Thursday, June 14, 2007

Customer Support - Pt 1

(A bit of a long post, so be patient)

The Background

Recently Will had an interesting experience at a local (to him) Mexican eatery:
I ate at a restaurant that I usually don’t eat at [...] but I won’t be eating there again.

The problem is that all of their enchilada plates only came with two enchiladas. I’m a three enchilada guy at least, four if I forgo the rice and beans or if I’m really hungry. Two just whets my appetite. I asked the waiter if I could pay extra to get a third enchilada and he told me that they didn’t sell enchiladas a la carte. If I wanted that third enchilada, I had to order a second plate and spend a whopping $13 for four enchiladas for lunch.

Whether I go to a place or not depends on whether or not I can get what I want. So nevermind the extra buck they would have made by charging me two for an enchilada, they’ve lost my business.

I commented:

I think a lot of restaurant businesses, especially those that are more fast-serving than others, are so tied to the buttons on their cash register there’s no room for improvising. If there’s not a button on there for “Double cheeseburger with extra pickles and a little relish” then you can’t have it that way because there’s no way to ring it up.

And in a sit-down place like a Mexican restaurant the employees may have been given explicit instructions from the management not to make up special orders because they don’t want to give the waiters and managers the power to set prices on non-standard items. While it would seem a no-brainer to sell one enchilada a la carte for $3.50 when a two-plater costs $7, what do they do when someone wants a special three turkey tacos, two guacamole enchiladas, an all-bean burrito and a side of vegetarian con queso? I wouldn’t even know how to start pricing that one, so the owners probably say NO SPECIAL ORDERS, period.

It doesn’t make sense to be short-sighted enough not to offer a la carte in the first place, but that’s what I think the reason is at that restaurant.
The bottom line is that in some establishments, most particularly franchises of large chains or bureaucracy-heavy national companies, employees and managers are not given any freedom to improvise service for customers that have special requests or needs. If an item or combination is not on the menu, it's simply not available. No breaking up a $3.50 2-taco combo into 1 taco for $1.75 for you because management won't allow it, it's not on the register, I don't know how much to charge, there's no way to record it, it'll mess up the bookkeeping, etc. This can be frustrating for the consumer that expects good customer service.

Now, this doesn't excuse some consumers who want special treatment for everything and get frustrated when the employee doesn't bend over backward for their every need. There's a middle ground that is difficult for some consumers to reach as well. So we're not entirely blameless.

But still, giving more flexibility to front-line employees and mid-level managers to adapt goods and services to the immediate needs of the customer would be a smart idea for any business.

Case in point for me, Dell Computers.

Dell Computers

Some background: About 5 years ago I bought a Dell Dimension 4100 desktop system online, and have been quite happy with the setup. Now that BrainyBoy is entering middle school I figured it was time to give him that PC and upgrade the family unit. A few days ago I saw an online promotion at, an online site that finds good deals for merchandise across the web. The link led straight to the Dell website, and I was able to follow the online process and get a nice new Dimension C521 Desktop.

(specs if anyone's interested)
* AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+
* Genuine Windows XP Home Edition
* 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz- 2DIMMs
* 160GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/ DataBurst Cache
* 16X DVD-ROM Drive
* 20 inch E207WFP Widescreen Digital Flat Panel
* NVIDIA GeForce 6150 LE Integrated Graphics GPU
* Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio

Anyway, the great thing about the promotion was the Digital Flat Panel monitor was included, which knocked about $250 off what the total price could have been. In fact, I added an additional $40 to bump the monitor up to a 22" model. Sweet :)

But I digress.

Anyway, as I'm placing the order I notice a separate promotion prominently featured all over the Dell site offering a free 1GB to 2GB memory upgrade with purchase of a C521 system with Athlon X2 4000+ processer. Double sweet! The problem was I couldn't find any instructions on how to apply the upgrade to an existing order. My order was placed and being processed (with an additional bonus of free 3-5 day shipping - triple sweet!!) but no notice that the 1GB to 2GB upgrade was automatically applied.

Customer Support - Chat and Email

So I started the customer support route. The Award Winning Dell Customer Service. First I tried the revolutionary Online Chat service - a very handy tool, actually. I was connected to a live rep...somewhere. Actually, I eventually spoke to about 3 different Online Chat Reps, and each was unhelpful, referring me to a different Chat area. Finally I gave up, as Online Chat support was unable to provide any useful information. In each case I provided them with specific information on the system I had bought, the memory upgrade promotion, and what I was expecting Dell to provide via terms of the offer.

Next I tried the regular customer support email route (note that I am always loathe to talk face-to-face via phone to tech or customer support... I am not a good phone talker, and prefer to take time to sort out my thoughts and facts on a keyboard rather than try to remember everything I need to know at the spur of the moment). I emailed the customer support rep with a detailed explanation of my problem:
I have just purchased, through Dell, a Dimension C521 system with an Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+ processor.

The advertisement listed as going through June 13, 2007:

says free upgrades from 1GB to 2GB are available for C521 purchasers. I would like to know how to go about getting that free 1GB to 2GB memory upgrade.

Thank you,
Here's the reply I got, the next day (Tuesday afternoon)
Thank you for contacting Dell.

I understand from your email that you wish to know how to upgrade the memory from 1GB to 2GB. I will certainly assist you withis request.

I request you to contact the sales department at 800-284-3355 so that they would assist you in making the necessary order modifications.

Dell records reflect that order number xxxxxxxx was placed on 06-11-07.

The estimated ship date of order number xxxxxxxx is 6/18/2007. The estimated date of delivery is 6/21/2007-6/25/2007.
So, as you can see, email tech support was unhelpful, did not address the actual problem at all, and instructed me to call customer support by phone.


Yesterday afternoon I took some time to begin the phone trail.... the fun was just beginning....

[To Be Continued]

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