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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 :)

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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