Dude, you’re gettin’ a Dell

Well, I figured it’s high time I concluded the little cliffhanger tale I spun nearly a month ago regarding my Dell laptop ordeal. (Click here to read Part One.)

Anyway, after receiving three consecutive non-operational motherboards from Dell, I decided to call Dell Customer Service to complain about the sorry service I was receiving and to (hopefully) negotiate for some type of discount on the price of the part ($299). I also spoke to an employee at BYU Computer Service & Repair and encouraged him to have Iley also exert pressure on his Dell rep to somehow compensate me for the ridiculously long wait and inconvenience.

My previous experience contacting Dell Customer Service on the phone did not reflect favorably on the company; I spent nearly a full hour "on hold" before I got to talk with a CSR. I have heard tales of others spending hours and hours on the phone. (Yikes!)

Thankfully, I only had to wait about 10-15 minutes before I got to talk to someone. Unfortunately, he claimed to be the wrong guy to talk to ("I’m Technical Support, and you need someone from our Customer Care department"), so I was transferred to that area and had to wait another 5 minutes to talk to someone. I explained my situation to her: that I needed a replacement motherboard, that I was willing to pay for said motherboard, but that since Dell was unable to send a working part, I would like to pay a discounted price for it. Then she surprised me by asking, "How much of a refund do you want?"

"Umm . . . 50 percent," I said. I wasn’t prepared to start negotiating for how much money the company should give me, so I thought it best to start high and work toward a compromise amount. The operator put me on hold while she spoke with her manager to obtain approval for the discount. She came back on a few minutes later and said, "I’m sorry, but your request for a 50 percent discount was denied by my manager. However, I am prepared to offer you a 6 percent discount on the price of the part."

Six percent?! I couldn’t believe how the company was trying to strong-arm me. Six percent would amount to about $16-17 bucks, I thought, and that was a pretty poor "apology" in my mind. I asked to speak with the manager and was transferred to his line.

I rehashed my story to the manager, who told me that Dell would not offer me a discount on the motherboard because my laptop was out of warranty. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I said, "Can you explain to me how the fact that my laptop is out of warranty has anything to do with Dell’s inability to ship a functional motherboard?" He didn’t offer me any explanation, but reiterated his position: if my computer had been under warranty when the accident occurred, Dell would have covered the cost of the part. No warranty meant that I had to pay. I replied that I did not dispute the fact that the warranty was expired, nor the fact that I was willing to pay the full cost of the motherboard. It was the company’s incompetence that I had issues with, and the problem for which I wanted to receive some degree of compensation. But this manager was either incapable of or unwilling to acknowledge my point, and stubbornly clung to his logically untenable position. Finally, I decided to stop clinging to the hope of getting a decent discount or refund out of the whole thing, and told him that the previous operator I had spoken to had offered a 6 percent discount instead of the one I had suggested. To this he responded, "I’m sorry sir, but that discount is only for computers still under warranty. I will have to speak with the representative in question and correct her, as she was mistaken. I can, however, offer you a coupon for $60 off a future purchase from Dell."

Now I was fuming. I said, "At this point, Dell will be lucky to receive any more of my business! Well, it seems clear that I’m going to have to get this issue resolved some other way." And I ended the conversation, having wasted over an hour on the phone getting nowhere.

I went straight into the nearest Open Access computer lab and typed out a complaint against Dell to the Better Business Bureau. That made me feel a little better, but I still didn’t have a laptop.

A few days later I received an e-mail from Iley. The Dell CSR he was working with in Twin Falls (Idaho) had proposed a FREE system exchange for my laptop. Dell had the complete specs of my system, and would replace my computer with one that either met or exceeded those specs at the company’s choice. It would be a refurbished model, but it would solve my problem. Or, we could keep trying motherboards until we got one that worked. Iley suggested the exchange option, and I agreed.

In the meantime, I received a call from one of Dell’s Executive Customer Support folks. It seemed my BBB complaint had definitely gotten someone’s attention, and Dell wanted to clear its name in a bad way. The fellow I spoke with, James, was extremely courteous and professional – everything the manager whom I had formerly spoken to wasn’t. He apologized for the poor service I experienced, confirmed the system exchange, and related to me how the company was working to train its CSRs to "own" a customer problem, as a result of Dell’s poor customer service rankings over the past few years. All in all, it was a very pleasant conversation. I agreed to have my BBB complaint resolved and the case closed.

A few days later (right after Thanksgiving), I received a call from Iley at the Bookstore. My laptop had arrived! Except that it wasn’t an Inspiron 5160 (the one I had previously) – it was an Inspiron 9400, with all the bells and whistles. Woo hoo!

Here’s a feature comparison between the laptop I bought from Dell in November 2004 and the laptop I received for FREE in November 2006:

  Dell Inspiron 5160 Dell Inspiron 9400
CPU Intel P4 3.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 @ 2.16 GHz (equivalent to 3.24 GHz)
Operating System Windows XP SP1 Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (with remote!)
RAM 512 MB 1 GB (upgraded to 2 GB on 29 January)
Hard disk 60 GB 120 GB
Screen size 15.4" WXGA 17" widescreen UXGA
Video card nVidia GeForce Go 5600 (64 MB) ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 (256 MB)
External drive DVD/CD combo drive, CD+/-R writing capability DVD+/-R/RW writing capability (dual-layer compatible), CD+/-R writing capability
USB ports 2 6

Plus, my new computer comes with the Dell MediaDirect function, Intel’s PRO Wireless card, a 5-in-1 card reader, and Bluetooth capability (I installed the Dell 355 Bluetooth card just last week, and a Bluetooth adapter for my HP printer is set for delivery on Wednesday, so I can print wirelessly here at home – cool). I also bought the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick (a USB-enabled TV tuner) with some birthday money, which means I can also use my laptop as a DVR (digital video recorder) and schedule recordings of my favorite TV shows and movies up to two weeks in advance. Plus, it receives free over-the-air HDTV signals from all of the major broadcast networks (though reception is poor in my basement apartment). I can watch high-def video in full 1080p without my laptop even breaking a sweat. I’d want to upgrade the RAM to 2 GB before considering an upgrade to Vista (edit: done 1/29/2006), but other than that it’s all set to go. Wow!

Dell associated the new computer order with my account, so I had a chance to see how much this thing cost them (in retail terms, of course): $1842.94. Very nice!

So, Dell did alright in my book. Was it worth six weeks of aggravation and laptop-lessness to get such a sweet deal? I don’t know – but it sure is hard to deny a free laptop.

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