My mother is 84.
A few years ago she became an online gaming junkie when my sister finally persuaded her to get a PC. We're not too worried. When we can pry her away from Pongo, she still seems to recognise us, and she's accumulated enough points to buy Delaware. I do worry about some of her new friends, though, like Hot Mama Yum Yum and Jumping Jack Flasher.
Anyway, while I was home last month, I used her PC for some e-mail and the damn thing was a mess. I decided to be a hero - as you do when you live halfway around the world from your parents and they've never quite accepted that you're not coming back because 15 years ago you told them you were only going to Australia for two years. "I'll buy you a new computer," I told my mother.
So, jet-lagged and needing an e-mail fix, early on a Sunday morning I go to the Dell Computer site. The site is reasonably user-friendly, and it took me about 30 minutes to spec a nice PC. I even spend an additional $US119 to have a Dell-certified technician come out and install the PC for my mother.
The PC arrived when promised, but no Dell-certified technician called my mother to schedule an installation service appointment. So Mum does what all mothers do: she starts nagging my sister to call Dell to find out what's happening. As a result, my sister is the first family member to discover that when you ring Dell in the US, you enter two levels of Hell: IVR Hell and call centre Hell.
The short version is that the service ticket number had been assigned to another person whose PC had already been installed, so the ticket was closed. Dell's system decided the PC was installed, so the damned PC was installed even though the unopened box was still sitting in my mother's lounge room.
But that's not the point of this story. Focus on this, instead. My sister made it her mission to communicate this mistake to the folks at Dell. At one point she was on hold on her mobile for 40 minutes - in the car - on the way to her holiday. And when she got through at long last, she spoke with people who had trouble understanding her. Not because of her problem, but because whatever brand of English she was speaking wasn't the sort they spoke in whatever country they were sitting.
Eventually mutual enlightenment occurred and comprehension broke through, and my sister discovered what thousands before her had learned. The call centre people were not able to solve her problem. So unable were they, in fact, that one suggested to her the best solution was to send back the computer, even though the problem was with the add-on installation, not the PC itself.
When I heard about this, now safely back in Oz, I had but one reaction - "Don't worry. I'll fix this."
So I rang my contact in Dell in Australia. First time through, I get voice mail. Impatient as always, I hang up and ring the switchboard. I get an IVR. I wait for the option, "If you are calling about an order for a system purchased for a relative in another country that has not been delivered properly, press 9." When it doesn't come, I ring one of Dell's spokespeople (OK, a PR Guy) and explain the situation.
OK, you expect more carping - right? Well, you're wrong. This person listened sympathetically, murmured in agreement at the right points, and then did something no out-of-country call centre has ever done to the best of my knowledge.
He said he would fix my problem.
He even explained he didn't have the authority to fix my problem, but promised he would escalate it through the country and the region all the way back to the good ole USA to make sure my mother got her PC installed. And two days later, I called my mother (she would never think of spending the 75 cents to ring me) to find out that in fact her PC was going to be installed the next day.
If every parable has a moral, this one's easy. Cost savings and efficiencies can look good to bean counters, but the real test is whether they increase customer service, enhance customer attitudes and build customer loyalty. In this case, it's Inhouse 1 Outsourcing Nil.
And there's one other message. Dell delivered - very late - what they had already been paid to do. But because someone went out of there way to fix this problem, I have given them positive coverage. In this case it's PR Guy 1, Outsourcing Nil.
But Dell really should think about how easy it would have been to turn that score around.
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