Dell Hell… but not mine, but perhaps a different circle of the same techno hell

The other guy’s story

Came across this on Tom Raftery’s blog. Looks like Tom’s guest writer Frank P had ‘issues’ with Dell when trying to buy some kit off them. A barrier had been created that prevented him from buying a machine from the UK Dell outlet store simply (it would seem) because the UK uses sterling and the Irish Republic uses the Euro.

This does not seem to be a problem for Marks and Spencer, who will happily charge my credit card in Euros or Sterling when I am buying bits and bobs when on trips to London. Nor do the people in the UK I’ve bought stuff from (including a laptop and spares for my guitar) on ebay have any problems selling to the Republic of Ireland just because we use Euros… they let paypal sort the currency conversion for them and whammo the wifey has a new toy and I can get back to trying to hammer a few tunes out of my much abused fender strat.

Quality is about meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Deming advises us in his 14 Points to ‘break down barriers between departments’. To meet FrankP’s request, Dell could have simply charged him a slightly higher fee to cover currency conversion costs and transport from the UK (chances are the machine is in a warehouse in Ireland though…). Bingo- one sale, one happy customer. The barrier might have more to do with internal accounting for products by the market they are sold to… but that is a supposition on my part.

The economics of this ‘non-quality’

If I’m right, that is just crazy and is an excellent example of how ‘stovepiped’ management of ‘battling business units’ is a fricking recipe for disaster in most businesses and how such artificial barriers to delivery of quality products or service should be torn down.

It’s like having a football team with defenders who won’t pass the ball to their strikers who are in the box with a clear shot on goal and the keeper off his line just because the strikers are paid in Euros while the defenders get their cheques in sterling. (Jaysus, I think that was a football metaphor.. not sure what it means or if it makes sense but it reads well).

If you have ‘seconds’ stock or ‘returns’ you have inventory on hand. That costs money to store and if not sold costs money to dispose of. The longer it is stock on hand (in a warehouse gathering dust) the faster the resale price is dropping (due to obsolescence and the entry of newer/better products into the market at the original price point) and the less likely you are to recoup the cost of production, cost of storage and other related costs. Eventually the inventory becomes ‘below-zero’ in that it will have cost you more than you’ll make by selling it… resulting in declining profit margins.

In order to reduce the costs to your business you should really be trying to sell that fecker to anyone (within the bounds of the law) who comes knocking/calling/writing as soon as possible without putting seemingly petty administrative barriers in the way. Doing so results in a business process that does not meet the expectation of the customer and as such is not a process that delivers ‘quality’. Furthermore it creates a risk of negative profit margins in the business.

Instead Dell got a blog post on a highly trafficked blog (Tom Raferty’s)written by a respected professional pundit on the IT industry and Web2.0 trends (not an amateur by any stretch) where through various comments the customer service issue is discussed at length. And then that post is in turn linked to by me, with my particular perpsective on the issue.

And for all we know the laptop still sits unsold in its cold warehouse shelf, unloved and spurned by the new Vostros and Inspirons that swank by with their swish coloured lids and ‘more bang for your buck’ specifications. Stick a red nose on that laptop and call it Rudolph. It won’t be let join in any laptop games I can tell you.

My saga continues

I have had and continue to have my issues with Dell. Currently I’ve been dealing with John, one of their Customer Advocates, Elizabeth (a Dell Ireland person) and half a dozen others over the past 5 months. At this rate I’ll probably have spoken to more Dell employees than Michael Dell himself by the end of the year.

To cap things off (no pun intended), the ‘Q’ key on my keyboard broke off on Tuesday (too much angry typing of ‘Quality’ I fear and the end of my career as a ghost-writer for James Bond novels unless I do some business re-organisation of MI6 or cut back on the gadgets).


I contacted Dell support and was dealt with promptly. I was informed I’d have the keyboard today. I arranged to work from home to be available to take delivery here. Unfortunately I missed the call from the courier and will need to try to rearrange delivery (hopefully I can get it tomorrow rather than having to work from home Monday as well).

Crappy News

This is the GOOD NEWS. The BAD news is that some strange things happened to my information as it bounced around Dell Customer Support. For one, they changed my name.

Here is the email I received yesterday informing me of delivery:

Dear Mr. Brien,

Thank you for your reply.

Your call has been logged, and your reference number is [edited out by me]. Keyboard will be with you on next business day, between 09.00 and 17.30 (or other local working hours). If you are office based then please advises your reception of the expected Courier visit. You will be contacted in the event of any unforeseen delays.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to assist you. Your case number for this interaction is [edited out by me].

Thank you again for contacting Dell Hardware E-Support.

BRIEN” That’s not my name. That annoys me. That’s not good information quality. Why not?

Well, Dell’s on-line Tech Support form looks like this (once you key in the asset tag that identifies your machine)

Dell’s Support Site

I’ve blocked out the asset tag for my machine (for privacy) and you’ll need to click on the thumnail to see the full image but you’ll need to for the rest of this to make sense…
Note the first two mandatory fields:

  • First Name
  • Last Name

I won’t go into why this is a bad labelling convention that is Anglo-centric (Given Name/Family Name are better)… for now it is enought that Dell’s form has distinct fields for my Firstname (given name): DARAGH and my Lastname (Family Name): O Brien. That’s what got typed in there. So why/how did Dell decide that the “O” in my name was surplus to requirements?

Attention to the little details (like getting my name right or ensuring that my laptop ships with the correct graphics card installed) are evidence of a coherent and congruent quality culture. Soundbites, slogans and self-contratulatory marketing materials don’t build such a culture. The IAIDQ is a professional organisation that exists to support the development of ‘Information/Data Quality’ as a management discipline. Their website is and Dell employees (or anyone for that matter) will find some useful information there about the root causes and real impacts of these types of problems

But back to the happy path

That said… the tech support guy Guaran was great in sorting out the replacement keyboard and I am kicking myself I missed the couriers call when it came bang on schedule.. when you’re good you’re good.