A recent personal experience with Dell Customer support confirms that they provide pretty good service. As a backgrounder you need to know that in a couple of months it is about two years since I switched from Toshiba to Dell. Toshiba had for almost a decade made wonderful high quality laptops that suited me perfectly. Most important, although I carry the laptops with me all the time, I can count on one finger how many times the Toshibas broke. Actually, it was a disk crash that I could fix myself. (Note, I am talking about high end professional models. And that I physically treat them as gently as I can).

Unfortunately, in my view, Toshiba lost their lead in the race for the kind of machine I need. And the, at that time, new Dell XPS M1220 seemed perfect. The only thing that worried me was the infamous "Dell Hell" that Jeff Jarvis had experienced. Even though it ignited over two years earlier, and Dell for sure had reacted and improved, I was concerned. (You can follow Jarvis’s experiences as they are tagged with "Dell" in is blog BuzzMachine.)

Anyway, in November 2006 I bought the XPS M1220 and it was delivered before they promised. The first time I was going to use it live in a gig I could not get the video out to the projector. In a desperate state of mind I called Dells premier XPS support, and a nice English support person helped me with the setup. Took less than 10 minutes and I started the presentation on time. In May 2007 I had more severe troubles. The machine acted strange and froze occasionally. After I managed to convice support that it was a hardware problem (not software), Dell sent a repair technician who replace the motherboard. He came to my office, worked with the laptop for less than 30 minutes, and it was OK again.

Last December I ordered a Dell XPS M1330. It too arrived on time, actually a little before what Dell promised, but later than I expected. I guess I was hoping for the strategy "deliver beyound expectations". Even though I had noted a lot of customer issues with M1330 problems in forums, including those hosted by Dell, my machine worked pretty well (after I got rid of McAfee’s security software).

In August, the same morning I was leaving to go for a gig in Finland, I screwed up. For some strange reason (tired?) I put a micro SD flash card into the DVD-slot. It just slided in and disappeared behind the dust covers. I could hear it scramble. Called Dell support. The answered immediately and said they would send a repair technichian to replace the DVD drive. At what cost I wondered? They said: "No cost, it is easy to make a mistake like that". Because I was going to travel, and could survice without a DVD, I could call them to book a visit from the technichian later on. Fortunately the SD card actually slipped out by itself a few days later.

Then in late August the machine started to give me real problems. It froze, slowed down, became very hot, the fan was on high speed a lot of the time, and so forth. I tried removing varius applications. Ran some hardware tests and replaced the hard drave. Last Friday it just died when I was driving to the country side. No movie for my kids and no PC for me (whatever was worst). While driving I tried to call Dell support. But it was outside normal office hours and I was connected to India or somewhere. The phone lines were terrible. I could not hear them, and they could not hear me. Tried a few more times over the weekend, but same lousy lines. Saturday afternoon I filed an e-mail report through Dells support site, but never got any respones.

Fortuneately I had kept the M1220 as a spare horse and I managed to copy the most cruical content over to it. That, and by using Gmail, I could "surivive" for a while. Monday morning I got in touch with Dell in Sweden. From that on everything has been excellent. The same afternoon I agreed that their technician would visit a friends office to fix my M1330  the next day as I had to go to Enköping for a gig. Tuesday morning he called my friend who could not answer. Unfortunately my friend could not interpret the message on where to call back. But Wednesday morning they called again and the same afternoon my laptop was fixed. The only problem I have found so far is a lost screw. It was left in the old motherboard for the mobile broadband card inside the machine. Can´t accuse Dell for that, because I removed the card.

Lessons? First of all, my setup is a mess. I am using Windows, carry the laptop everywhere, and install all kinds of software. It is a miracle it works at all. These things are complex by definitions. Second, my experience is that critical support works best through Dell’s local (country) support organizations. Third, I have to spend some time (in this latest case 10+ hours) and some money (here a spare hard drive) to figure out, and perhaps fix, the problem myself. I rather do that, then try to ignorantly convince support that they need to come over and fix the hardware. Fourth, do’nt depend on a Windows machine that has been off line for a week. Today it has been extremely slow, busy upgrading itself outside my control.

In sum, I think Dell support serves me very well. I just wish they had better off office hour interactions.

[Update 2008-09-16] As usual the support people with Dell frequently told me during our telephone conversations that I will be invited to rate  their performance. This morning I got an e-mail survey from Dell. image As always when I get these I start filling them in, but give up after a couple of pages. They rather make me frustrated when trying to express my experience, than provide a good feedback channel. In this case the survey is about "Dell technical support on 2008-09-10". The only thing happening that day was that the repair technician left a voice message with a number to call him back on, and that one could not hear that number. Hence the repair was delayed 24 hours.  Is this glitch what I should rate, or is it the whole experience? Let me instead answer the Ultimate Question "How likely is it that you would recommend Dell to a friend or colleague? On the scale 10 (loyal enthusiasts) to 0 (unhappy customer) my Answer is 8 (satisified but unenthusiastic).