Why PC makers still don't get it

Rob Hof

I've been pretty happy with Dell Computer, having bought a home system several years ago and using a Dell laptop at work. But when the laptop keyboard's space bar stopped working the other day, I quickly descended into tech support hell. ...

After calling the Dell tech support line, I waited an hour and a half for a human response, only to be summarily cut off. Calling back the same number, I got a recording saying that number was no longer working. No kidding. After trying again just in case I dialed wrong--no dice, same message--I called the recommended number. A half-hour wait later, someone on the line told me I'm in the wrong queue for my product. Then I got transferred to yet another number, where after another wait, I got someone who reasonably quickly understood I needed a new keyboard assembly and ordered me one. So far, so ... well, OK.

The next day, just for kicks, I tried to check on the shipment status. Following the directions in the e-mail, I found that the options suggested do not exist on the Web site. OK, let's try the phone. The suggested voicemail options weren't quite right, but I got to an option that asked for my case number. Keyed it in, waited 10 minutes. Finally, the voice told me it's an invalid number.

The good news: A couple hours later, the keyboard assembly showed up at the door. Cool. Yet all those customer-service mistakes needlessly left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Now, I can understand why some component might go kablooey. I can even understand having to wait awhile to get someone on the support line, even if I don't like it. And clearly, Dell isn't alone here.

But how can automated systems be set up so poorly? All someone at Dell has to do is try it once to see that a whole lot of things aren't working right. It's amazing that after all these years, PC makers still can't seem to get the basics of customer service right. It certainly doesn't bode well as they try to move further into consumer electronics.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.