What You Can Learn from Dell’s Customer Support Snafus


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Ronni Marshak and I had a heated debate about whether or not to publish our critique of Dell’s customer support experience. We are embarrassed to reveal that we are as low tech as we are. But we decided that this story deserved to be told for two reasons:

1. Many of your customers are not early adopters. They are laggards. Yet they may be among your most loyal customers. So wouldn’t you want to treat them well?

2. As customer experience professionals, we all benefit from dissecting and analyzing bad customer experiences. We learn from what went wrong, so we can apply those learnings to our own situation.

As I tried to put myself in your (our readers’) shoes, I became painfully aware that you might dismiss our bad experience with Dell customer support as irrelevant to you for two reasons.

1. We were dealing with a subset of Dell—the P&L for refurbished machines, not new ones. So perhaps not their biggest profit center.

2. We wanted Dell’s help with a discontinued Microsoft software O/S and Dell isn’t a software company.

So perhaps this is an “edge case” from a type of customer that, if you were Dell, you’d just as soon “fire” as unprofitable and more trouble than they are worth.

Here’s why I think this story is actually an excellent example of how so many of us fail in delivering a good customer experience. As consultants, we actually see this same kind of scenario play out all the time with our customers’ clients. Just because your customers are running on your older equipment doesn’t mean they don’t want or value support. We all use and re-use equipment until it literally fails—whether it’s a laptop whose life we’ve stretched for 7 years or a steam boiler that has been in operation for 40 years. Often, older software is also used for a reason. People have invested a lot of money in tools that are designed to work with the older stuff. So migration is often fraught with added complications. Usually, in the real world, customers combine the old and the new in interesting ways. Companies that actually understand that fact of life and make it easy for customers to extend the life of their equipment and to migrate and integrate software or accessories easily will win the loyalty of an important group of their most loyal (laggard/pragmatic) customers.

The real moral of this story has nothing to do with the particular product group at Dell we dealt with. It has to do with Dell’s lack of a cross-channel 360-degree support infrastructure. Dell isn’t the only company to have a lot of silos among its small but nimble divisions. But, for a company that prides itself on execution, it seems odd to me that Dell lets all of its silos get in the way of executing correctly the first time—thereby avoiding a series of mutually costly repeat calls. It also seems odd that there is apparently no good way for Dell’s customer sales and support personnel to share a common set of knowledge, policies and procedures, as well as a common view of each customer’s interaction history. I suspect that Dell isn’t alone. As you read through Ronni’s tale of woe and her prescriptive advice, see if the shoe fits!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patricia Seybold
With 30 years of experience consulting to customer-centric executives in technology-aggressive businesses across many industries, Patricia Seybold is a visionary thought leader with the unique ability to spot the impact that technology enablement and customer behavior will have on business trends very early. Seybold provides customer-centric executives within Fortune 1 companies with strategic insights, technology guidance, and best practices.


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