Dell’s Abusive Service

I just ordered a Dell computer for a member of my family. I had tech questions. Dell’s phone system prevents prospective buyers from contacting tech support. I tried customer service but gave up because my call was shunted to, I think, India, with a bad phone connection and a rep who put me on hold for several minutes — until I was disconnected. Finally I got help from someone on Dell’s sales line. However, I wasn’t ready to purchase immediately, the salesman wasn’t going to be available the following day, and I prefer online ordering because it minimizes miscommunication.

Unfortunately, Dell’s online ordering system is confusing, I think intentionally so. It is set up to make apples-to-apples price comparisons impossible. I think that this is inexcusable for a company selling commodity products distinguished mainly on price.

You can see what I mean if you visit the Dell website and price various computer systems. Try it first via the “home and home office” link, then try to price an identical system under the “small business” category. You can’t do it, because each category has a different mix of options and different “sale” items. The sales rotate every week or two, and if you follow the pattern for a few cycles you see that every discount or freebie is offset by an overcharge (relative to market prices) for something else. This week you get more RAM and hard-drive capacity and “free” shipping, but you pay $100 over market for an LCD monitor, and get charged an additional $79 for a nonstandard warranty (unless you deselect it: this option is presented in an exceptionally misleading way). Or you get the RAM and HD and a “free” printer, but ground shipping costs $110 and you can’t buy the system without a monitor. The pattern is always one of rotating sales, different sale items in “home” and “business” categories, and different configuration options in each category. And a special deal on one option is always offset by an unavoidable upcharge elsewhere.

What makes Dell deceptive is its burying of the selective price increases. The customer has either to accept the deal without scrutinizing it much, and thereby pay through the nose for some component or service; or he can spend a lot of time comparing system configurations and waiting for the sale that most closely approximates his needs. In any case it’s clear that Dell’s real prices are higher than it wants customers to believe, and that Dell’s service is not what it once was.

I once favored Dell because they had what seemed to be the best mix of price, quality and service. I ordered from Dell this time because, at first, doing so seemed to be the easiest way to go, and later it didn’t seem worthwhile to restart the shopping process. Dell isn’t terrible, and I’m sure that the computer I ordered will be acceptable for the price.

But Dell no longer has a clear advantage over other PC marketers. And I am annoyed that Dell uses its online ordering system — which should make ordering a computer faster, easier and more transparent — to obscure its pricing. If buying a Dell means spending hours comparing apples to oranges and looking for hidden charges, I may as well shop elsewhere next time.

UPDATE: I should have credited my brother for making the initial suggestion that Dell’s behavior in making price comparisons difficult may be intentional.

UPDATE 2: The computer, which I ordered Sunday, was shipped Tuesday and arrived Thursday. It appears that in at least this respect Dell’s service has improved.

14 thoughts on “Dell’s Abusive Service”

  1. I’ve used Dell’s site before as an example of shoddy usability, but I had never before considered the possibility that it was intentional. Your case is compelling.

  2. Ah, but the wonders of the market work nevertheless. Check out – can you imagine, this is a group of guys that sit at computers all day and find the bst deals out there! They are part of affiliate programs, so they make money when people make purchases after following links on their site. Pretty cool, huh? Beats browsing Dell all day!

  3. The really big services always seem like they’re out to screw you in one way or another. My family had a few bad experiences with both Gateway (once their business really took off) and Dell so when it came time to replace my computer, I opted to do it myself. It took a little while and required a little work in assembly, but I got exactly what I wanted for at least $1000 less than I would have paid for a comparable Dell system… If you’ve got the time and the inclination, DIY systems really can’t be beat:)

  4. I just purchased a new computer for my wife. However, I modified the order and had to get refusal numbers and the like to have sent back. It is a nightmare trying to get credits applied to the account. Dell is clearly number 1 in its space. However, they need to pull their collective heads out of their asses and fix their customer service or some upstart will kick theirs with customer service that is staffed by Americans in the United States.

  5. Scott: no computer compnay is about to use American tech help again. Like it or not, that is the way it is. I had some trouble, called for support, got twice cut off. Discovered I could write support and get quick answer in English I could understand. Problem: I would have to pay for help. It was, they said, not thee Dell problem. I worte back and said you are dead wrong and I have contract. two hours later, got the heop/anser I needed. suspicion: they all suck, that is, all the companies.

  6. What a difference a few years makes. In 1999, we had a 3 or 4 year old Dell laptop lying around our office. No one was using it for work any longer, so I took it home and configured it so that my wife could use it for email. 3 months later, screen goes out, and I call Dell to see if they can suggest a remedy, despite the fact that I was not even the original owner of the machine. After a few email exchanges with tech help, they tell me to remove the hard drive, battery, PCMCIA’s, etc., and Airborn Freight shows up at my door to pick up the dead machine, free of charge. After 2 more weeks, Dell calls with good news and better news; the machine is fixed, but they lost track of it in their shipping warehouse and have little hope of finding it, so they will be sending me a new one. I am still using that replacement today, and I really like the larger screen and faster processor.

  7. I own an old Dell Inspiron 7000 laptop that has served me well for many years; twice I asked for Dell support and it could not have been better or faster. Once the screen went blank and I had my computer back at the office in two days.

    Having said that, Dell’s behavior is worse than you think: it is well known that the company purposefully uses many non-standard components in their desktops so that you have to go back to them for major parts or upgrades.

  8. As an ex-Dell tech support employee, I can tell you that I am very irritated at Dell’s current business pratices: shipping customer service and tech support over seas.I can personally tell you that I took great pride in my work while at Dell. I cannot speka for others tho. One thing to keep in mind, tech support is a high stress job, especially at a large corp like Dell. However, I do feel that Dell has taken every effort to limit customer service: good tech suuport, not out sourcing, crappy, flimsie warranties and the like.

    My current employer no longer buys servers from Dell. HP/Compaq was willing to bend over back ward to meet our needs! See what happens when your ego and your greed take over?

  9. I agree about the comparisons being off. As an employee of a higher education institution, we are “supposed” to get substantial discounts on systems we purchase from Dell. I did a comparison using the Education and Government employee link and also the Home and Home Office link. It came out cheaper to order as a regular customer and I would have received more perks too. Go figure…

  10. an irreverent friend of mine got into an argument with a Dell customer/tech service representative for a while because the guy said his name was “matthew”..

    to which my friend responded, “your name isn’t matthew, your Indian. Aren’t you in India?”

    After a long back and forth, the guy finally admitted, no his name was not Matthew, and, yes, he was in india.

    dell is so strange

    i say, go to a place like ABS PC or some other small company if you’re looking for a computer. They let you customize the shit out of your PC, and the deals don’t change on a daily basis. Plus, since the have a smaller customer base, they don’t need to outsource all of there customer and tech service people. And they don’t lie about their names…

  11. I just ordered a replacement Dell for the family PC. The online purchase could not have been easier. In a litter over 12 hours – overnight – the machine was configured with my choices of pieces and parts and sofware and was shipped to our home. It took minutes to connect and we were up and running. Amazing.

    Then the fun began. After a few days the network card stopped working. I talked to several very accessible and earnest Dell Technicians (in India, I’m sure) for a grand total of about 75 minutes, but they could not solve the issue.

    I finally yanked the network card out of the old machine and plugged it into the new PC – no problems since.

    Dell has a great purchase and assembly process going, but initial quality problems and second-tier customer support will continue to temper their edge in the market.

  12. Dell used to get away with some slightly sloppy methodologies in assembly – as an example, using customers as guinea pigs for untested new versions of drivers and so forth – by providing exceptional customer service. Take mad people and make ’em glad. Now they are relying on brand name, unfortunately.

  13. I’ve liked their laptops the last few years that I’ve used, but want to echo the above poster’s point that they use too many custom bits in their desktops. HP/Compaq have been very bad about this practice too. Imagine a power supply that’s exactly the same as normal ones, but with a proprietary motherboard connector. That’s the kind of crap you get with a Dell or Compaq desktop. Other big PC makers have done the same thing over the years too.

  14. The alternative to Dell and the Big box Stores is the strip mall computer store. They will whip up what ever you want, on the spot, in a few hours. Only problem they can’t do it for laptops.

    Laptops, don’t consider Dell. The stuff is junky and you have detailed the service problems. Go for IBM, still the best built machines there are.

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