by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 6, 2010
EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER
BRADENTON, March 6, 2010 -- My 10-year-old Sony computer, once one of the best available, has crashed again, and with help from my brother Pat, I'm getting a new one. Unfortunately, I chose to get it from Dell to help out an American company with a so-so reputation for quality.
When I worked at a computer repair shop a few years back, after HP and Compaq, they came in more often than any other. But I'd bought a Dell for my wife and it shipped with reasonable speed and worked fine until the day she left me and it. Her daughter came by to pick it up and sell it when my now ex-wife departed for Peru.
The machine I chose was a Studio Mini-Tower, and I customized it a bit. It will presumably have - if it ever comes - an Intel Quad Core processor that has four 2.6-gig processors on the chip, 8 gigabytes of memory and a 1 terabyte hard drive. Dell was going to ship it to me on the 24th, then on March 3, and apparently now it expects to deliver it on March 9, a few days short of a month since I ordered it.
Ironically, on March 4, the same day I posted this story (it's been updated to the current date) I got a note from Dell saying my order had been delayed again, until March 16, and that I would have to contact them in order to keep it from being canceled. If only they would deliver it as fast as they cancel it!
Frankly, I would much rather write to Michael Dell about this than to you. But when I couldn't even write to the customer service department using their form, and couldn't get any further information without calling them, I gave up. My phone has been turned off, you see, along with the tv, all of which operate under a contract with Bright House, the local Time Warner cable outfit.
My laptop, a Toshiba Satellite Pro that is also circa the year 2000, isn't allowing me to use a microphone or a mouse these days, so even if I called Dell via Skype for free, they wouldn't be able to hear me. That's how the noose draws tighter and tighter around my neck each day, diminishing my ability to reach out to others and to solve the problems I face. Last night, as an afterthought, Bright House turned off my Internet service (I'm writing from the reliable networks of Panera Bread).
A check I expected didn't come, so I couldn't pay my storage bill and am locked out of it. Next to go will be the electricity, and then my home, and I will probably have to sell my car, which isn't working so well, to get the hell out of here with the shirt on my back.
What bugged me today about Dell's online customer service was that it provides a form to fill out to email them about any given issue. The problem is that the nitwits that designed the form need a "Service Tag" number and a Case Number, but you can put 0 for the Case Number and that issue goes away. But there is no Service Tag number because I haven't requested service on a machine in my possession, which is where the service tag would be. They won't let you enter 0 or N/A or NA or a variant. And if you don't enter the Service Tag number in the form, the form won't mail, and like the fifth little piggy or whoever it was, you won't get home tonight.
I call them all sorts of awful names that even I hate hearing under my breath.
Why is Dell so slow to fill my order, and so dilatory about fixing its email form? In fact, none of the forms I filled out worked, and apparently they all wanted different numbers than Dell's original order-taker had given me. However, they did waste a lot of time, as did my last call to Dell. I was wondering why I couldn't have a 1 gigabyte video card like some other, cheaper PCs had, since I was getting the premium hard drive and high-end processor.
Their answer, after about 30 minutes of back-and-forth, was that they didn't have a comparable stock configuration that could be upgraded as mine was and that also included the 1 gigabyte graphics card. They didn't have the capacity to stick one in there and charge me $59 more, although I could order it simultaneously and stick it in there myself.
My consolation is that the Intel card in there, the GMX4500HD, is HD-ready and can play Blu-Ray discs if I want to waste my time watching movies on my computer, as I guess many people do. Dell doesn't even include speakers or a monitor for the $980, so I won't be able to hear them, anyway.
My conclusion is that Dell is in trouble in this battered economy and doesn't have enough money to order all the parts or to hire all the people they need, and doesn't have people smart enough to design a customer service form that doesn't require a tag number you can't get until the order arrives. Or to design a computer that is a little outside the box, and costs a little more, but rewards customers with some real bells and whistles instead of depriving them of basics for having gone whole hog.
They also don't have a system flexible enough to trade me a 750-gigabyte hard drive for a 1-gigabyte graphics card. They don't have a system that lets an order-taker find time in the day to respond to people who write in - at their invitation. They can't afford the courtesy of a free gift when they repeatedly delay the shipping date. They have cheap Chinese speakers coming out of their kazoo in a warehouse somewhere, but don't have the sense to include them with a costly PC. And don't bother looking for an email address for the chairman; he can't read them all.
I have a friend named Sandy Marshall who is a lawyer here in Bradenton and former chairman of the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations, where I am the Secretary. He's probably in his mid-70s, and he doesn't have a computer in his entire law office. There are piles and piles - neatly arranged, mind you, and all in order - of paper documents instead. That means he can't get emails from the board or the county or anyone else unless someone mails or delivers a copy of an email.
Sandy, our former city attorney, goes back and forth with the county all the time on a huge variety of issues related to zoning and the county budget and the master plan and all that, and does it all on paper. He's a happily married man who does well in the law business and owns a very nice building on a parcel in downtown Bradenton, along a key street at a key intersection - no dummy, he.
Life without a computer has not notably deprived him of anything except the endless frustrations of owning one. The endless unsolicited interventions and dialogue-box demands made by Internet browsers, operating systems and virus programs, the tedious upgrades and downloads, the periodic crashes of drives, motherboards, memory and power supplies accumulate more time than I think I have ever saved using a computer.
Sandy is the antithesis of Michael Dell, and I don't doubt that if the two were to meet they'd be at each other's throats in a flash, like Palestinian guerillas and Israeli soldiers trapped in a no man's land.
I'm rooting for Sandy. Michael Dell may or may not show up, and if and when he does, chances are his whiz-bang machinegun won't work until he enters a number that no one knows on a keypad that's jammed by spilled coffee. As the Dell warehouse workers carelessly throw my computer into the back of a truck, my frustrations will find a little satisfaction in watching Sandy blow him away.
Updated Jan. 26, 2011
P.S.: The new computer works just fine.