I’ve been dealing with a hard-drive crash in my Dell laptop the past couple of days and its opened my eyes to what I consider to be a serious issue in the technical industry.  The tech industry has become central to our culture, part of our identity in modern times.  So what happened to the customer service?

For example, in the past 2 weeks for my Dell Inspiron 1545 I needed a new keyboard, hard-drive and restore disk.  So, what do I do?  Go to my account on support.dell.com, login and start digging around…when I cannot find anywhere to download the operating system software, and no replacement parts link, I try to open a chat window.

They want me to pay for out-of-warranty chat (oh and don’t try this in IE 8, all the dell support links break the 2nd level in).  I try to call support; they transfer me 3 times taking up 40 minutes until I get to a guy that says he can only help me if I give him a credit card and approve a $35 fee.  Finally, in frustration, I hang up on everyone and call in to Dell sales.  They give me the Dell replacement parts line.  This fella wants to know the part number off my keyboard to send a replacement, and I have to pay for the operating system disk to restore my machine.

Uncle.  You win Dell, you’ve got great hardware, good prices, but I don’t ever want to have to talk to you again.  Ever.  I’ll have to, I’m sure, but you wasted enough of my time giving me the run-around when I was just trying to buy stuff from you to keep my machine working.

My dell is now using a $62 after-market SATA drive that I bought at Software & More around the corner from here (great guys, if you need computer stuff in Salt Lake City, go to them, they are honest, forth-coming and respectful) and its running Ubuntu 10.10 while I try to figure out what to do about the Windows 7 license printed on the bottom of the machine that ought to give me license to an operating system nobody will give me…

Granted, there’s no chat or phone support for Ubuntu (unless I pay for it) but there are literally 100’s of forums full of people eager to help me with anything…the big computer companies don’t even have community pages.

There’s something very wrong here.  In an industry that is leading our culture, talking to a major player, I couldn’t in 2 hours of time get a sales rep to help me.  What does that say about where we are headed?  That a major industry player cannot even successfully sell me a component I need to keep my machine running without putting me off to 3 different team-members, in 2 countries, over the course of 2-3 hours?

Dell, Gateway, Microsoft and any other big boys listening, you gotta wake up.  I think it was Heinlein that said, “You can tell the decline of a civilization by the ways its people treat each other…”

Doesn’t bode well folks.

Then again, Software & More, the neighborhood store…the sales rep said to me, “Hey, if you have any trouble, call us back and come back in, we’ve a tech right here…I’m sure he’ll talk to you about any issues you’ve got.”

Next laptop I buy will probably come from those guys, even if its a bit more money.

Maybe its just the big boys with the cultural issues around customer service…that would probably be ok with me.