Mahboob's Journal

Existential Thoughts, Experiential Inferences and Occasional Whacky Connections

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Unreported Dell Sucks

One of the issues I faced a few years ago with using Dell products was their servers’ under performance of multiple processors with hyper threading enabled when doing load testing of our applications. I won’t divulge too much into that episode in this post. I’ll just say that the analogy is that you buy a truck that has one extra gear and two additional tyres but it runs faster if you don’t use the extra gear and tyres.

On to the next glitch in my experience with Dell. Have you seen the Dell laptop charger that comes with a Latitude? It’s an awful and absolutely hideous piece of industrial design. Michael Dell must have never used this kind of power charger, or may not even be aware that his company ships such a charger. For a normal laptop power charger that any sane company should supply to a normal, regular, gentleman customer like me, there would be a box that you place on your desk. There would be one cord from the power outlet to the box. There would be another cord from the box to your laptop. Both the cables have to be placed straight and there’s no need to twist them or loop them. Not with my charger.

With Dell, the cord that comes from the power outlet goes underneath the box and twists around where it gets plugged into the box. Which means that the direction of this first cord from the power socket and the second one from the box to the laptop are the same. The only way to use the charger is to rest it on the first cable and twist the second cable to put it into your laptop. Perhaps this was designed by a disgruntled engineer who wanted to mess up the company’s reputation before quitting it and handed over the design to the manufacturing plants without any management member noticing it.

The charger is not the only distasteful aspect of my Latitude. The delivery of the laptop itself is a story worth recounting. This happened in July of last year. We (@4S) placed an order of four laptops (Latitude E6410) on Dell.  The purchase order was dated 27th July and Dell committed the delivery in three weeks from the date of order.

On 18th August, Dell (Ms. Poonam Bopanna) wrote that “due to application transition there is a delay in processing the order”.  Estimated date of delivery is on or before 27th August. We got another email on 1st September in which Dell (Ms. Bopanna) wrote that our order has completed production and the estimated delivery date would be on or before September 9th. On September 6th we were again informed that the delivery date would be on or before September 13th.  And on September 13th we were informed that the laptops were stuck in customs.

On September 23rd we received a revised delivery notification that the laptops would be delivered on or before 10th October. That was it. We called for a conference call with all Dell executives we were liaising with, and I raised my extreme frustration in that call. I had committed dates to senior people at my company, including my managing director, when their laptops would be replaced by new ones. The Dell folks got the message from me directly. They said they will work on some alternatives and deliver the laptops in the next few days.

Finally, after a long wait, we received the laptops on 25th September. The details for what exactly went wrong are sketchy, and Dell’s executives don’t give away much in terms of inside information. But based on the emails and the telephonic call I had, I can connect some dots.

Dell was replacing their existing software system that manages orders, with a new system. The migration either started with India or India was one of their first countries to transition to the new system. ERPs do a fine job in generating invoices; they normally do it in the span of  a few hours after order placement. But their new system was not generating invoices and inventory was piling up in factories.

They starting doing invoices manually or were using their previous system. I am not clear about this part. Nevertheless, this caused delays in manufacture of their orders. What compounded our woes was that in the case of our order - the proforma invoice shows 4 laptops. The original order that we placed clearly mentioned 4 laptops and 4 carry cases. This caused a problem with customs clearance. Because they were not mentioned in the invoice, the carry cases were also not mentioned in the procurement certificate issued by the central excise department. The final problem was that the order values were not the same in different documents.

It was not a happy experience for me as the resolution was not delightful. In this context, I want to tell about a personal experience I had in U.S.A. years ago. On a weekend, I had gone with my family to Walmart at Altamonte Springs located on state road 434 near the intersection with state road 436. It was around 4 p.m., I first went to the photo section, gave them my roll and ordered a 1-hour print.

We continued shopping and around 5 p.m., I went to the photo counter and gave the lady my receipt. My film was still in the machine and she asked me to wait. After the prints came out, she handed it over to me. I quickly scanned the entire set in a couple of minutes and around 5:10 p.m., I gave my credit card to her.

She smiled at me and said, ‘No, you are not paying anything. We did not give the prints in one hour’. I said thank you very much and walked away very happy. Just a few minutes late and my order was free. That is customer service and, to be particular, American customer service. Such incidents are glad inscriptions etched in my memory.

So I was secretly hoping that Dell, as another great American brand, would delight me similar to Walmart in the laptop purchase incident. Delivery was not delayed by minutes but by weeks. Alas, it did not happen. To be fair, they did bear a small tax charge that we had to pay in the actual delivery because the order was converted to a non-bonded shipment. But it was nowhere near to my Walmart experience. Dell India is not Dell and Indian customer service is not American customer service.

Dell always gets very positive and I should emphasize a pride of place in almost all management books. I’m sure any key management book that you would have read would have encomiums about Dell. I constantly encounter it in the management books that I lay my hands on. They all pay glowing tributes to Dell. I found it in Blue Ocean Strategy and Differentiate or Die, two books I had read last year. None seem to write anything critical about Dell.

But I don’t find fault with the books. Because case studies in books come later, what come first or should come first, is media reporting. In Dell’s case I did not find media coverage. I am sure there would have been hundreds or thousands of shipments that were delayed during that period when we placed the laptop orders. So it is a problem of the media. Which brings me to my final point in this post.

Subroto Bagchi is right. He says that the media is obsessed with breaking news and big business (meaning quarterly results). They don’t give any insight into the workings and problems of the upcoming companies in I.T. industry.

In fact, the whole article in The Hindu in which Bagchi makes these statements is an interesting read. Please read it, as there are several other points about icons, research and I.T. industry. Perhaps we can all play a role in the improvement of the media coverage of our respective industries.


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