Buying a PC Online: a 2015 Saga of Customer-Service Inefficiency

In this open letter to Michael Dell, CEO at, we relate the saga of a friend I’ll call Russ and his journey to buying a replacement PC online.

Plan A: Lenovo Chokes
Russ had an old, Lenovo one-core AMD workhorse desktop upgraded to Windows 7 awhile back. The box got slower than molasses. After all the usual speed-up remedies failed, Russ decided to buy a new desktop. We consulted as I do for (too) many friends and decided on a modest machine with a solid-state disk. Russ went online and configured-to-order in early November. Problem solved ….

But not quite. Lenovo quoted a delivery date, and when December rolled around, Russ queried when was his new PC going to be built and shipped. The answer was “We don’t know, but hold tight.” Russ replied, “Not good. Cancel the unfulfilled order.” Lenovo said, and I paraphrase, “You can’t cancel the order because we have released it to our manufacturing supply chain in China. It will arrive when it is built and shipped.” Russ called American Express and put the charge on indefinite hold in case it actually arrives some day.

Moral: 1. Don’t take an order you cannot fulfill. 2. Don’t leave a customer hanging.

Plan B: Dell Gets to Bat
With a little coaching, Russ found what he wanted at an Inspiron desktop without an SSD but with a decent Intel “Haswell” Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive running Windows 10. Price was US$449 with free shipping. The clincher was same-day shipping.

The Unboxing: a Moment of Silence and Sadness
The new PC arrived in four days. I came over Sunday morning with assorted tech bits so we could hook up the new Inspiron and to run Microsoft’s sweet Windows Migration Tool to get it into production. Popped open the chassis, added 4GB of memory, closed the chassis, connected the cables and hit the power-on switch.

Nothing happened. Nada. The PC would not power on in spite of trying different electrical sockets and AC cables. It was a 2015 PC Dead on Arrival.

We were sad but not completely surprised as these things happen — presumably very rarely because of the Dell costs to swap a DOA machine. So, we called Dell Tech Support to get started.

Tech Support: Call Triage
It took eleven minutes to wait on hold, enter the PC service tag, explain to the tech we had a DOA machine that we wanted to swap. The information requested included the service tag, serial number, name and address, and other bits of information — all of which is already stored in Dell’s order entry system but was nevertheless verified and keystroked again into the service system.

We made it through triage and onto tech support’s call resolution team.

Tech Support: Call Resolution Team
This call took eighteen minutes, with most of the time spent on hold at the end waiting to be transferred to Sales. The business-process problem with the call resolution phase is simple: the department is a separate information silo from call triage, and no call or problem data is shared.

Russ had to literally spell out the same answers to information questions including the service tag, serial number, order name and address, and other bits of information that had already been amassed at order-taking and call-triage. Besides boring the customer to tears, the process is a poor use of tech support labor.

Reassuring us that the four-day-old PC was still under warranty, call resolution rang off to run down the DOA return process. After seven minutes, we were told that Sales handled returns and “please hold while I transfer you to that department.”

Sales Support: Waiting for Godot
And we waited some more with occasional call-tree clicks that eventually ended with a recorded message saying “Sales is closed on Sundays, so call us during business hours tomorrow.”

Customer time to non-resolution of a DOA problem: more than 30 minutes. Russ was pissed. I went home to lunch.

Luncheon Epiphany
I often skim the Sunday newspaper advertising inserts to keep track of technology mainstream deals and product positioning. For example, Intel’s Broadwell and Skylake 14nm processors only recently started being featured in PCs at BestBuy, and are still not being advertised at Wal-Mart, Target, Staples, or OfficeMax.

That’s how I found the Staples ad for a Dell Inspiron 1300 desktop with a Intel “Haswell” Core i3 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive running Windows 7 Pro. Price $300, marked down from $580, and $150 less than’s almost identical DOA PC.

I telephoned Russ, he picked the PC up that afternoon, and the migration was well underway on Monday morning. The DOA machine goes back to the Dell factory tomorrow.

Dear Michael,
I silently applauded your taking Dell private because the mature PC industry in a slowing global economy does not need a quarterly spotlight on top of all its other challenges. I expected lots of value could be wrung out of the business with greater efficiencies and focus on key business processes. Dell has been a build-to-order online specialist for, like, thirty years.

So, I was disappointed that Dell’s DOA process involved so many steps across organizational and information silos that cry out for a rethink. I hope you’ll take this missive to heart. You know what to do about this.

No, It’s Not Just Dell and Lenovo …
HP has no laurels to sit on. Even Apple has disappointed me on more than one occasion. As this saga illustrates, the PC industry can do better on customer satisfaction.

The future of personal information technology is not one-size-fits all. It’s “buy what you need and want”. That’s going to take a holistic approach to online sales and service. You would have thought that would be old-hat going into 2016, but apparently not.

Follow @peterskastner on Twitter

Dell Inspiron 3000 Desktop


H-P Strategy: A Tale of Two Consumers

H-P will announce its new corporate strategy in a couple of weeks. I have no role in setting that strategy. However, as this post explains, H-P’s strategy needs to include a renewed commitment to consumer satisfaction if the world’s largest computer company is going to regain some lost mojo.

The H-P Way
A friend called me over to his house a couple of weeks ago to help with his printers. He’s 84 years old, but is a real tech maven. He needed help with his new H-P printer install, which was complicated by the need to install software on the PC as well as WiFi set-up on the printer itself to support wireless clients such as Apple’s iPad ePrint. My pleasure to assist. And H-P did a good job of stepping the consumer through all the install options in its user guide. So, positive grade to H-P for making a very complex product relatively straight-forward. But that’s not the whole story.

Sitting on my friend’s couch was a nearly new H-P Photosmart printer. He offered it to me. Said it made messy photos with ink smears no matter what paper he used. Maybe I could do something with it. Friend said it was 100 days old but the warranty was only good for 90 days. H-P wouldn’t support it, so now it’s a hunk of e-trash.

I went over this whole sorry story with him, step by step, and it’s true. He’s an unhappy customer.

H-P has an industrial-product mentality exacerbated by cost-cutting bean-counters. This fails to excite consumers. It’s a real  turn-off.

In my decade of watching H-P and buying its products, the result for consumers is:

  • Phone support hell to a foreign country where American English is not spoken. Or the chat equivalent;
  • Short warrantees that barely cover infant mortality;
  • Poor to non-existent follow-on software support. For example, devices work under Windows Vista but not under Windows 7.
  • Planned obsolescence, where ongoing support for a model essentially stops when a new product comes out;
  • No follow-through on customer complaints or suggestions.

It does not surprise me that H-Ps consumer business was down in its latest quarter. H-P is also recovering slowly from an embarrassing consumer confidence problem in China, a key growth market.

At best, consumers tolerate H-P, but they sure don’t line up at the store overnight for new product intros or talk H-P up at cocktail parties.

In short, H-P’s approach to the consumer business is totally the opposite from intimacy.

The Apple Way
Another friend recently bent my ear about how pleased she was with Apple support. Her iMac hard drive died in month 38, two months after the warranty ran out. She took the PC to the local Apple store where they confirmed the sad truth of a dead disk. She asked how much a new drive would cost, installed. Apple guru said the failure was so close to the warranty expiration that he’d waive that $360 charges. Had it fixed in two business days even though it was Christmas.

By going beyond the letter of the warranty, Apple made a friend for life.

H-P needs to re-think its face to the consumer market. An ad program touting the “New H-P strategy” is not going to cut it. Although changing “Invent” to “Support” might be a step in the right direction and useful for internal communications.

H-P absolutely, positively needs all the consumer sales it can drive to succeed in its growth plans for the next decade. The global middle-class now emerging is a once a century opportunity. H-P cannot grow revenue and profits at double digit rates on sales to business alone.

H-P does not have to clone the Apple business model, although they could learn from Apple.

Consumers do not always want the lowest price. For PC-related products, many consumers are now sophisticated enough to be willing to buy the entire product-life experience. And there are profits there for delivering that experience.

H-P has a huge, top-tier computer services organization targeted at business. Where is the H-P home IT services business?


H-P Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One

Rant: Apple Safari Browser

I use a 2007 iMac as my daily driver. iMac is an excellent all-in-one PC. I’m thinking of updating it later this year to a Sandy Bridge-based version. But sitting next to the iMac on my console desk is a Windows PC. Why, you might ask? That’s the subject of this rant.

Here’s the near-fatal problem with Safari: there are too many web sites on the Internet that Safari is unable to handle properly. It’s so bad that I really do need that Windows PC next to me.

For example, I never get to see available Mileage Plus award seats at May explain why I’m pushing 500K available miles with United. Can’t log into, a financial site. Wall Street Journal service. So many that I’ve lost track over time.

Over the past three years, I’ve sent Apple lots of bug reports. They make that easy. But Apple doesn’t fix these problems.

Today, in frustration and interest, I installed Google’s Chrome OS running on Parallels Desktop over Mac OS X. Two sites with problems on Safari work fine on Chrome, so I reject the “Microsoft made the web site do it wrong” argument I’ve heard Apple use.

Bottom Line: I cannot recommend a Mac to people who are unwilling to install and use an alternative browser to Apple Safari. Sad but true.