Losing the customer

5 minute read

Dave Stein has been blogging and twittering about his frustrated efforts to buy a new phone. His tale of woe in trying to buy an iPhone from AT&T reminded me of a similar experience I had 8 years ago. In some ways it seems not a lot has changed.

In 2001 my family and I moved back to Ireland from Seattle. We decided that we would not move back to Dublin. We were finally going to give-up the big city life where much too much time was spent sitting in traffic and commuting to work. We had finally achieved a long-term goal and with our three-year-old daughter we looked forward to trading in the hustle, bustle and excitement of a large city for a more relaxed telecommuting based existence in Cork in the south west of Ireland, near where we grew up. We moved in and I set about setting up my home office.

First thing I needed to get sorted out was a new PC. I intended to do quite a bit of writing and graphics work and in the interest of maintaining the health of my eyes, wrists, fingers, and back I wanted to get a desktop, with a good monitor, lots of power and good ergonomics. As Dell employed thousands of people in Ireland (at that time) and they (used to) make good machines, I decided to go with Dell. I went online, configured the PC that I wanted, keyed in the necessary personal details and credit card information and clicked on the SUBMIT button. That’s when things started to go wrong. The site stalled, hiccupped, had a brain cramp or something, but nothing happened. So, I’m a little concerned. My order, along with my details and credit card information, are floating somewhere in the ether and all I’m faced with is a blank screen. What am I to do? I hit the refresh button and the system returned and thanked me for my order. Everything seemed OK.

Just to be sure I thought I had better call Dell to make sure the order had been received correctly and to make sure that refreshing the site at that critical juncture didn’t cause the order to be entered twice. I called the 800 number, got through to sales department and spoke to Michael (not Michael Dell, another Michael). Yes, the order is in the system and no, there does not seem to be more than one order with my name against it. About a week or so later the delivery guy arrived with the boxes, but wait – one computer, six boxes? Dell had sent me two identical machines and when I checked online with my bank I saw that Dell had hit my credit card twice, just the day before.

Well, I will just call Dell, tell them what happened, and get my credited card refunded and they could come and pick up the extra PC at their convenience. It was their mistake after all – I had called to check that there were not two orders placed on the system. I called Michael who assured me he would speak to the finance department and have the problem resolved, though he explained it would take about three days to have the credit card entry reversed. He said someone would call me to confirm when the credit card company had been contacted.

A week went by. I called again. Expressing exasperation that this was not resolved Michael undertook to get it fixed and get back to me. Multiple weeks passed and multiple phone calls ensued, all calls initiated by me, and all to no avail. Then 2 months later someone called to arrange pick-up of the superfluous PC. You can imagine at this point that I was not terribly inclined to give up the only leverage I had until the credit card issue got resolved. I explained this to the nice lady who called who said she would look into it and get back to me. I never heard from her again. My confidence in Dell being about to solve my problem had completely ebbed.

About this time, a friend of mine who was also re-doing his home office, called by to chat. I relayed for him the Dell saga and he was delighted, not with the fact that I was getting screwed around by Dell, but because he too wanted a new PC and fast. He would take the spare PC off my hands, pay me the price I paid Dell (or rather Dell took from me) and he could get set up without having to worry about choosing or evaluating systems.

Dell never fixed the problem and then five months later, someone again called me to arrange pick up of the spare PC!

I’m a very happy Apple Macbook user now.

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