How can a computer company lose data that it gathered only a minute earlier?

Dell has refused to accept a return of the XPS 13 2-in-1 that they sold me for $2,400 (sampling of issues: it gets stuck in “tablet mode” even when opened as a laptop, it can’t stay connected to a Bluetooth mouse, it stops listening to its touchscreen hardware, and it stops listening to the trackpad (so eventually there is no pointer at all and you’d have to remember all of the Windows keyboard shortcuts to accomplish the basics)).

On the theory that “Maybe 25 hours on the phone with these guys isn’t enough and the 26th hour will be the charm,” I called 877-907-3355 to try to get tech support. This starts with a 2-minute automated process of entering, via voice, the “service tag” (letters and numbers). The automated attendant confirms the service tag. Then it tries to transfer you to “the right department.” Once this resulted in immediate disconnection. When the call was successfully transferred to a human, the first thing that she asked was “What’s your service tag number?” (Before I could give it to her, the call was disconnected, but that’s incidental to the subject of this post.)

As a computer nerd I am always fascinated when companies have a customer service system that asks for some information and then has no way to make the typed-in stuff available to the human who ultimately answers the phone. Also, that it seems to be rare for customer service agents to have access to Caller ID. So a lot of time is wasted in asking the customer a callback number (not to mention the potential for errors).

In the case of Dell, perhaps they have an incentive to waste customer time so that people stop calling for tech support (though how many will buy a second machine from this company?). But that’s not true for a lot of other companies that answer phone calls. If they are inefficient and drop information on the floor it ends up costing them extra customer service hours as well as potentially reducing customer loyalty.

So… why can’t the computers that answer the phone talk to the computers on the agents’ desks? And why can’t they see Caller ID? How hard can that be?

[Okay, and before the Mac fans start dishing out ridicule in the comments section, let me admit in advance that I made a huge mistake by buying this machine! Obviously a MacBook (or even a $500 Acer) would have outperformed this $2,400 Dell. And if the MacBook had failed for some reason, I would be able to zip over to the Apple Store and get it fixed rather than spending hours on the phone with Dell or returning it to them for service (projected turn-around time: 2+ weeks).]

15 Comments

  1. Neal

    April 30, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

    1

    The managers who buy “customer service” software do so based on demos, and the people who sell “customer service” software know how to make their demos look good even if the software itself is not.

  2. Tony Rowlett

    April 30, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

    2

    In Anchorage, most pizza delivery joints and cab companies make great use of the Caller ID information; makes calls a snap. Dell should call a pizza company in Anchorage.

  3. Roger

    April 30, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

    3

    Next time, buy at Costco. It has no-hassle returns.

  4. the other Donald

    April 30, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

    4

    Nothing as frustrating as an expensive dud.

    I have settled on a disposable Chromebook for surfing (Toshiba 13 in with HD IPS screen) and an inexpensive ($135!) bulletproof Acer Linux box for a file system. apt-get update is cool and I find myself on the Chromebook less and less.

  5. Colin

    April 30, 2017 @ 10:36 pm

    5

    OCD: not Caller ID when you call a toll-free number. Since Dell is paying, they will get the number you are calling from even if ‘Caller ID’ is blocked, via Automatic Number Identification (ANI).

  6. Fazal Majid

    April 30, 2017 @ 11:10 pm

    6

    It’s surprising given how rare PCs over $1000 are at any company other than Apple. You’d think they would set up a special red-carpet service lane for those lucrative customers.

    The most likely explanation is that as Customer Service is seen as a cost center, it gets the IT B-team, and their brief is to minimize costs, not optimize customer satisfaction.

  7. J. Peterson

    May 1, 2017 @ 12:56 am

    7

    I suspect Dell’s support infrastructure is geared primarily to large IT departments buying laptops by the truckload. Individual consumer purchases are probably in the noise profit-wise, hence there’s little motivation to fix terrible customer service for them.

    One of the few reasons I keep shoveling money down the Verizon hole is their customer support (in my experience) is generally efficient and competent.

  8. Chris Nahr

    May 1, 2017 @ 8:28 am

    8

    Funny you mention this right now. Just two weeks ago I found not one but two Dell systems fail on me. An XPS-15 was completely dead after nine months in storage, even on external power. And an Alienware X51 R3 (also a Dell brand) could no longer detect its primary SSD so I had to remove it. Full story:
    http://news.kynosarges.org/2017/04/23/dell-alienware-reliability-issues/

  9. John V

    May 1, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    9

    I’ve also been amazed that the information gathered early in a call always disappears when you are transferred. Hmmm, maybe Thinkpad support actually works, but Dell, definitely not.

    Maybe it won’t help if you are contacting Dell on a consumer account, but I almost never use a call for tech support. Either email form or the chat feature seems to work faster for me.

  10. Bill

    May 1, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

    10

    I bought my last two laptops at Best Buy. They have a year of free in person at the store Geek Squad service support for new computers. You can also call them on the phone. So they take back stuff they sell and fix it for free. The service is very good and fast. If you make an appointment they will fix stuff with you watching and waiting. They fixed 2-3 bugs in the software on my wife’s computer and helped her figure out how to get around some Windows defects. They even swap out defective computers. They offered to give her a different new machine when she found the Windows defects…

    I know you can find and fix your own software bugs but having a place to take stuff to and say it is broken is priceless. NO crazy phone stuff.

  11. Henry

    May 1, 2017 @ 4:06 pm

    11

    Serves you right for buying anything except an Apple computer. Not being snarky, its just one of life’s lessons. Like don’t eat the yellow snow, don’t play cards with a man named “Doc”, or eat at a place called “Mom’s”

    “Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don’t have to do it by the yard. By the inch it’s a cinch. And money can’t buy everything. For example: poverty.”

  12. Steve

    May 2, 2017 @ 9:12 am

    12

    I bought an open box special Dell xps-13 (laptop – no detachable screen) and with the discounted price they sold it to me on the condition that I purchase the premium customer service. This service came with 24hour replacement anywhere in the world if needed. Apart from getting re-routed when I needed to call them I’ve had no issues and they followed up repeatedly to ensure I was happy with the fixes I needed. I would try reaching an executive at the company rather than customer service, document the issue, and send them links to the blog. I think you will ultimately get it replaced.

  13. Steve

    May 2, 2017 @ 9:38 am

    13

    The other option is to dispute the charge on your credit card bill. If you purchased a “dud”, the consumer protections afforded you through the credit card should allow you to have the charge removed. Then Dell will be calling you repeatedly to get their equipment back!

    Good luck

  14. Les

    May 2, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    14

    FWIW, Dell’s business systems seem to be more reliable, and business support is way superior.

  15. Will

    May 6, 2017 @ 8:33 pm

    15

    I have friends who have been at Dell (several who had a crash-course in the company culture via the EMC acquisition), and they all report that the minimal investment in customer support tools is, ah, strategic.

    That being said, I happen to own the exact same laptop and it’s been very solid (to be fair, I haven’t tried to use it with a bluetooth mouse). So I vastly prefer it to the MacBook Air it replaced.

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