . actually opening up Dell Stores with Dell Brains available to speak to and help out with actual problems.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By Cobra Commander on 5/9/2008 1:47:43 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. At least there is a positive perception about Apple Stores which other businesses can't figure out a way to match.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By dever on 5/9/2008 2:10:16 PM , Rating: 5
Then again, someone who has a couple of years experience with a computer will be able to resolve most issues. Buying an Apple will ensure that part of your purchase price is used to subsidize absolute neophytes. While this may be good publicity, and good for the neophytes, the more experienced have incentive to not pay this unnecessary cost.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By ImSpartacus on 5/9/2008 4:35:27 PM , Rating: 2
In that case, build your own. Dell has its market (those neophyte you mentioned). Anyone else (and the majority of this website's audience) could probably build their own and plan to troubleshoot any problems they come across.

I myself bought a Dell 630 with an E8400, a single 8800GT, 4x1GB of Dominator DDR2 (overkill, but it was free) 2x250GB 7200.10's and a sound card (also free). It was $1200 with a 3 year warranty (free). I got $800 off with a boatload of packages and coupons. It was actually cheaper than building in this specific case (then you get a warranty on top of that).

RE: Alternative for Dell
By dever on 5/13/2008 2:37:29 PM , Rating: 2
As you observed, when building your own, you have the disadvantage of not being able to take full advantage of economies of scale.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By eye smite on 5/9/08, Rating: 0
RE: Alternative for Dell
By ksherman on 5/9/2008 1:53:14 PM , Rating: 3
Plus, I think that part of Apple's sucess is their lack of customization options. Its simple for someone who doesn't know all that much about a computer. It can be quite intimidating to order a computer with so many options they don't know anything about. With Apple's, you just pick the one you like/can afford and roll with it. Simple.

Now users like us will complain that we cant opt for a faster CPU in some of their systems etc., but for the majority of the people, they probably don't want that freedom.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By murphyslabrat on 5/9/2008 2:31:08 PM , Rating: 3
Well, dell offers three tiers of products (though some models do fit into multiple categories). You then pick a line you like, most are differentiated by size of screen. Then, you pick out of three configurations. You may customize them, but you can also just click the buy now button.

I think that dell already offers superb customization of their computers, that I don't see being matched outside of beautique gaming suppliers.

At the same time, you do have the option of skipping over most of the customization. It isn't as simple as picking the Macbook or Macbook pro, but it comes as close as it can while still offering the flexibility in configurations that I love them for.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By retrospooty on 5/10/2008 2:14:49 PM , Rating: 2
I dunno. Apple needs that, because they are a different OS than 90% of the world uses. They are far more likely to need experts that you can go to. I think if Dell did it, it would cost more money than it was worth.

Beef up the phone support with more knowlegeable english speaking staff would be good enough for 99.9% of the customers.

RE: Alternative for Dell
By qquizz on 5/10/2008 10:34:27 PM , Rating: 2
The cost of tech support and hardware warrantee is built into the price of the computer. So if you are willing to pay more for the computer, you could get better tech support, but nobody looks at it that way, they just look at price of the system and compare it with other brands etc. Perhaps that is the way Dell should customize their support. They do offer Gold support for businesses and special support for XPS machines, but often the casual home buyer is often not very well supported. If 80% of the time it is not a hardware issue, then the problems are going to be between the keyboard and the chair; Windows issues; driver issues, and last but not least malware.

Hardware wise, there is little a modern computer cannot do. So as far as customization, the only thing might be software like say, how to rip and burn a dvd ;)

I'm a computer tech, and I hear over and over again end-users say stuff like, "these computers (brand_x/model_x) have given us a lot of trouble." Upon inspection, it is usually (80% of the time) a software issue of some sort like mentioned above, or a bad/glitchy image provided by their company, in the case of business owned pc's.

Oh yeah, another good one is network congestion. The old, "my brand_x computer sux it's slow." Come to find out the pc is fine just their connection sux. Then when you tell them that, they often take it as saying their company sux and they can't even setup a proper network.

Then there is the issue of user's dropping their laptop, or spilling coffee etc. "oh gee, i just spilled a double cinnamon dolce frappuccino on my laptop, i cleaned it all up but now my laptop will not power on." These people never tell that to the tech support person.

Then there are the wirless issues, but I am not even going to go there :)

_Not Convinced_
By Cobra Commander on 5/9/2008 1:46:45 PM , Rating: 5
The problem is defined by the author. Although I imagine Dell and any other company in their position is inflating the numbers to deflect blame on the end user, as an IT Professional of 10 years it is obvious people simply do not want to learn how to use their computer.

Customization will not resolve that.

The vast majority of computer owners do not use their computer in a manner that requires anything different or unusual from the guy or gal beside them. They are surfing the web. They are printing stupid stuff out on their color inkjet. They are checking email and paying bills. They are syncing their iPods and pulling images from their cameras.

And what Dell PC is incapable of all of this?

The problem is the end user is not in-the-know on how to do all these simple things. They got to go the extra mile and watch too much pr0n and try out every shareware (I mean adware/malware/spyware) program they see. They're willing to learn all the wrong things.

Not convinced? Who do you know has called MySpace technical support or Facebook technical support? You don't because people ARE willing to learn how to use stuff they care about. They have unrealistic expectations that computers do things for them and pout and fuss when they can't figure out how to get pictures off their camera.

...obviously this is a bit of a dramatization but you get the point: if 80% of the calls are end users fault, how can Dell possibly fix that?!

RE: _Not Convinced_
By FITCamaro on 5/9/2008 2:05:39 PM , Rating: 2
Myspace and Facebook HAVE technical support?

RE: _Not Convinced_
By murphyslabrat on 5/9/2008 2:36:00 PM , Rating: 2
I am actually kind of proud of my school: Gateway Technical College requires all non-IT students to take an Intro to Microcomputers class. While it would be better labeled, "Intro to Windows," it is a definite step in the right direction.

RE: _Not Convinced_
By SavagePotato on 5/9/2008 4:14:22 PM , Rating: 2
Some people are proud of the fact they are computer illiterate.

That phrase (I'm computer illiterate) is something I hear on a daily basis. I've come to the conclusion through observation that this is a badge of honor to some people. They hate computers, they feel offended they are expected to use them, and they want to refuse to learn about them as much as possible.

The other day I was waiting for the ATM and the guy at the front was just hamming it up for his buddy behind him. Some middle aged obviously technology hating person. Couldn't manage to master getting $20 from the machine and ended up spitting out the card twice and starting over. The entire time going on about how technologically challenged he was and cutting down all that crazy newfangled technological stuff that makes life so hard.

I talk to so many people in a day who just have their brain turned off. If you put something on a computer screen it's like a switch immediately flips in their head and it becomes insurmountable to even understand things like how to spell in the process of troubleshooting.(have you ever had to phonetically spell CMD? I sure have.)

My own father was a good example. He was someone that could rebuild an engine, but he couldn't master changing the channel on satellite TV. If someone even suggested he learn to use a computer he would get a look on his face like he wanted to punch them.

RE: _Not Convinced_
By retrospooty on 5/10/2008 2:16:44 PM , Rating: 2
You are right... Alot of people do turn off that switch when it comes to electronics. If they would just give it an honest try, they would be able to deal with it just fine.

RE: _Not Convinced_
By nekobawt on 5/12/2008 11:27:04 AM , Rating: 2
Kinda feels like the idiocracy is just around the corner. Seems like a lot of people wear their ignorance like a badge on their sleeve.

RE: _Not Convinced_
By KaPolski on 5/10/2008 2:58:30 PM , Rating: 2
You have a very valid point there and Dell should simply forward their survey results to Microsoft, who i think are the only ones currently in a position to "resolve" this issue, or at least improve the situation. But i think MS are already aware of this, as UAC goes to prove.

Just throwin it out there...
By ksherman on 5/9/2008 1:44:49 PM , Rating: 5
The lower labor costs in India probably save Dell and other computer makers money, but it is doing good to the company’s iamge.

RE: Just throwin it out there...
By HotdogIT on 5/9/2008 2:02:24 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah. DailyTech writers don't exactly speak English. They speak Dailyechnica.

By GhandiInstinct on 5/9/2008 1:29:10 PM , Rating: 3
They can't handle customer support so they just want to avoid it all together?

Do we laugh or cry?

RE: So....
By saiga6360 on 5/9/2008 1:37:53 PM , Rating: 3
I guess you can laugh it off if you don't buy Dell.

Now what most people must be wondering about after reading DT articles like this in the past few months is if they have been outsourced.

RE: So....
By retrospooty on 5/11/2008 12:09:08 AM , Rating: 3
I would bet that most people that visit this site never need tech support on a PC... So laugh. =)

enterprise support
By noxipoo on 5/9/2008 3:02:10 PM , Rating: 2
don't know about the consumer side, i just use their chat site for home hardware and solve my own problems for software. but at work, every time i've called enterprise support it's been someone that sounds american, knows what they are talking about and have been able to help me. i rate their enterprise support higher than veritas, oracle, and the like.

RE: enterprise support
By bmheiar on 5/9/2008 4:16:40 PM , Rating: 2
During normal business hours 8 AM - 5 PM CST, all U.S. customer based calls are transferred to a U.S. based call center particularly the one in Round Rock, TX (HQ for Dell). Anything after 5 PM CST, is transferred to a call center in another country, particularly India. Though some of the employees at Dell's Round Rock Call Center, do stay till 7 PM or so to help out with U. S. customer based calls, if volume is high. I think there is another U.S. based Dell call center somewhere else, but can not remember where. This is the way it was when I worked there in the summer of 06 on the XPS (Consumer Tech Support) side of the call center. I believe this is the way it is still now for all U.S. based customers.

So if you want to talk to an actual American in the Dell Technical Support Call Center, you must call during the week between 8 AM-5 PM CST. The Consumer side (XPS) is closed on the weekends. For the Enterprise side of the call center there is limited staffing on the weekends along with those who work from home on call 24/7, this is my understanding since I have two cousin-in-laws who work at Dell's Round Rock Enterprise Support Call Center.

This is the normal operating procedure if not really busy or completely staffed. Turnover is high there. I thought retail was bad. If call center is overwhelmed by calls or short staffed, it will automatically transfer calls to one of the oversea call centers to pick up the slack.

RE: enterprise support
By AntiV6 on 5/9/2008 4:28:22 PM , Rating: 2
Same here.

My laptop got deylayed yesterday(stupid LED screen), called up DELL, about 10 minutes of hold I was connected to someone who could decently enunciate the English language. Two minutes after I was connected, he informed me how he knew how much it sucked to wait for something and upgraded me to overnight shipping for free.

Dell customization vs Apple customization
By FreakyD on 5/9/2008 6:09:05 PM , Rating: 3
More customization = more satisfaction? I don't see how they can get that result when also bringing Apple into the picture since Apple seems to be fairly slim on the amount of customization offered for their systems.

If 80% of tech calls are not hardware problems, but instead are related to the computer being inadequate for the task, we can solve the problem by no longer offering cheap computers so any machine will handle the majority of tasks. Apple more clearly separates it's product line into cheapy, mainstream, and power user systems. People then know what they need to buy, the mainstream iMac is fairly capable, and few complaints are had.

I would say that more options is not the right answer, making sure consumers are aware of the capabilities of what they're buying is the answer. How many people really understand the model numbers of video cards to know what you need? How many cheap computers are sold that are really only good for basic tasks that have no capabilities for expansion? I think that knowing what you're getting is better for a clueless consumer rather than throwing more options their way.

Also, Microsoft doesn't really help things.. Vista capable = not really capable and more deceptive than helpful.

By cherrycoke on 5/9/2008 11:00:33 PM , Rating: 2
I would say that more options is not the right answer

I would agree with this from a technical aspect for one reason. If you introduce more components and more options, I think it is possible to introduce more incompatibilities or even more points of failure. The tech support would have even more troubleshooting to do, even just in ruling out the possible points of failure.

In short I just think more options could produce more headaches for troubleshooting. I do agree that a balance of more options to provide users with task specific machines could help. Who knows, they may balance each other out and then you are right where you started.

Dell you want to improve?
By bsd230 on 5/10/2008 10:12:45 PM , Rating: 3
Try moving your tech support back to the U.S., it would be nice to speak to people who can understand you.

it's true
By jlips6 on 5/9/2008 4:35:07 PM , Rating: 2
dell support does suck. Some person called "Yemmi" from Mexico canceled the order for my laptop after I refused to buy a printer from them over the phone. I called back, got Indian tech support Which was actually extremely helpful, and last I heard of them, they were investigating the Mexican tech support branch.

Not that that really means anything. I got my laptop though, after the the strange scam I mean delay. My experience with Indian tech support has been positive, but I'm still going to say that dell's support really really sucks.

Hold times are a factor.
By teckytech9 on 5/9/2008 8:20:19 PM , Rating: 2
The average caller expects a live body to answer within a few minutes or less. Its evident that all this outsourcing to other nations is adding to the hold times. The ideal Utopian world is where all tech support calls are serviced in the callers own locality in under a minute. Companies know it costs extra money to be efficient, hence the inefficiency, closing call centers and the outsourcing.

When factoring in variables like complex voice response greetings, and tech support reps (various accents) who may or may not answer within an acceptable time frame, its probably much easier to Google (verb) it instead.

By tanishalfelven on 5/11/2008 9:45:50 AM , Rating: 2
but it is doing good to the company’s iamge.

i'm sure it is

Don't bring Apple into this.
By ethana2 on 5/12/2008 2:27:15 PM , Rating: 2
They have a decent OS. If Dell is going to compete with them effectively, they need to take Ubuntu and /really/ run with it.

I'm talking TV ads.

So yeah, that's where more customization needs to start-- real OS choice on /every/ model. ..although I've basically decided on an Ubuntu Inspiron, seems to be close enough to what I want..
$800 for a really nice machine, the windows tax got chopped right off and drops the price a bit ^_^

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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