Saturday, January 27, 2007

Dissing Dell

Shortly after Christmas my main workstation died. Motherboard failure. Normally I'd have planned for this situation and I'd just build myself another whitebox. But I'd recently seen some Dell commercials and decided to save myself some trouble. The sales rep cheerily answered Dell's phone, "Hi! What can we build for you today?" What followed was the worst customer service nightmare I've ever experienced.

Here's the raw chronology, which is as I documented it at the time (January 3rd, 2007):
  • I had ordered the computer without a DVD burner, having explained to the representative that I would be moving my existing 200GB IDE hard drive and LightScribe DVD-RW into the machine (since Dell doesn't even offer LightScribe as an option). I've got some customers waiting for program updates that are on that drive, so I wanted to simply drop it in and change the drive assignments. I purposely bought a machine with a large case (also, this was to keep it cool). I bought from Dell due to reputation and from a lack of time and a desire to have something that "just works".
  • I got the Dell this afternoon. It was promised to be delivered "on the 3rd" and so it was... at around 6:15pm.
  • My name and address were both spelled incorrectly. It's a wonder it was delivered at all.
  • I did NOT power it up immediately. The very first thing I did was take inventory and open the case to see where I would be mounting the drives.
  • The very next thing I did was call Customer Service. The machine they sent had no IDE interface. Instead it used Serial ATA. It also had insufficient power leads to power anything but the existing stuff. There was an AGP slot and only one PCI slot available. IOW, this machine was totally worthless for the purpose for which it was bought.
  • Customer Service connected me to Tech Support. The Tech Support technician asked me to search for non-existent stickers that supposedly were to have had some fictional service number.
  • He then wanted me to power it up and go to the "My Computer" properties. I explained that in order to do that I'd have to click through the Windows EULA, which was a legal document. It took some discussion, but he finally saw that I wasn't going to make a legal commitment simply because he wanted a number.
  • Eventually he gave up the fruitless search for the sticker and took my word for it that the model number emblazoned on the front might actually be indicative of the contents of the box.
  • He determined that the computer doesn't have the connectors I need. This was a mere 20 minutes after I told him that the computer doesn't have the connectors I need. I demanded a supervisor.
  • The Tech Support supervisor told me that this model doesn't have the connectors I need. (big surprise there). I should install a PCI-to-IDE adapter board in the sole remaining PCI slot, eliminating my chances of putting a parallel board in that slot to support my nice heavy-duty laser printer. I responded that I gave very detailed specifications to the sales associate when she asked "what can we build for you today" and that his "solution" was unacceptable. I would return the machine for a replacement that does meet my needs.
  • After another 30 minutes or so I was given a return authorization number. I was told that they would gladly arrange the pickup and reimburse my credit card... in thirty days. "Policy," I was told. "Not my policy," I replied, then "Get me your supervisor," until I was told that the reimbursement would be "expedited" in my case.
  • I was then told that I'd have to go back to the sales desk to order the replacement. The Tech Support supervisor recommended that I order the Model B110. This would have the interfaces I need. I asked them to transfer me to the sales representative to avoid their insufferable voice tree. They did.
  • Rather, they tried. They dropped the line. I should mention that they had previously dropped the line several times when transferring me about, which prompted my mention of the "insufferable voice tree". Nevertheless, I had to punch through it once again. This time I had a "case number" so I must be important. Hmm.
  • The sales rep ("Lawrence") informed me that Dell no longer manufactures the model B110 and they haven't for some time. I explained that I would accept a suitable substitute. Lawrence told me that he would put me on hold while he talked to the technicians himself.
  • Twenty minutes later I still heard nothing from Lawrence. Feeling somewhat forgotten and shunted aside, I hung up and called back to the sales desk. "Tammy" answered. I politely asked her to save some time by fetching a supervisor for me. Tammy stated that the supervisor might not be available because she was very busy. I replied that she was about to be a whole lot busier; go get her. She came back some minutes later with "Tiffany".
  • I explained to Tiffany that I was a very unsatisfied customer. I explained to her why (all of the above). I explained to her that I had done my "very best to give Dell every opportunity not to suck," but they continued to disappoint me nonetheless.
  • Not entirely surprisingly, Tiffany became defensive, but got around to asking what she could do to make me a happy customer. I explained that the purpose of this particular call was to inform her, in her capacity as Sales supervisor, of the egregious mistakes make by the Sales department in selecting a model that did not meet my needs and in leaving me hanging on the phone for twenty minutes. I already had a return authorization from the Tech Support department, so the only thing she could conceivably do for me was provide a computer that meets my specs (i.e. a machine that supports an IDE drive).
  • There was a little detour into further annoyance when she remarked that I seemed technically savvy, so why didn't I check the specs on Dell's site first? The attempt was, of course, to make this my fault for the failure of their trained professionals to deliver on my detailed spec. I explained to Tiffany (in words approaching these) that, as I explained when I first called to place my order, I'm replacing my broken computer. I went on to explain I do not have an Ethernet port in the back of my neck into which I can plug a cable modem and surf the Internet in my imagination. If I did, I wouldn't very well have called Dell, now, would I?? In short, at the time I called Dell, surfing the web was not an option. I had a problem and called them on the strength of their undeserved reputation. Furthermore, as I made that crystal clear at the time of purchase, if they had any fine print they required me to know about, they should have said it at the time. Since they didn't, it might as well not exist.
  • She pow-wowed several minutes with Tech Support and informed me that Dell do not make computers to meet my specs. Her explanation revolves around the "fact" that Dell machines are more technologically advanced than the competition, even though they don't offer technology such as LightScribe. In other words, it was canned B.S.. She then offered to sell me a PCI-to-IDE adapter board for $40+. Besides the fact that I'd already rejected this "solution", I thought it was pretty damned shabby of her to offer to suck another $40 out of me to cover their mistake. She also suggested an external enclosure for my drives with a USB adapter. Like I'd be really happy shoving my data through a USB port rather than a parallel cable. She suggested that if I didn't "feel comfortable" buying it from Dell that I could buy it someplace else. It never occurred to Miss Professional that she might just send me the part. I said I was inclined to simply ship the box back.
  • Tiffany told me in her best "I'm concerned for you" voice that she was just trying to avoid having me pay the shipping and re-stocking fees. "The what?" I exclaimed. It all becomes clear... it seems that Dell will promise to meet whatever requirements you give them, even knowing that they can't deliver on them at all. Why should it matter to them...? After all, they're going to make money from you anyway, they'll charge your card immediately, but due to "policy" they will keep that money for 30 days. Due to "policy" they will do their best to ensure that you pay for their failure to deliver.
  • Well, that clinched it. I'm shipping the computer back anyway.
All in all, this took up the hours between 6:30 and 10pm. But all was not bleak.

At 10:15 the same night I went to Wal-Mart, determined that at this point I didn't care what the hell I bought, so long as it wasn't a Dell, had IDE, did math and painted pixels. What I found was a Compaq Presario with an HP 17" LCD flat panel monitor for over $100 LESS than the price of the bare Dell box. The Compaq, like the Dell, comes with a Serial ATA drive. Unlike the Dell, the Compaq ALSO has an IDE port. Unlike the Dell, the Compaq also has a number of standard power connectors for expansion. The Compaq came with four PCI slots. The Compaq also came with a LightScribe DVD-RW, an option that Dell doesn't offer (and technology of which Dell's sales associates are unaware). The processor clock speed of the Compaq is twice that of the Dell. The LCD is crisp and clear, and the built-in speakers reduce my desk clutter considerably. Since I bought it at Wal-Mart, the return policy states that if there are problems I can return it to the store within 90 days for a full refund. Compare that to Dell's 21-day policy with partial refund and the customer picking up the tab for shipping and re-stocking! The only things substandard about the Compaq are the mouse and keyboard. I prefer my Microsoft Natural keyboard and optical mouse, which of course I retained from the previous computer. The Compaq has 2 fewer USB ports, which again isn't a problem because it also has PS/2 style mouse and keyboard ports missing from the Dell.
The Compaq is a better machine.

HP is a better company.
Wal-Mart is a better distribution channel.
That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.

About that restocking fee... I called my credit card company to report the experience and see what could be done. They explained that there are really only two charges that they can't contest. You guessed it: restocking and shipping. And Dell does have 30 days to return the money. So Dell is operating within the bounds of legality. Though, if I wanted to craft a scam, it might not look so different from what Dell does legally. That is, ignore the customer's specs, ship out whatever's handy, then apologize and refund enough to keep me out of hot water while I still make a profit. I'm not saying that's Dell's business model... but I personally can't tell whether it's not, as my experience is indistinguishable from the hypothetical scam. As it is, even accounting for the restocking fee, it was a better value proposition to return the Dell and buy the Compaq!

If it's not perfectly clear by now, in my experience Dell sucks. I will not recommend a Dell machine under any circumstances for any purpose, to any friend or any customer, and I urge you to buy from anyone else instead. This isn't just my experience either. I invite you to visit the following sites:

(BTW, why did I wait several weeks to post this? Because I wanted a "cooling down" period, to make sure I wasn't just posting a knee-jerk complaint. It's not... after giving it some considerable time and though, I'm just as certain that Dell sucks.)


Blogger shake said...

wow...looks like u have a lot of time to kill and sulk.....but my dell system and experience rocks....thats why i had time to read the c***p you wrote....

March 13, 2007 at 1:43 AM  
Blogger Dave Leigh said...

I'm not surprised that your experience with them was OK. Hell, there have to be people in the world undemanding enough to take whatever they're handed and smile about it. I suspect your English teacher was another such.

I'm glad you're happy with your P.O.S. It doesn't change the fact that my experience with Dell sucked.

March 13, 2007 at 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see very little wrong on dell's part in this situation. You do realize that IDE controllers, parallel ports, and ps2 ports are older technology that pretty much no computer manufacturer is selling on their newer computers? You found an older and slower computer @ Wal-Mart and are praising the legacy technology as a positive point? Huh? You had a specific requirement that very few people want. SATA has many advantages over IDE. Go look at any Intel, Abit, Asus, etc newer spec board and you won't find IDE. The onus was on YOU to ensure the computer you were getting had IDE connections. Sure, the sales rep should have picked up on the fact IDE wasn't available, but you should have specifically asked - multiple times - and verified the presence of IDE controllers - since it was such a big deal to you.

“Like I'd be really happy shoving my data through a USB port rather than a parallel cable.” -- Huh? Millions of people are perfectly happy doing this with virtually the same real-world performance between the interfaces. This is how normal people are dealing with the changing drive technology problem.

I can tell by the way this post was written you are an uptight / not very fun individual. I would think someone so demanding of others would demand something of themselves – in this case, a little attention to details.

May 9, 2007 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Dave Leigh said...

Anonymous, what is wrong on Dell's part(and not just a very little bit) is that I was clear as crystal in telling them the technical requirements of the machine I wanted.

What is relevant is that it is what I wanted, and it is exactly what Dell's sales staff said they could provide. EVERY OTHER CONSIDERATION IS IRRELEVANT. It doesn't matter how many people do or do not want the technology I needed. I asked for it. They promised it. They should have delivered. No wiggle room; if they couldn't deliver, then ethics require that they simply say so. I wouldn't have been mad; I'd have gone elsewhere and bought from Dell some other day. But they didn't tell the truth. They were unethical and unreasonable. They shipped me unacceptable equipment knowing full well that they'd get to keep at least the restocking fee when I turned it back in.

Since you apparently didn't spend much time actually reading the post you're responding to, be informed that I most certainly did specify exactly and in great detail what it was I needed. Remember the part where I said, "...Dell doesn't even offer LightScribe as an option"? I know that was the case because I asked, and when they didn't know what I was talking about I described the drive and technology in detail. I went on to describe the rest of the specs as well, because it was extremely important to me to be able to move certain peripherals. My "onus" was fulfilled on the very first call. Having been made fully aware of what they were being paid to deliver, Dell failed. That's why they earn a spanking.

Of course, on my website your onus is to put your brain in gear before responding. If you had you'd have noticed that I had wrote only one bullet point describing the ordering process, and had no complaints about that. Why would I? They were polite, and seemingly helpful. They listened to the requirements and assured me in a bright sunshiny voice that they'd deliver. It was all very pleasant. Clearly, the focus of this post was not on the ordering process, but on Dell's pitiful response when I called them on their failure to deliver what was promised. My problem with the ordering process are all retrospective, dealing with the outright falsehoods that were told to me by Dell's representative. If your brain were in gear you'd have also read the words "failure of their trained professionals to deliver on my detailed spec" in my original post before you embarked on the ridiculous process of admonishing me about my "onus" like some idiot that hadn't read what was clearly written. But of course your brain wasn't in gear; that's why you earn a spanking.

As far as being demanding... yes. When I spend hundreds of dollars on a tool I use to perform my job, I absolutely demand that the product delivered to me resembles the item I ordered and paid for. Perhaps you don't, but that just makes you a sucker and a fool, or perhaps a Dell representative. The fact that you apparently didn't read the details and responded according to your own agenda rather than the actual facts makes that not unlikely. When it comes to my computers, I'm not a "normal person", but a professional programmer who knows exactly what he needs. But whatever your walk of life, "normal people" are not accustomed to being cheated.

BTW, the machine I bought at Wal-Mart was not slower. I was very clear in my post that the clock speed on the Compaq is twice that of the Dell. Furthermore, the Compaq has both SATA and IDE, and has more free slots on the board and it has more free IDE ports. I currently have it loaded with both SATA and IDE drives. The Compaq is a better machine, hands-down, by any measure. It was a better machine out the box, and its support for multiple standards means I was able to migrate components from my older machine, expanding it far beyond the Dell's capabilities at no additional cost. Please, friend, if you're going to comment, at least try to get some part of your comment to relate to actual incident I described. As it is, only detail you paid attention to is to leave your name off to save yourself public embarrassment. Good move.

Boy, that was fun.

May 9, 2007 at 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I realize we are quite some time into the future since your original incident but I completely agree when you post your reply that "Dell shipped you something very well knowing you'd return and they'd get to keep a restocking fee..." I think it's just wrong. I myself came close to buying a Dell in the past but I took the extra time to read their disclaimers and small text and realized they had such "extra" fees so I went with HP instead.

By the way, it's early 2009 right now and as far as I know, ASUS, ABIT, MSI, Gigabyte, just to name a few still have an IDE interface. All those brands still have PS/2 keyboard connectors.

February 4, 2009 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Dave Leigh said...

Thanks, much. The "Anonymous" of May 9th would certainly be shocked to learn that almost two years later, stores everywhere are still stocking the technologies he believes are offered by by "pretty much no computer manufacturer".

You, on the other hand, pay attention to the world around you, and I salute you. Congrats on purchasing the HP... HP and Compaq are all I buy anymore.

February 4, 2009 at 10:13 PM  

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