The Cost of Doing Business

Dell LogoAs is true for most of us who use computers to make our living, I am often asked by friends and family for recommendations on what brand of computer to buy. Over the years my suggestions have changed, but the basis for those suggestions hasn’t. With the exception of Mac users, people don’t purchase computers for intrinsic value. It is always most bang for the buck and that is what I focus on.

In the course of the past four years or so my recommendation has been pretty consistent; Dell. Most of the time when I look around for deals, Dell is right in there with the rest to provide best bang for the buck and they provide world class customer service. That alone pushes it over the top in my mind.

But somewhere in the course of the last two years, in my own experience, something has changed. I purchased a laptop myself from Dell in October 2003. Knowing that laptops can be troublesome, I purchased the extended three-year warranty. That would soon prove to be my only saving grace.

Dell Inspiron 5150When I bought my laptop, I bought the best. I upgraded everthing. I got the 60GB 7200 RPM hard drive, DVD Rewritable drive, 1GB of memory, Firewire, and USB 2.0. It is was a smokin machine. I use it for my work and it has really helped my productivity when it comes to build times (especially compared to the 500Mhz PIII I had before it).

For the first year of owning it, I didn’t have any problems, but shortly after the one year anniversary, something happened. When I plugged in my laptop, the OS would not reflect the change in the battery monitor. I called Dell and they had me send it in. After transferring all of my work files to a backup computer, I sent it in and they turned it around pretty quickly. What I didn’t know was that this was the first in a downhill trend that has plagued me since.

Since that time Dell on two occassions has sent me parts that I could replace myself, but I have also had to send it in two times since and I am now on my third motherboard. Just last week, my sound card, which is integrated on the motherboard died and I am now in need of a third motherboard replacement which puts me on my fourth motherboard.

I recently did a search on eBay for my model of computer and found several of them for sale with bad motherboards, to be salvaged for parts. As best as I can tell the people selling those are the folks who bought the computer, but didn’t spring for the extended warranty. What a lesson to learn the hard way. If it had been me, I would be out $2500.00 after one year.
I understand that businesses have to reduce their costs to compete and that means that they have to cut corners, but the most egregious part of the whole ordeal to me is the fact that every time I call Dell, they add insult to injury by sending me to a call center in India.

I don’t want to sound ethnocentric here. I think India is a great country that focuses on technology and is becoming a real reckoning force in the field especially as it relates to computers and software development. The issue for me, though, is the fact that when I call in, my brain has to kick in to a high language processing gear in order to understand what the call center folks are saying. I know many of these folks have spent a lot of time learning to speak English clearly and are doing very well, but over the phone it is almost always necessary for me to have them repeat what they’ve said multiple times.

The end result of making these calls, leaves a lot to be desired. I often walk away feeling frustrated. Sometimes I go away feeling patronized. I’ve sometimes had to raise my voice to get my point across. In the end, I still have to go back through the same process of moving my work files to my backup computer. I then move my backup computer into my office (it’s a noisy desktop I just keep networked in a different room where no one is bothered by the sound) and set up the monitor and run a 50′ CAT5 cable to my network router. It’s a pain and takes time away from my work.

The bottom line is that it seems Dell, as well as others, have gone too far in the cuts they’ve made. I can’t imagine why you would offshore your call centers other than costs and that, frankly, demonstrates making the customer a secondary concern.

Dell was a great company when they were winning awards for their customer service. If they are still winning awards it is probably because everyone else is worse at it than they are. My question is when my family and friends ask me now to recommend which computer to buy, who should I tell them? It won’t be Dell. Lately I’ve been suggesting that people buy a Mac. I know they have their problems as well, but at least if you become a cult member you’ll feel better about it when things go wrong. Cults tend to do that to people.

I will make another call to Dell today to get my laptop fixed again. They are requiring me to send it in again for this third motherboard replacement. I know there is a point with Dell when they will provide you with a replacement, but frankly, I would settle for the same computer but one that is reliable. I’m afraid that’s not possible because there seems to be a defect with these motherboards, but I certainly hope that it gets resolved in some agreeable way (to me) by October 2006, when my three-year warranty runs out.

Leave a Reply