No Dell-iverance For Broken Laptop Customer

December 15, 2011

This is an UPDATE of the Street Sweeper article: "No Farmer in the Dell - My Dead Laptop And Customer Disservice" (December 12, 2011).

When last we parted, Odysseus and his band were inside the Trojan Horse, being wheeled into the city of Troy. Achilles had slain Hector and . . . oh wait, that's a different saga. Let me change wars here and get back to my epic battle with Dell.

As you may recall, I had ordered the souped-up Dell XPS 17. It came. I opened the shipping box. I turned on the laptop. It blinked back at me, in red - and told me that it had FAILED. After several hours of intercontinental phone communications with enough folks to populate the cast of the Iliad, Dell concluded that I had not mishandled or trashed my new computer but that it had likely been shipped with a defect.

Ah…but what was the nature of the defect? That was the puzzle. The good folks at Dell thought that it was probably a hardware issue. Or maybe, just maybe, a software issue. Or maybe both. Anyway, the solution was to ship two brand new hard drives to me and to arrange for a technician to swap the old ones out and the new ones in.

I was promised that all this in-with-the-new-and-out-with-the-old tech stuff would be done by Wednesday. Dell lied. They sent the tech and the drives to me on Tuesday - that was a nice surprise! Given the holiday crush, I was truly impressed that the company made the extra effort to fix the problem sooner than promised.

The other really nice surprise is that the independent technician who was sent to my home, a guy named "Jack," was one of the nicest human beings it has been my privilege to meet - imagine a class act, a professional, and competency rolled into one incredibly placid individual. Okay, that's two gold stars for Dell and an "A" for making an effort to do the right thing and quickly.

Sadly, some four hours after his arrival, Jack had reached the limits of his expertise, which was considerable. To his credit, he removed the old drives and installed the new ones. He also managed to get the computer to load - that hadn't happened since it was first removed from its shipping box. Jack also managed to load most of the software and configure some of the start-up programs. However, there was this one issue that would not go away. Although I had bought a system configured for 1T hard drive, and although the computer was indeed confirming that it had been loaded with two 500 Gigabyte hard drives (equaling 1T total), the computer was only using one of the drives.

After a lengthy online consultation with Dell's hardware technicians, Jack was told that they were essentially finished and were closing out the job number because it was clear that the defect with my XPS 17 was no longer related to hardware but now deemed a software issue. At that point, Dell then got a little silly. The hardware folks would not transfer Jack to the software folks. The hardware folks insisted that I personally call a Dell phone number and personally speak to the software department.

I mean, seriously? We're going to start playing these games after some three days and countless hours of jerking a customer around? In any event, I did as requested, gave a whole new set of information about my account number, shipping number, service number, and my name (as if they didn't already have it???). A few minutes into my amateurish rendering of the computer's problems, I put Jack on. It was quite evident to me that he knew far more about what to do than the Dell techie, who seemed to be looking at a manual for "If not A, then go to page 3212; If A, go to page 4233; If not A or B, put the customer on hold and hope that he hangs up or is disconnected."

After trying every suggestion from Dell's software tech, he too gave up when everything he instructed us to do produced the same failure to recognize the second drive. He then put me on hold for the umpteenth time.

I was sent to a woman. She sent me to another guy. I was given a reference number and a shipping number. Then put on more holds. Then, shortly after the fourth hour of Jack's visit had expired, Dell said that they would send someone to my home, tomorrow, to pick up the XPS 17 and would then cancel the purchase.

One thing for sure, I ain't buying anything until after the holidays. I'm not getting stuck on line at Staples or Best Buy. I'm not calling another damn 800 number and holding on while the message warns that due to heavy holiday traffic my call may be delayed for one or two millenia.

It still puzzles me that after months of narrowing my purchase down to Dell, after days of trying to get a new laptop to work - why Dell sent a technician but didn't rush him a replacement laptop in the event my unit could not be repaired. At the end of this tortured road to a cancelled order, no one from Dell has yet to telephone me and ask that one, simple, sincere question: Mr. Singer, what can we at Dell do to make this all right with you?

Now, before you dismiss me as another idiot lawyer, let me warn you that I was the third generation of my family in the retail business before I became a lawyer. So, okay, maybe that makes me an idiot lawyer with a retail background; however, I know a thing or two about customer relations and returns. My relationship with Dell was salvageable. They really showed me a commendable effort with the quick shipment of the replacement drives and the on-site appointment with the incredible Jack. Still, there just wasn't a back-up plan in the event that the XPS 17 was still dead on arrival and beyond revival. More importantly, at the end of the line, no human being at Dell seems to have been assigned to personally call this customer who we've disappointed with a defective computer and reassure him as to our company's integrity and our remorse.

Let's all agree on one basic element of this story: Despite the best company's best efforts, manufacturing defects will occur. I get that. I know that Dell isn't intentionally putting broken crap into the stream of commerce. On the other hand, given those circumstances, a consumer-oriented company needs to "own the problem" and demonstrate by deeds that the failure was an aberration and not merely a ho-hum event. I fully cooperated with Dell's customer service system without success. I did not cause the problem and they did not solve it.

In contrast, a few years ago I bought a KitchenAid mixer and it was making a grinding sound when first started. I called up the company's 800 service number and was connected to a very friendly woman in the United States. I don't think I was on the phone with her for more than five minutes until she apologized for the problem, confirmed that the unit should not be making that sound, and told me that a new unit was on its way and that my old unit would be retrieved from my door. Within a few days I had a new model (sans crunching noise) and the old one was gone. I'm now a loyal and dedicated customer of KitchenAid and would never hesitate to buy anything from that reputable company.

The saying goes that it's not how many times you're knocked down but how many times you get back up. With a consumer products company, the "getting back up" means working with your customer towards a mutually acceptable solution to a problem. Over the course of three days, Dell chose to waste my time on the telephone trying to fix a broken machine when the simplest solution would have been to expedite a replacement and to arrange to pick-up the defective unit. That's a win-win for the customer and the company. Instead, they lost the sale and the customer, and I'm left with virtually no confidence in the company.

As to my purchase of a new computer, I'm going to read many of the messages sent to me by you all. Lots of Apple, ASUS, and Acer fans out there. Stay tuned - I'd say stay online but if my old laptop can't survive much longer, you may not be able to read my blog until I get a new one.


Things have gotten a bit more complicated. Seems that Dell offers a 1T hard drive but it is composed of two separate 500G drives. Okay, no big deal if they work together as 1T. When Jack and I spoke to Dell's technical departments yesterday, they concluded that my XPS 17 was indeed recognizing both the S0 and S1 drives but that the two drives were not combining to work as one 1T drive (that's as best as my limited computer capabilities understands the issue). Having first concluded that there was a defective drive(s) in the machine as shipped, Dell next turned to the issue as to why we weren't getting a full 1T drive. After trying all sorts of fixes, it was Dell's software technician that made the call that the system could not be configured for the full 1T but, in essence, for 1T that would actually be two separate 500G drives.

So, here we are, with a possible split in Dell's circuits. One group there seems to think that the XPS 17 can be set up as a full 1T but that there may be a hardware or software issue on my system preventing that outcome; however, just as adamantly, another group says that all that can be accomplished is two separate 500G drives. What I bought and what I was sold was 1T. Frankly, if the two 500Gs combined to a full T, that's okay, but Dell's technicians told Jack that it can't be done - despite the fact that some folks at Dell USA seem to think that it can.