Dell hell comes to an end…

My Dell Hell has come to an end. The outcome is not entirely what I had hoped for, but at least the issue has been resolved and I understand what has beeng going on.

Thanks to John who took the time to follow through and look at the information that I had posted on this blog about the graphics card that was installed in my laptop. I had ‘spoken with data’ by presenting a screen shot of the diagnositics utility for the graphics card. John took this information and responded in kind – he provided information to me that explained that what I was seeing in the graphics card diagnostics confirmed that the graphics card that was installed in my laptop now is the graphics card that I ordered.

5 months of frustration on my part, half a dozen graphics cards sent to me by Dell and the root cause of the problem was a failure of the information provided about the graphics card to properly meet – or perhaps more accurately to properly set- my expectations as to the performance and capability of the graphics card.

5 months of costs that could easily have been avoided if the information provided about the graphics card had been complete and timely.

It transpires that the hypermemory technology used in the ATI graphics cards means that the card ships with 128mb dedicated video ram but it ‘borrows’ from the system memory as required, up to a maximum of 256MB. Unfortunately there is nothing in the laptop that shows this, leading to confusion. The bios registers 128mb, and the graphics card’s own diagnositics display 128MB with no mention of the ‘reserve tank’ that can be dipped into. There is no indication that the card has a greater capability in reserve.

John found only one specific reference to this in the on-line documentation for the model of laptop. This was in a footnote. This is important information… it should perhaps have been put in a more prominent position in the documentation?

In my email discussions with John on this topic we discussed various options that might be explored to improve the presentation of information about these types of graphics card technologies. He assured me he would bring them forward as suggestions to improve the customer experience for Dell customers. I hope he does so and some changes are implemented. The business case for doing this is simple.. it avoids support costs and increases customer satisfaction.

My suggestions to John included:

  1. Information about how the cards work should be presented at point of sale. In particular information about what customers should expect to see in any diagnostics tools should be provided.
  2. The information about how ‘hypermemory’ type graphics technologies work should be promoted from a footnote to a more prominent position in on-line and print documentation.
  3. Dell should request (or even require) the manufacturers of these graphics cards to modify their diagnostic tools to display the on-board video RAM and the maximum capacity of the ‘reserve tank’ in system memory that can be utilised. I’ll discuss this last suggestion in a bit more detail in a moment.

My suggestion regarding the change to the manufacturer’s own utilities would more accurately reflect the capabilities of the card and align what the utilities show and what the manufacturer (and by extension Dell) advertise the capacity of the card to be. This information could be displayed as follows:

Dedicated Video Ram = 128MB
Maximum Available System RAM = 128MB
Maximum Graphics Memory Available= 256MB

The maximum available system ram value could be hard-coded value based on the model of the card. This would allow a single software fix to address all models of graphics cards. The amended diagnostic control panels could be pushed to Dell customers as a software update. This is not a difficult fix and would quickly address the root cause of the issues at hand. If the diagnostic utility currently installed had shown a ‘memory audit’ like the one above I wouldn’t have raised the support issue in the first place and my blog would have been a quieter place for the last few months.

By increasing the completeness of the information, the accuracy of it improves and the risk of consumers such as myself from raising support cases and pursuing issues which, ultimately, are a result of poor quality information leading to a failure in clear communication as to what the capability of the card is and what the purchaser’s expectation should be.

Personally, I feel that this technology is a fudge and the way the information about the capability of the cards is presented by the manufacturers is misleading. I hope that Dell take this opportunity to implement simple changes to improve the quality of information.

The business case for these changes can be determined easily by Dell based on the number of support cases raised, the length of time/amount of resources expended on investigating and dealing with these cases and the costs of any replacement cards shipped to customers. This is the cost of non-quality.

The benefit to Dell of reducing the risk of confusion is the savings that would result through a reduction in these types of support calls. The return on investment would be straightforward to calculate from there, however based on my experience in information quality management I would suggest that the costs to Dell of the three remediation actions I have suggested would be far less than the costs of service issues arising simply from poor quality information.

The Information Quality lessons that I would suggest people take from this saga:

  1. Poor Information Quality can impact all processes
  2. The actions that can be taken to prevent Information Quality problems are often simple, straightforward and easy to implement. The key factor is to focus on the customer and determine what steps need to be taken to ensure your processes and information are meeting or exceeding their expectations
  3. Speak with Data– when I posted the screen shot from the graphic card utility I provided information to Dell (and to the world) about what I was seeing and the basis on which I felt there was a problem. This then allowed John to validate what I was saying, and he responded in kind with detailed information (including links to wikipedia and the footnote in the on-line Dell documentation). This enabled clear, accurate and effective communication based the facts, not anecdote or hearsay and lead to me being happy to close the issue.

I promised John I would eat some humble pie. I was wrong in my belief that the graphics card that was installed in my laptop was not the spec that was ordered. I am grateful to John and those in Dell who tried to resolve the issue.

However the fact that the issue arose in the first place has at its root the quality of information about the graphics card and its capability. The fact that the issue dragged on for 5 months is, in part, due to the fact that it seemed that there was a lack of information within some areas of Dell about what the capability of the card was and what the situation actually was and a failure to effectively communicate this.

And John’s explanation doesn’t address why the first replacement card that was shipped to me for my laptop was a graphics card for a desktop…

….that still makes me chuckle in bemusement.

9 thoughts on “Dell hell comes to an end…”

  1. Thank you for your wonderfully written blog explaining the problem in detail. I will bring this article you’ve written to others in the company as an exhibit of changes that could be made. Since part of the marketting is done by our partners (NVIDIA and AMD), there is a limit to what we can do, but I think this at least needs proper attention.

    As to the desktop card…

    I can only chuckle in bemusement myself. Having been a phone representative myself in the past, I don’t really understand how that mistake could have been made. Mistakes do happen, as we are all human, but that one is pretty ridiculous. I once again apologize for all of this frustration you’ve endured.

    Let me know if you need anything!

    Dell Customer Advocate

  2. Daragh O Brien


    I’ve been a call-centre jockey in my time as well (agent, team leader and trainer). My sense is that the desktop card was shipped either because:

    • The asset tag was miskeyed or not available to the agent leading to an incorrect association to a desktop model and, as a result, a desktop card.
    • The desktop card was the first on a drop down list and got picked first because there where 99 other calls in the queue and they had to deal with me quickly (not the agent’s fault – I’ve always argued that focussing on these ‘quota’ metrics actually increases risk of non-quality and call-backs, leading to increases in call volumes over the long haul.).
    • It was 10 minutes to quitting time on a Friday in the despatch centre and they needed to get their target of support issue shipments out for the day/week so they could go and have a beer and start the weekend, so they rushed the process and picked the wrong card from the pick bins.

    I could be totally wrong on any or all of these but they are good theories (imho).

  3. Daragh:

    Having followed this saga for months, it’s good to know that your issues have been resolved. 😎

    This does sound like a case of Information Presentation Quality (or lack thereof) causing problems.

    What surprises me the most (now that we know the full story) is the fact that this issue isn’t raised by more customers. If it were a common ‘problem’ I imagine Dell Support would have resolved this much sooner.

    Kudos to John for getting to the heart of the problem.


  4. Michelle,

    I think it is extremely likely that other customers may have experienced similar issues. That’s why I suggest that the Business Case for pushing changes through could be built easily by looking for the number of instances of this type of issue that might be logged by Dell Tech support.

    Even if the issue is resolved on one call there is still a dollar (or euro or rupee) cost of handling that call. An internal study a few years ago in one of the Irish telcos identifed that an average 1 to 2 second saving on call handling times per call over the course of a year saved the company a substantial amount in overhead and pay costs. This study was the key input into the business case for the deployment of a more advanced IVR system to handle the common/simple queries and take those calls out of the call centres entirely. Call avoidance saves money in the Call centre world.

    Poor information quality and poor quality presentation of information in my case effectively drove an increase in calls and queries which cost money to deal with.

    As an aside, I’ve discovered that ATI do actually manufacture a laptop graphics card that has 256mb on-board video ram (giving a 512mb total video memory using the wonderfully non-confusing hypermemory technology). I found it on the ATI website. Click on this link and then click on ‘Notebook Graphics Processors’. If I can ever figure out how to get my hands on one (without having to buy totally new laptop) I’ll let you know how it works out. 😉

  5. Also I suspect that my perhaps dogmatic stance on things may have resulted in this issue lingering for as long as it did.
    I was operating on the basis of what all the diagnostics and utilities on my laptop were telling me about the card and it wasn’t until John presented a very clear and detailed explanation of the situation (which took the screenshot I’d put up of what I was seeing as its starting point) that Dell and I finally got talking the same language and the reality of the situation became clear.

    I’ve personally learned an important lesson about the need to ‘speak with data’ when dealing with a quality management issue and the truth of what Gil Grissom says in CSI… “focus on the one thing that doesn’t lie; the evidence”. Speaking with data allowed us to move the conversation to the appropriate level.

    Now I just need to figure out how to write this one up for the IAIDQ Newsletter in a way that adds value all round (and doesn’t make me look like a pedantic jackass!).

  6. Dell customer support nightmare!

    I ordered a Dell desktop in Spain on the 7th of August with several additions and without the monitor as I had already bought a 24″ screen for home use 2 months ago. First thing they do is request I fax or email a copy of my phone bill to verify that the address really belongs to me!!! What an intrusion of privacy…and I am already a returning customer. Anyway, delay notification on August 11, seems to be rather common. I check in the status and on Monday I get a picking list description, monitor included….

    Quickly call customer support but it seems: nothing can be done, the order is placed and ‘the mechanism is already working and can’t be stopped’. The monitor is not yet shipped so I tell them, PLEASE! do not send it, I don’t want it. No, I have to receive it first before I can return it…. what a waste.

    Anyway, Sat. August 18, I receive the invoice per mail, monitor is still included but no extra RAM, no TV card, not the cable-free keyboard and mouse. Standard configuration all individualizations ignored…Funny, my original order was considerably more expensive than what they are invoicing me for…

    Monday Aug 20 on the phone with customer support. Nothing can be done, I have to take this desktop the way it is. I can return the monitor but pay for the shipping costs, which will be higher than the cost of the monitor, so I better just keep it. I protest and to compensate they will send me the keyboard and mouse for free. I tell them I don’t want this, reply is that I can always cancel the order, a take it or leave it situation. The guy’s called Osama and doesn’t let me talk or explain and only says no no no, so I request to speak with his manager, he doesn’t want to but I insist.

    Guy called Adil says to be the manager, I explain, basically you are sending me the basic configuration in your offer, not taking into account the additional ordered extra’s but including the monitor. He promises to call back but doesn’t, so I call a few more times but never get him on the phone again.

    August 21, trying to talk to Adil one more time, no use, a girl gets on the phone, Fatia or Fatima, says Adil’s offer is as follows: you can buy the additional components from them (how nice) and return the monitor. So I ask how much will this be, who will install the components, what about the returning of the monitor, who pays for the shipping, no concrete answers, this is customer support, not sales, but I can call sales if I want. I request them to send me by email all the details, if someone opens the PC will the warranty still be valid? etc. Just to make sure they understand what I want I write to customer support via the Dell online form to customer support, no answer no acknowledgment of reception.

    August 22, nothing in the mail, no calls from Dell. I’m pretty scared now so I call them, try Osama again; the no no no guy: I want to cancel the order. OK fine, all I need to do is reject the order…. sounds too easy.

    Just to make sure I print out Dell’s only communication piece I have with the delay notification and all their numbers. On this document I write that I want to cancel the order, fax it to several numbers I could find and also send it to their offices in France. I also call VISA to explain what is happening and that I don’t want this payment to go through, they tell me that they will send me documents to initiate a dispute with Dell. I seriously hope I have not been scammed and nothing more is to happen.

    August 23: After having cancelled the order I receive another call from Dell. After explaining the whole entire story again the guy says that he recommends taking the order. Telling him I cancelled it doesn’t seem to work. He tells me that Dell would run with the shipping costs of returning the monitor which is over €300. I tell him I have not not received anything from this Dell order. That the order is cancelled, that it is not what I ordered. He replies ‘you are asking for a LOT’ I tell him I am not asking for a lot, I just want the configuration I ordered, that I am not asking for anything for free (just to make sure there is no misunderstanding) He replies that he recommends me taking the order to avoid further problems. He says he checks my account and sees I have already paid for the machine… Very intimidating indeed. I tell him again, order is cancelled, he then tells me again I am asking for A LOT… (I really do not understand what he means with this) and that I am a new customer and that he can’t do me any favours…

    August 27, I speed up Visa to process the transaction dispute as I am starting to become scared that they are going to give me huge problems giving back my money. I receive an email from a certain Neil who has read a chat conversation I sent him about how difficult it is to have a conversation with customer support. In his email he asks me why I just don’t swap items or cancel and reorder….

    He must certainly have a distorted picture of what the Dell’s customer support reality is. I any event I sent him a lenghty email, maybe this is someone who cares about the service Dell is offering and of course I am hoping that I get my money refunded.

    Conclusion: this is the first time I have problems with an online supplier, it is also the greatest customer support nightmare I have ever had. I feel very disappointed and will never ever buy anything from Dell again. I have been a Dell customer since 1993, bought my first PC from them (486SX), since then I bought my father a desktop, my mother a laptop and 2 huge 24″ screens.

  7. Marc,

    I’d love to be able to help you as it sounds like you have had a big problem with Dell. Unfortunately, the objective of this blog isn’t to beat up on Dell – I just had a bad experience triggered by poor Information Quality, so I thought I’d blog about it to show the impact of poor quality information on consumers and businesses. Your problem seems to be somewhat bigger than mine.

    It sounds like at least some of the root cause of your problem might be poor quality information in the order to fulfillment process, and certainly poor quality information on the part of the Call Centre staff as to your rights (as you were buying the computer via Dell’s website within the EU the EU Distance Selling Regulations apply to your transaction and give you certain protections – I’m not sure how the rules might have been applied in Spain however so you should check with your local Consumer rights advocacy group).

    What I would also suggest is that if you have a blog site create a post about your issue and tag it/categorise it with the term “dell-hell”. Dell have a team of internet outreachers looking for customers like you and me to try and resolve the difficulty. My experience is that once the facts are clearly explained usually a resolution can be resolved.

    However, it is very clear that you did not get what you ordered and Dell have dropped the ball here. I’d definitely suggest you contact your local Consumer Rights advocacy group to confirm what the legal protections are that are open to you in Spain (I suspect they will be similar to those in Ireland but I am not qualified to give any advice on the legalities here).

  8. I purchased a PC from Dell 12 months back on their “so called” from what was advertised and what I was told by the sales person at the time was pay €10 for 12 months and pay off the remaining amount at the end of the 12 months interest free.
    Great I thought at the time, anyway I rang Dell Finance yesterday to clear off the remaining amount as the 12 months is up. So there was myself yesterday going to pay the remaining €2000 only to be told I would have to pay nearly €2500.

    As you can imagine I wasn’t happy and asked why I had to pay an extra €500, turns out that this extra €500 is commission that the sales department at Dell will receive. According to the guy in the finance company I’m not the only person that has been ringing about this and that he was sick of this happening and told me to ring Dell themselves to try sort something out.

    So I rang Dell customer service, after been panned off from person to person (5 in total) I end up talking to the most unhelpful, lying person you could ever get. I asked him about this commission and was told there was no such thing in place, so I asked to speak to his supervisor, he wouldn’t get him, “I’ll get him to call you” he said. So I said I would wait on the line until I got speaking to him to which I’m told he would not get him.
    This went on for a bit so I read him my rights, he then tells me to ring the finance company as it’s out of their hands and nothing to do with them. It was obvious he didn’t want to speak to me. In the end I managed to get him to ring the finance company with me still on the line.

    I told the person in the finance department the whole story, he then talked to the guy from Dell saying that are sick of this stunt going on and asked him why he told me this commission didn’t exist, why I was lied too and asked why he would not let me speak to his supervisor. This then turned into a row between the two of them, I’m there still on the line listening to this thinking to myself what sort of a business is Dell running.
    It ends up the guy from Dell hung up and the guy in the finance department suggest I take it further, so I did, I went and rang the NCA (National Consumer Agency).

    So it’s now in the hands of the NCA and there not impressed one bit and neither am I.

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