Dell claims its customer support has improved by 90% - do you agree?

22 Jul 2011

Customer support is about as sexy as cauliflower cheese, but anyone who’s suffered a bad experience will know just how infuriating it can be. What’s even worse is when it appears that companies just don’t care, which is why my hellishly early interview with Tim Griffin this morning – who has overall responsibility for Dell’s global customer support – was so welcome.

For a start, it’s refreshing that Dell is so open to the fact that its support hasn’t always been great. “We’ve obviously not fared too well in your own surveys over the past couple of years,” Griffin said, referring to PC Pro’s annual reliability and service survey, “and it’s something we’re very cognisant of.”

(I’ll interrupt myself here to say that if you haven’t already taken part – and we do rely on a huge number of responses to make our results significant – then you have just over a week to do so. And you’ll be in with a chance of winning one of our £4,500-worth of prizes too.)

I’m not fooling myself. I realise that it took more than a succession of PC Pro surveys to kickstart what Griffin refers to as a “sea change”, and one of those factors was the return of Michael Dell in February 2007.

On his return, Mr Dell seemed none-too-pleased with the drop in customer support - the term Dell Hell became a little too well recognised - and placed renewed emphasis on customer support. So I asked Tim: was Michael happy?

“I think 'pleased but never satisfied' would be a reasonable description. He’s pushing me and the team hard as you’d expect [but] this is a company-wide initiative and we’re all on board with it, it’s not something that’s a purely Michael-driven agenda.”

You’d have thought the boss would have been a little bit more than satisfied, because Griffin claims a 90% improvement in customer support. To be precise, he said that Dell’s “net satisfaction score” has increased by “90% in the UK over the last six quarters”.

Now this figure is based on hard facts – Dell receives feedback from 50,000 people a week via online surveys, so it has the data to back it up – and I’m confident it’s true. So how has it achieved such good results?

“One of the things that’s been driving our customers mad is wait times and being transferred,” said Griffin. “We’ve taken out a huge number of transfers in our system and, in that process, obviously delighting the customer with shorter wait times.”

What hasn’t changed is where many of the customer support teams are based. “We use India,” says Griffin, “but they’re not outsourced [contractors] they’re Dell employees [for] warranty-based support.”

Dell employees or not, I pointed out, such call centres are often vilified by customers who have to call them, but Griffin insists they invest in much training. “You’ve got language skills to make sure they’re fully understood, you’ve got technical skills to make sure we can actually fix issues, and then we’ve got customer service training to make sure they’ve got the right empathetic approach.”

But that, said Griffin, isn’t the key. “We find if you fix the issue and fix it fast, and do so with respect, then the ‘where’ becomes a non-issue.”

Of course, this could all be meaningless. If the results of our survey find Dell’s customer support rating lingering in the three-star zone then, so far as we can tell, it’s all talk and no action. And whilst we wait for the results – did I mention you can take part in the survey for another week? – I’d be very interested to hear if your Dell experience matches Tim Griffin’s claims.

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