Dell has gotten some notice for its inspired use of Twitter to connect with customers and earn money. But customer service is more than posting a few tweets about bargains.
On Dec. 10, I discovered a great deal at dell.com: $400 off a powerful i5-series Intel processor with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a 1 terabyte hard drive. I decided on Dell for another computer because my previous Dell machine (with a few low-cost upgrades) is still chugging along after seven years.
After clicking through the shopping cart, Dell estimated a delivery date of Jan. 5. I hopped on the customer-service chat, hoping to change to a faster delivery method, but the representative said an order could not be changed once it was in the system.
For a $400 savings, I was willing to wait. I should have realized it was a warning from the heavens.
On Dec. 29, I received an e-mail from Dell Inc. (who was the listed sender):
It was becoming the Best Buy Trade-Off: Suffer through painfully poor customer service for low prices.
So I waited. On Jan. 6, I received an e-mail with this threat:
It is true the Federal Trade Commission has a 30-day rule regarding telephone and mail orders. But 30 days from the original order would be Jan. 9 — three days later. Why the fear-inducing urgency?
That day, I received a call on my cell phone from an automated Dell woman, threatening to cancel my order unless I took action today. I responded to US_Dell_Notify@dell.com and then called a customer-service rep — just to make sure. He told me my request had be noted and hung up, without giving me a confirmation number.
Later in the day, the automated Dell woman called again threatening to cancel my order.
I buzzed Dell again and was put on hold for five minutes. I gave the representative my name and told him my situation. “Do you have your order number?” he asked. I admitted I didn’t, and he said he could not look up my information without the order number. I was told to call back when I had the order number.
A computer company that can’t search by name? Argh.
I checked my e-mail and noticed US_Dell_Notify had not replied. I sent another e-mail, this time with my nine-digit customer number, my nine-digit order number, and my 13-digit Dell Product ID.
I called Dell again. This time, I was on hold for 10 minutes, and when the person came on, I requested a discount for the inconvenience the company had caused me. He said he could not do that because he handled only order queries; he would have to transfer me to the customer-care department.
Another wait. This time, it was 13 minutes. A man named Fiel — he said it so quickly I didn’t quite catch it — popped on and said “Thank you for holding. We are experiencing high call volume. Please call back in 15 minutes.”
Yes, he hung up on me. Really.
I began to suspect an evil ploy on Dell’s part: Offer a really great discount, but delay the promise so long that the consumer gives up and buys something else, at full price.
An hour later, I called again. This time, I was on hold for 20 minutes before Abi answered. I told her my situation, and she said, “Our systems are down. I cannot help you.” Pause. No apology. No offer of other assistance.
A computer company whose order systems are down? A R G H.
At 8 p.m., I received a third call from the automated Dell woman threatening to cancel my order.
Frustrated, I churned out a long complaint letter demanding a discount for the inconvenience.
This morning, this e-mail appeared from US_CAG_Customer_Care@dell.com:
Well, “Dear Jonathan” is better than no salutation.
I replied with an e-mail of disappointment and a threat of my own: I would tell everyone I know of this customer-service nightmare.
Consider this my shout to the world.