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Dell Call Center Deja Vu
[August 19, 2006]

Dell Call Center Deja Vu

TMCnet Contributing Editor
 

There's an Arab proverb saying "A falling camel attracts a thousand knives," which one should bear in mind when reading about geopolitical events these days, but which also explains the almost gleeful schadenfreude accompanying Dell's (News - Alert) announced recall of 4.1 million laptop batteries with faulty lithium ion cells liable to overheating and catching fire.

It goes along with Dell missing its earnings target in May, and having to "hustle" to spend $100 million "to improve customer service by hiring new call center employees, beefing up service packages, and simplifying cost structures," according to industry observer Ben Ames.


Last week Dell said they would add those call center jobs in India, where they hope to have 15,000 call center workers by about 2009. A computer hardware report has recently noted that as part of a $100 million effort to revive its customer service, "Dell is bulking up its sales and service workforce and increasing the percentage of full-time Dell employees, cutting its use of part-timers and contract workers. It is increasing training for both sales and service reps, raising both the amount of time spent in training and the number of areas taught."

Call center service has been a touchy issue for the Round Rock, Texas-based PC vendor. "We have a long ways to go," says Rosendo Parra, a senior vice-president at Dell admitted in recent printed comments. Its customer service scores, according to various measurements, are either good, adequate or downright lousy.

The prospect of being deluged with customer calls when you do things like recall 4.1 million laptop batteries is a good impetus to beef up your call center personnel. Another positive step is that Dell has publicly acknowledged dumping their inane policy of paying their contact center reps according to how quickly they could get customers the hell off the phone, and now focus on solving the problem on the first call, no matter how long that call takes.

Dell's been bashed like a pinata filled with beers at a high school football team party for its ridiculous hold times, dropped calls, incomprehensible customer service reps and general "sounds like your problem" attitude to customer calls. Reading the various message boards and blogs dedicated to, ah, discussing Dell's customer service is a grisly experience, a sampling of the (unedited) ones which can be printed in a family magazine:

"I have just called and got put through to India and the line was appaling and I have been completely put off. I asked him the WEIGHT of the lap-top and was told 850 pounds!!"

"You're lucky to haveencountered good service. I was once stuck with the Dell Customer Service and believe me, it just cant get worse than that. If ever there was an award for the worst customer service, it had to go to Dell eyes closed."

" DO NOT BUY DELL -- BEWARE!!! THE SERVICE IS 3RD WORLD AND HARDLY TO STANDARD. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? TERRIBLE SERVICE ALL AROUND."

"Dells indian call center... what a nightmare.. how many times can they tell you to please run the diagnostics again for me and i will get right back to you ... messed around about a month ...finally got fixed no thanks to call center."

Ominously for Dell that particular disgruntled customer listed his occupation as "postal." Then there's the infamous "transcript" of a Dell customer session which has been featured on Snopes.com, which has quite a bit on Dell call center interactions. For my money the transcript is dubious, but it's like reports of John F. Kerry saying something embarrassingly stupid: Given the reality you're dealing with, you have a difficult time separating the jokes from the news reports.

Despite all the mea culpas from senior execs some wonder whether Dell really has repented. Take the following news report from industry observer Andy McCue:

Dell admits it has "learned its lesson" after being forced to drop its Indian call center last year following customer complaints about the quality of service.

The call center operation for the OptiPlex desktops and Latitude laptops was moved back to the United States. Dell CIO Randy Mott said in an interview that the Bangalore center was unable to deal satisfactorily with the volume of calls generated by the rapid growth of those product lines.

"In that example we were not as efficient as we wanted to be," he said. "We were growing very quickly in that (consumer) segment. It got a little ahead of us. We took the decision to get it back under control. Our customers expect more from Dell than other companies, and we weren't meeting those (expectations)."

Sounds good? Images of a contrite CIO staring at the ground, shuffling his feet and mumbling? Sure, except for the fact that it was written in 2004. Two years on and Dell's right back to building up their Indian call center operations.

Which"lesson" was learned, exactly?

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. For more articles please visit David Sims’ columnist page.


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