My Dell Hell Revisited – A Modern Consumer Fable
Once upon a time, there was an entrepreneur that grew up in Austin, Texas and his name was Michael Dell. He began building generic PCs while he was attending the University of Texas. He began making so much money selling computers, he eventually dropped out of UT and launched Dell Computers.
As a young man, I entered the graphic design and marketing field through the offices of Sicola Martin Koons Frank. Dell was one of our clients. As the days progressed, I established an interactive business unit within SMKF soon to be known as, SicolaMartin Interactive. Dell became our showcase client. We built an interesting sales-enablement CD-Rom for Dell’s Latitude laptops before the laptops had CD-drives built-in. Our flagship interactive sales tool ran somewhat impressively on an external Sony drive and external speakers. At this point in technological history, only Apple was putting sound chips in computers.
Several years later, at Comdex, Dell was hosting their premier buyers in a fancy dinner where Michael addressed the enthusiastic audience about the future of Dell’s computer business. The future was bright. When he took questions, I asked, anonymously from the audience, “When will Dell start adding multimedia features to the Latitude?”
Without missing a beat, Mr. Dell said, “When the business customer asks for multimedia, Dell will start adding multimedia.” It wasn’t long after that meeting that Dell hired Apple’s chief engineer of their PowerBook line, John Medica. Soon, the Latitude not only sported a trackball (like Apple) but the all-important CD-Rom drive and internal built-in sound. Cheers were heard all around our offices as we could upgrade the video quality on the CD-Rom to the 4X speed provided by the internal drive.
Then, of course, Dell got huge. And as Dell grew, so did Dell’s growing pains. And the pain that nearly took down the company, was customer service. What became known as Dell Hell. (My Dell Hell, by Jeff Javis, 2005)
Today, in 2018, Dell is one of three brands still represented inside Office Depot’s new Biz Box centers. Along with Lenovo and HP, Dell has become one of the gold-standards for generic windows computing. Low-cost, low-frills, all-business, laptops and desktops. And, we know now, that the real money isn’t in the laptops and desktops, it’s really in the services that you can add-on to those hardware devices in the forms of databases, backups, huge storage systems, and the systems to make all those things work together. Today, Dell has absorbed or been absorbed by a number of storage and networking technologies and the laptop/desktop business has taken a backseat to the point that they changed the name of the company. Dell is now known as Dell Technologies.
Also today, Dell still runs low-cost promotions to get consumers to buy Dell products. And while the consumer line of Dell products has never been more than 20% of Dell’s business, the shiny objects are still nice for marketing and promoting the top-of-the-line products to the large business customers.
So, last month I purchased my first Dell. After all these years, I have only purchased Apple products. Sure, I’d been assigned a lot of Dell laptops in my career, but my dollars always went to Steve Jobs’ little multimedia experiment. I bought a very nice, 38″, curved monitor. And I became the proud owner of a Dell Preferred account.
The only problem was, it didn’t work. Dell’s online portal to allow me to update my account, pay my balance, shop for more computers, would not let me sign up. I got all the way to the point where it asked for me to enter my account number to add to my account. And boom, nope.
I had just begun to feel the returning dread. I was about to be put into an infinite phone tree loop, with an automated assistant who would keep directing me to things I didn’t need when I really needed to talk to a human. And even then, when I did get to talk to a human, their script was so tedious, so slow and repetitive, “Thank you Mr. McElhenney, I can help you with that…” that I knew…
I had been returned, 15 years later, to DELL HELL.
Today, after three trips around the phone horn I was able to get my account connected and paid.
One guy started his, “Hello, welcome to Dell Financial Services…” and was so slow and belabored that I hung up and dialed the phone tree again.
So, after about 30 minutes I got two things accomplished.
- I paid my first installment on my Preferred Account.
- I got logged into the MY DFS Preferred Account Portal
The first person, second call, was able to make a payment on my account for me. WOOT. But they had to transfer me to another “account service” representative who could help me login to my account.
We started the verification handshake again for the second time. And then she said it, “Your account has not been linked to your email address yet.”
“Um, isn’t that the point of setting up an account?”
“I’m sorry sir, I can help you with that.”
And with a magic keystroke in Malaysia somewhere, she LINKED my account number to my email address and I was able to log in to my account for the first time.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Oh, okay. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Prologue: Dell also had a very large business in selling its own refurbished computers. And at one-time here in Austin you could go visit the Dell Factory Outlet store and find bargains on returned tech. And one of Dell’s amazingly successful e-commerce plays, early in the game, was coupons for these refurbished computers. Well, low-and-behold, even today, bless their hearts, Dell still uses the coupon metaphor, right there with the little scissors and all, to sell their refurbished computers.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I’ll pay off my Dell Preferred Account early this time, to avoid interest and late charges, and let some other folks deal with this tech dungeon.
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