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It was the worst of Dell, it was the best of Dell

Irony of ironies, just before exams my computer decides to break down. Specifically, the cord on the AC power adapter finally gave up the ghost and would no longer power my computer. Given that the overstressed battery won't last an hour without the charger, that's a real burden.

So I spent two hours on the phone with Dell trying to order a new one today. (So much for Corporations studying.) Needless to say, I experienced Dell's legendary customer service: calls transferred endlessly hoping to find someone in authority to fix your problem; connection quality that ensures the Dell employee sounds like he's not only halfway across the world (he is) but in a deep well; and endless repetition of customer numbers, order numbers, and service tags.

Finally, while waiting on hold, I went to their website and discovered a new (to me, at least) feature: their "Chat with a Service Representative," an instant-message style interface. Some friendly "Agent" answered my chat request almost immediately. He asked a quick list of questions, assured me that he could send me a part overnight or second-day-air, and apologized for the fact that "arranging the dispatch" would take about 10 minutes before he went off to do it. While I was still on hold with phone support, he solved the problem, gave me a tracking number, and signed off.

Several years ago, there were a number of consumer gurus who swore blind that customers would prefer "personal" service either face-to-face or over the phone, because we valued that "human touch." What these people failed to consider was the careless zombie touch that quite a few service industry humans inflict upon customers. Seriously, if you've got Dell support problems, this IM support thing is the way to go.

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Online help is great, isn't it? I have the Gateway from Hell and have had to deal with tech support several times, and the "IM help" is the way to go.
Over the years I've given a lot of thought to why IM and email support seem to be so much superior to phone support. My instinct tells me that it has to do with the type of communication. Phone calls are always an interruption to the receiver, and no one likes to be interrupted, even if it is their job. Once on the phone, the support person usually has to juggle a couple of stressful tasks, listen to the customer, search a knowledgebase, and analyze the search results. How fun is it to read when someone on the other end keeps adding helpful tidbits, varying your search parameters? That person is looking for the one parameter that will allow him to pawn you off on someone else. With IM and Email, there is little or no interruption. I can choose to wait with an email, with an IM a can more politely send you a message telling you I'm searching, and given that there isn't any sort of human feedback involved, you don't mind waiting a little bit. The phone support person meanwhile is breathing, typing, huffing, shuffling papers around, and essentially ignoring you (personally) while searching for a solution to your problem. On a personal level you're feeling marginalized, even if the problem does eventually get solved. With Email/IM you can't feel that way nearly as easily.
Over the years I've given a lot of thought to why IM and email support seem to be so much superior to phone support. My instinct tells me that it has to do with the type of communication. Phone calls are always an interruption to the receiver, and no one likes to be interrupted, even if it is their job. Once on the phone, the support person usually has to juggle a couple of stressful tasks, listen to the customer, search a knowledgebase, and analyze the search results. How fun is it to read when someone on the other end keeps adding helpful tidbits, varying your search parameters? That person is looking for the one parameter that will allow him to pawn you off on someone else. With IM and Email, there is little or no interruption. I can choose to wait with an email, with an IM a can more politely send you a message telling you I'm searching, and given that there isn't any sort of human feedback involved, you don't mind waiting a little bit. The phone support person meanwhile is breathing, typing, huffing, shuffling papers around, and essentially ignoring you (personally) while searching for a solution to your problem. On a personal level you're feeling marginalized, even if the problem does eventually get solved. With Email/IM you can't feel that way nearly as easily.
Over the years I've given a lot of thought to why IM and email support seem to be so much superior to phone support. My instinct tells me that it has to do with the type of communication. Phone calls are always an interruption to the receiver, and no one likes to be interrupted, even if it is their job. Once on the phone, the support person usually has to juggle a couple of stressful tasks, listen to the customer, search a knowledgebase, and analyze the search results. How fun is it to read when someone on the other end keeps adding helpful tidbits, varying your search parameters? That person is looking for the one parameter that will allow him to pawn you off on someone else. With IM and Email, there is little or no interruption. I can choose to wait with an email, with an IM a can more politely send you a message telling you I'm searching, and given that there isn't any sort of human feedback involved, you don't mind waiting a little bit. The phone support person meanwhile is breathing, typing, huffing, shuffling papers around, and essentially ignoring you (personally) while searching for a solution to your problem. On a personal level you're feeling marginalized, even if the problem does eventually get solved. With Email/IM you can't feel that way nearly as easily.
Sorry about the multiple posts, your spam-defense kept timing out, refreshing the page would say I'd given the wrong code. I assumed that it wasn't actually being posted, then. -Jonathan
I've been reading your blog since somewhere during year one and enjoy it regularly. Your story of customer service "hell" is precisely one reason why the company I work for, www.hostmysite.com, has the Live Chat feature like Dell does. We were the first large web hosting company to provide that service. When you don't feel like calling in and having your call answered in three rings or less (no joke, we take that very seriously) or if you happen to be twelve hours away, it's easy to click and receive excellent service. It is a method for customers to receive service and have a transcript of the conversation. All of my coworkers and I take multiple chats per day while also answering the phone so we can be sure to provide customer service as Dell purports to have. It's hard to be on the other end of the phone and stay cheerful and chipper, one might say gruntled, while helping people who are angry, upset, or otherwise disgruntled. Honestly, if you say "please" and "thank you" it will get you very far. Thank you for your colorful blog.

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