How Dell fixed my monitor order

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Last week I posted a long, angry piece describing how Dell screwed up an important order. Well, important to me. Pissily tiny to them. Within hours I received a phone call from Winston Robins, Dell’s Purchase Experience Manager for Australia and New Zealand.

What immediately impressed me is that he’d actually read what I’d posted, here and on Twitter, and instead of glossing over the mistakes he seemed genuinely interested in finding out what went wrong.

The short version is that the monitors I’d ordered were delivered as quickly as possible after that, and Winston kept me informed of progress at all times. He acknowledged Dell’s mistakes, and said the staff responsible were “coached” — which is a nice little euphemism, eh?

So what went wrong?

In my previous post I said that Dell’s service had failed in three specific ways:

  1. Dell [took] so long to respond to anything. Bounced to “export control” days after the order was placed? Why is this not same-day, even instant?
  2. What was the problem with the credit card? Did I mis-key card numbers? Was there some other problem? Why didn’t Dell detect this when I placed the order two weeks ago? Why not do a $1 transaction then reverse it to check a card’s validity before proceeding?
  3. Why, on five occasions, did Dell promise someone would call back, but no-one called back? Why not have enough staff to handle volume?

Winston Robins provided this on-the-record response — written more formally than his phone conversations presumably because it’s been vetted by Dell’s “corporate communications” people:

Hi Stilgherrian,

I am following-up on our discussion. In response to your three questions:

1. Delayed response to process your order.

Order velocity is one of Dell’s key differentiators. Our goal is to custom build and deliver within Australia on average within 6.6 days from taking the order. Currently we’re hitting 0.5 days from order receipt to in production.

Your order was highlighted as an exception requiring further information and our automated workflow system forwarded this to our team dedicated to resolving the issue. Your order was delayed at this stage. We’ve taken the opportunity to coach those involved to ensure this does not repeat.

2. Credit card.

Credit card processing is the final stage of order confirmation. Only after clearing through our Export Compliance Team do we attempt to charge your credit card. Initially when we charged to your credit card we received an error message. This was subsequently resolved.

3. No ownership or call back.

The best and quickest solution to getting your order in to production was a simple phone call. I’ve provided this feedback to the functional leaders.


Thank you, Winston, for fixing the problem and, just as importantly, taking steps to help ensure no-one else suffers the same fate.

Problems — “mistakes”, “glitches”, “issues”, whatever you want to call them — can happen in the best-designed systems. But as the old saying goes, we need to learn from our mistakes. It sounds to me like a few people have done some learnin’ here!

“This was a case when procedure ruled over common sense,” Winston told me at one point.

Dell’s people were sending emails to call them back, I was calling back, but then when I left my number no-one called me back. They just followed procedure and sent more emails, and the receptionist just followed procedure and kept taking my number and passing it on into the void. Until I exploded at her.

Winston’s observation that “the best and quickest solution… was a simple phone call” is spot on, and I’m glad the relevant people have received that message. It shouldn’t have taken the intervention of a national manager before that happened, though, and certainly not my angry speech to hundreds of Twitter followers before anyone noticed.

One problem with outsourcing is that it’s often done to countries whose tradition is to respect “dutiful people” — those who follow the procedure. This means you can build efficient corporate machines like Dell. But creativity requires you to break the rules to achieve something new and different — and at its heart, problem-solving is a creative activity. A flexible machine usually isn’t efficient.

I accept that this screw-up was probably a rare one from Dell, and I’m pleased it was sorted out efficiently and with good humour — once we got a high-level human on the case.

I acknowledge that Dell makes some good kit — yes, these big monitors are fantastic and I might consider one myself — though if I’m going to do more media work then the colour quality of Apple Cinema Displays would be an important factor.

But whether I try Dell again remains to be seen. I’ve always preferred to deal with a local business who provide a named human to support me, and to order from a warehouse where I can see whether items are in stock now. The nasty taste from this experience is still too strong in my mouth. For the time being.

9 Replies to “How Dell fixed my monitor order”

  1. This Winston sounds like an attentive professional, but is he trying to heave shit up a mountain with the calibre of people he works with? It’s to be expected that the official line will be that this was an ‘isolated incident’ or somesuch. But if the problem was, as you suggest, cultural, systemic and possibly a by-product of outsourcing — then what are the chances of there being far more similar incidents that fall beneath the radar because customers aren’t nearly as vocal and public as you about their experience?

    Just a theory.

  2. @Stephen Stockwell: Watching Twitter for mentions of your brand is vital now. Dell is smart enough to do that precisely so they can deal with problems like mine. I do wonder whether the incident would have been handled personally by a national manager if the complaint hadn’t come from someone who was able to write coherently, had a significant audience on Twitter, wrote for the likes of Crikey and was read by the editor of a Rupert Murdoch news site (Hi, @jg_rat!).

  3. Hey,

    I’ve had an absolutely hellish time with Dell. I placed an order on 21 June 2009 for a new Alienware M17x. I get a confirmation email on 25 June saying they’ve recieved the order and processed it.

    I call them asking for a tax invoice, or maybe a reciept of the order and after spending 3 hours on hold waiting for some moron to pick up the phone I speak to a rude little lady with poor english skills who bluntly tells me they cant provide a tax invoice or a reciept until the goods are delivered. She then hangs up on me.

    So! I call back the next day and spend another 2 hours on hold. While I’m on hold a reciept arrives in my email – DA TA! I end up speaking to a different female who was rather helpful and confirmed delivery of the laptop on 13 July 2009, which I was really happy with.

    On 1 July 2009 I get an email saying delivery is now expected on 5 August 2009… so that just ticked me off some more. Called back, spent 2 hours on hold again to speak to a woman who told me the delivery date previously confirmed of 13 July is ADVISORY only. I asked to speak to a manager and was told they’d get one to call back.

    No call – so I rang again on 3 July and spent another long period on hold, spoke to another moron who said the manager wasnt available. I made it very clear to this person that if a manager didnt call me by COB on Friday 10 July 2009 I’d be making a complaint to Consumer Affairs… they didnt seem to care.

    I’m still waiting for a call back and I still havent got my laptop which I’ve paid bloody good money for and was promised a delivery date of 13 July.

    I will NEVER buy from Dell again nor will I recommend them to anyone else.

    1. I have hated Dell for a very long time. Which is why I haven’t purchased from Dell in a very long time.

      You have my sympathies for having had to deal with them.

  4. @Guy Stevens: The core elements of the poor service you experienced seem to parallel mine. While things can go wrong — nothing’s perfect! — the problem was actually getting a human being to take responsibility for sorting out the problem and staying in touch.

    Dell’s call centre staff seemed to just follow a (flawed) procedure rather than stepping back and thinking about how the customer could be kept happy.

    In my case, things were only sorted out when a senior staff member got on the case. That shouldn’t have been necessary.

    While obviously the order being delayed is a glitch, do you think you could have still been a happy customer had Dell stayed in touch? What would they have to have done to make it work for you — assuming that the delay was unavoidable?

    Do let me know when the machine arrives!

  5. Hi Stil hope you’re well — just found this post via Googleing Winston as I just got off the phone with him then. I applaud Dell for their service as after numerous service calls on my new xps studio (blogged about here – ) they have agreed to replace the entire system. Happy days.

    The interesting case study here is how I “tweeted” my discontent and the resolution took place at a “tweetup” ! Dell are using social media well to service their customers.


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