Thursday, June 14, 2007

Customer Support - Pt 2

[Continued from here]

On the Phone

So when we last left our heroes, I was forced to pick up the phone and actually place a phone call. Muster up your midichlorians, young padawan.. Ok.

I dialed the number in the email and spoke to someone almost immediately. Points there... I believe her name was Michelle, but she had an accent so it was difficult to tell if I was talking to Austin, India, Outer Mongolia, or a Jarada. She was polite, and eventually informed me I that since I had already placed an order, I had to speak to someone in the Order Modification department. And she transferred me.

Ok. Order Modificatin sounded vaguely Orwellian, but I was willing to play along for the moment. The next person I spoke to (again, a lady with an accent but an American name) was not in the Order Modification department, and was not hesitant to inform me of that fact after a few moments of wrangling and re-iterating my problem. She transferred me, once again, to Order Modification. Or tried to.

I think I got the main switchboard at that point, in which I needed to talk to someone in Order Modification. The helpful switchboard operator (too bad it wasn't Pam...) transferred me to....somewhere. I think it was the Sales Department. The lady there, this time with an American accent, was somewhat more helpeful although she told me there was no such thing as an Order Modification Department... strange. Anyway, I went over my problem with her in great detail.

Here's the problem as I explained. I just bought, through Dell, a new computer system that was - in my mind - applicable for a free memory upgrade offer advertised on their website. In plain words it said they would provide a free upgrade from 1GB to 2GB memory with the purchase of a C521 Desktop with X2 4000+ processor. Their contention was that if I wasn't offered the option of choosing the free upgrade during the order process, then the offer wasn't applicable.

Now, if you've never purchased a Dell system online you start at the beginning with the model of PC and work through screen-by-screen choosing, accepting or modifying various options along the way. I got the opportunity when building my system to choose the type of monitor I wanted, how much memory, type of video card, etc. According to them since on the Memory screen I wasn't given the opportunity to choose the free 2GB upgrade option, it wasn't applicable here.

My contention continued to be that the ad explicitly specified the criteria for the upgrade was a particular model/processor combination, which my selection fulfilled, and they needed to honor the advertised promotion and give me the free upgrade.

I wasn't snotty about it, simply expecting them to honor the upgrade offer that they advertised.

The Customer Service rep said the only way I could get the free memory upgrade was to have her cancel my existing order, and to go back and rebuild my system from the ground up - this time adding in the option for free memory. I told her that was never an option for me the first time around, and she asserted that it was. So we were at an impasse. Since we were at an impasse, she offered to let me speak to someone with some more authority, so I agreed. A 10-minute wait on hold followed.

tap tap tap...

I would've hung up, except I seemed to be working my way up the ladder - hopefully to someone who had the authority to simply pull up the order form, verify the terms of the offer and upgrade the memory themselves. Similar to the enchilada problem in the first post, none of the employees I had spoken to were empowered to sidestep corporate policy and try to do the right thing for a customer. Up to that point, a loyal customer. And we're only talking about a $100 upgrade, at best (that's how much it would've cost me to upgrade the memory myself on the order screen and pay for it).

During the hold, I actually went through and started two more orders - one from the link I started from, and the other beginning from the Dell Home/Home Office page. I soon discovered that starting from the Dell site builds a slightly different C521 package, one that does indeed automatically give you the option of a free memory upgrade but does not include the monitor. The resulting comparison of the two systems differed by almost $250, with my system being the much better deal. So I could see what was going on, slightly.

I finally talked to another lady who was actually quite helpful. She understood my contention, we spoke about the two different ways to build the systems and that one gave the option for the memory upgrade and one only gave the monitor addition option. According to her, there are special package offers all over the web that aren't covered in existing promotions like the memory upgrade.

I told her I completely understood the distinction and the Dell-originated C521 order process is the only one that had the upgrade offer built-in, but that according to the wording of the promotion on their own website, no distinction was made. She seemed to agree with me but was powerless to do anything about it. She offered to speak to her manager.

I was a bit hopeful.

For only a moment, however, because she came back and confirmed yet again there was nothing they could do, that the upgrade could only be applied through the other offer. I hesitated to play the "I'm a loyal customer and need to be taken care of if you want my business in the future" card because I think it's tacky and childish...although I did float it out at one point and the bait wasn't even nibbled at, so I didn't pursue. I even considered saying, "I'm going to so blog about this...and then you guys will be sorry!!!" but decided against that as well :)

I considered asking to speak to the manager myself but at that point was tired of talking on the phone and ready to eat lunch. So I thanked her for her assistance, complimented her on her knowledge of the products and ordering system and patience (much more than any of the previous "Customer Service Reps" I had spoken to). She apologized for not being able to do anything and that was that.

Final Thoughts

What was clearly to me a matter of honoring an advertised offer became a case of red tape and one group not talking to the other. Advertising an upgrade as being for certain well-defined systems, but not including the offer to all system builds was a mistake on their part. That, or the person that wrote the copy for the advertisement forgot or was not informed that only systems built from the Dell site were applicable. Again, a breakdown in communications. Better communications would've alleviated a lot of confusion.

But employee empowerment, to me, was the bigger problem. That and allowing Customer Service employees to actually address specific problems without the endless transfer cycle. Only when I went either to the more individual department and higher up the command chain, did I find people with knowledge of the products and offers they were supporting. However, none of them (as far up as I went) were willing or able to bend the rules a bit to right a wrong, make a customer happy, and give a win for everyone involved. As I said before, all it took was a tap-tap on the keyboard by someone with the power to change an order, then make a note in a log that a customer's day was brightened. The blog entry would've ended on a happier note, some good PR might've been spread around, and Dell would've benefited - all for about $100, the price they were eating for the upgrade. Actually a lot less than that because that was their retail price, and I wasn't going to buy it anyway.

So all you employers out there - my advice is to trust your employees, let them use their intelligence and wisdom, and give them some latitude to make changes that please the customer and cement that long-term relationship so many companies crave. Whether it's cars, clothes, hospitals, computers....or enchiladas.


Do you think I should lodge a complaint of any kind? I'm debating it, and not sure...

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