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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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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.

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