Dell Losing Market Share? Here’s One Reason Why.

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Tim Higgins

I have been trying out a few netbooks in my annual search for a light travel notebook. So far, I have looked at the MSI Wind, Samsung NC10 and Lenovo S10 and sent them all back for bad mouse button and keyboard designs.

My next test subject is the Dell Mini 12, but I have been waiting for Dell to release the promised XP Home option. I finally lost patience last week, however, and ordered one with Vista Home Basic installed. I figured that I could at least try out the keyboard and mouse and check it out physically to see if it had the potential to be a keeper.

The first negative experience in my order was leadtime. Here is a hot product category (netbooks) and a product that, by all accounts, isn’t burning up the order books due to reviews that have described its performance with Vista as, uh, terrible. So you would think that I’d be able to get one real quick, right?

Wrong. My order placed on 12/11 has an estimated ship date of 12/26! Jeez, even Lenovo was able to deliver the S10 in under a week and the Wind and NC10 shipped from etailer stock!

My other reason for ordering the Mini 12 with Vista was that I figured that if Dell released the XP option in the meantime, I might be able to have Dell swap OSes before shipment. Silly me. As soon as I saw this morning that Dell has added the XP and Ubuntu options, I entered a second order for an XP version.

But while having coffee, I remembered my original plan: to ask Dell to swap OSes on the Mini 12 that I had already ordered. Since there is over a week until my estimated ship date, you would think this would be no problem, right? Wrongo again.

I first tried Dell online chat. The wait for an agent was short, but it took 5 minutes for the Dell rep to take my order number, "check on" my order, then tell me that I had to call to get the order changed. This was after I told the rep in my first chat message that I needed to change an existing order.

So I called the number the rep provided and entered the most convoluted, confusing phone menu system that I have encountered in a long time. It had level after level, with each level giving me options that I suspected were just resetting my place in the queue by repeating options that had already been asked and answered.

Then, after sitting in a queue for about 10 minutes, I reached a rep in India who asked to direct my call! I told her I needed to change an existing order and was then parked in another queue. After 10 minutes of sitting in that queue, I gave up.

Undaunted, I decided to try the Dell website Customer Support option. I managed to find the "Contact Us", fill out the form, which didn’t have an option for "Change Order", so I used the "Question Not Listed" category. A few minutes later, I received an email from the Dell Support Request bot that began:

"In an effort to provide you with an answer to your question or concern as quickly as possible, our automated response system is sending this reply to your inquiry. If the system has interpreted your message correctly, you have requested information about changing your operating system from Vista to Windows XP. This response covers the topics listed below in the Table of Contents."

Of course, you know where this is headed. The only option in the Table of Contents that applied was "Changes to a Pending Order", which read:

5. Changes to a Pending Order
In order to cancel or change an order, you must reach an agent at the appropriate number below:
Business (for purchases by phone): 1-877-773-3355
Business (for purchases online): 1-800-388-2179
Home (online or phone purchases): 1-800-247-2076

At least these were different numbers than I got from my chat session. I dialed up the Home option number and got an entirely different, shorter phone menu system, where I finally reached another rep in India after only a few minutes.

After taking my order information, the rep was ready to accomodate my request…sorta. He wasn’t able to modify the existing order, but had to cancel it and enter another order, which would result in a new, later ship date. Since I already had another XP-based Mini 12 in the order queue, I decided to let both orders stand for now.

Now, if I were the Mini 12 product manager, I’d have done three things:

  • Anticipated demand for XP over Vista
  • Make changes necessary in manufacturing to allow existing Vista-based Mini 12 orders to be changed to XP with little to no effect on ship date
  • Proactively sent an email to customers with outstanding Mini 12 orders with a link that would send them to a simple web page providing the option to change the order from Vista to XP, with little to no effect on ship date (depending on how close the order was to shipment)

But apparently, Dell doesn’t think about things like that and/or has a manufacturing process with flexibility that rivals that of General Motors, which I understand is having some problems lately.

No wonder Mr. Dell is testy these days.

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