I’ve bought at least two dozen computers from Dell in the past five years. Three of them are still here in my office, including the PC I’m typing this post on and the server that runs my home network. I’ve lost count of the number of PCs I’ve bought from Dell for friends and neighbors.
In the past year, though, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with Dell, thanks to support policies that have turned practically hostile. Last year I had to fight for months to get a $200 rebate that I was entitled to. I ordered a PC with this rebate and received paperwork indicating a purchase date that was several days after the actual date on which I bought the PC – and, not concidentally, after the date on which the rebate expired. I was one of many Dell customers who experienced this problem, a fact I uncovered thanks to the excellent Dell support forums. But Dell’s customer service representatives didn’t seem interested in this problem, and it took at least 10 phone calls, my blood pressure rising a few points with each one, to get the rebate. On the last call, the outsourced Dell rep tried valiantly to talk me into settling for 25 cents on the dollar. Nice try.
Last week I had another run-in with Dell. A good friend has a four-year-old Dell Dimension 4100 that still does everything she wants it to do. The trouble is, it has a case fan that sounds like it could qualify for a Nascar event. It’s so loud that you can literally hear it two rooms away when the door is closed. Needless to say, she now turns on the computer, does her online tasks, and then shuts down.
This is a known problem with the Dimension 4100, I learned from the Dell forums, and many people received replacement fans when they complained. Good for them, because the fan is a proprietary part, consisting of a plastic bracket containing a standard 92mm case fan. I have a spare fan, but there’s no way to remove the defective fan from the bracket without breaking the bracket into pieces, and there’s no easy way to attach a standard fan to the case (except by using duct tape or Super Glue).
I found the part number and tried to order a replacement from Dell. After hours on hold, I found that the part was out of stock. Three different reps promised to check on the part’s status and get back to me. None of them did. The last one I spoke to told me I was simply out of luck.
On my 12th call, after complaining loudly, I was transferred to a customer service representative who searched Dell’s worldwide inventory, found the part, and agreed to ship it to me, free of charge. That should have been the response on the first call.
It’s unfortunate when a manufacturer uses proprietary parts instead of standard parts. It’s worse when they don’t keep those parts in stock for the tens of thousands of customers who own those computers. And it’s practically unforgivable when they treat those customers like a nuisance instead of an asset.
I used to recommend Dell enthusiastically. I’m not sure I’ll do so again – and I know I’ll look carefully at my friendly local PC builder first.