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

Smartphones & Gadgets are Additive, Not Alternatives, to PCs

Deloitte’s technology sector chairman “predicts a significant consumer and enterprise shift away from the desktop and laptop personal computer (PC) in favor of mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and netbooks in its forecast of top trends for the technology sector in 2011.” I strongly beg to differ. Deloitte is but one of many press and analyst examples suggesting that smartphones, tablets, and netbooks are substitutions to traditional desktop and laptop PCs.

The last year has seen the market explode with a number of powerful alternatives to the traditional PC, and they are well-suited for an already mobile and always-connected U.S. population,” said Eric Openshaw, vice chairman and technology sector leader, Deloitte LLP. “Driven by high demand on the consumer side and the ever-increasingly distributed workforce, the enterprise will embrace mobile computing platforms in a big way. Online privacy is no longer a major barrier to adoption as companies proactively manage security policies to ensure the corporation is safely Web-enabled around the clock regardless of location or device.”

The large and small companies I talk to have seriously embraced smartphones. RIM’s Blackberry is incumbent but looking shaky as employees bring in Apple’s iPhone and Google Android-based smartphones to work. Smartphones are old news. But I cannot name one knowledge-worker on the planet who has or would turn in a traditional PC for a smartphone. You can’t can’t survive the onslaught of emails let alone attachments with a smartphone. Read them? Maybe, but not update and reply. It’s just not productive to attempt this. A non-starter.

Netbooks were the 2009 story. Fairly inexpensive, netbooks feature a low-power and low-performance processor with a roughly ten-inch screen. The best point of netbooks, users widely report, is the thin-and-light form-factor. Women in particular sought out netbooks to avoid the weight and unfashionable bulk of a traditional laptop bag. Male road-warrior counterparts, suffering shoulder-bag-caused muscular problems, also tried out netbooks. But lackluster performance and scrunchy screens made netbooks for enterprise a fad that faded in 2010.

Meanwhile, traditional laptops — led by thin-and-light models such as Dell’s Adamo and Apple’s MacBook Air — continued to expand market share. With the latest low-voltage microprocessors such as the new Intel Sandy Bridge chips, sub-three pound laptops will be very popular. The enterprise is buying them in greatly increased quantities because they meet employee’s demands for full-function PCs that don’t weigh a proverbial ton, and can be fully secured, even when lost.

Tablets, of course, are the next great thing. I have an iPad on my living room coffee table. Great for evening multi-tasking. Great for down-time on business trips. OK for business consumption uses like e-mail, including looking at attachments. But marginal for business knowledge-worker applications, even web-based ones. And data storage and synchronization are a problem. Security is also rudimentary at best. Yes, you’ll see CEOs entering the Board Room with tablets and senators walking onto the senate floor with a tablet. But CEOs do not an enterprise make; every top executive has an administrative staff fully wired to the enterprise network with a traditional PC or laptop.

There are no Global 1000 enterprises today replacing most traditional desktop and laptop PCs with smartphones, netbooks, or tablets, to my knowledge. Perhaps Deloitte has widespread engagements headed in that direction, but I doubt it.

Smartphones, netbooks, tablets and future smart gadgets are additive, supplemental devices that make employees more productive. They are not acceptable alternatives. They do not in the foreseeable future replace the current traditional PC infrastructure. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Source: Deloitte press release