Dell Gets Slapped By N.Y. State Judge For Dodgy Ads

I was too busy with the net neutrality protest in Ottawa (which I just updated with some new links) to report on this sooner. This AP Story (via The Globe And Mail) says that Dell and its finance wing are guilty of making false promises to drum up more sales. According to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (who hopefully won’t end up like New York’s last Attorney General):

“For too long at Dell the promise of customer service was a bait and switch that left thousands of people paying for essentially no service at all,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This decision sends an important message that all corporations will be held accountable for the promises they make to consumers.”

But wait, there’s more:

“The judge also noted many affidavits alleging long telephone waits on hold for technical support, numerous phone transfers among departments, the need for repeated customer calls to get through and “numerous instances” when Dell refused to provide on-site service before it had determined what parts needed to be replaced. Some customers said they waited weeks, months and even years.”

This sounds like something that I posted about not to long ago when I wrote about HP buying EDS. At that time I said:

“Perhaps Michael Dell should go “old school” and make good computers for low prices and provide excellent customer service? Seeing that Dell has taken a major beating lately on that front, it might be a good strategy.”

Now might be a good time to start with that process?

To be fair, I’ve owned two Dell computers (A Latitude D600 and a Dimension 5150). I’ve had to call Dell once to have the Latitude D600 fixed. They came on site and did a motherboard swap the next day (which is what I expected seeing as next business day on site service is part of the purchase price). So in my books they’re 1 for 1. I’ve also heard decent feedback from people who have bought their machines. But given this lawsuit and the CNet article that I linked to, it may be that Dell has some things to address. For Dell’s part, a corporate public relations robot spokesperson said:

“Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn said the Round Rock, Texas-based company disagreed with the judge’s decision and would be putting up a vigorous defence of its position, although it had not decided yet whether it would appeal. “We are confident that when the proceedings are finally completed the court will determine that only a relatively small number of customers have been affected,” Mr. Blackburn said.”

Sorry. Wrong answer.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the number of customers affected by this are. What matters is that Dell has a perception problem. The perception exists that Dell customer service has slipped. The perception is that Dell salespeople will say and do anything to get the sale. That’s a shame because Dell actually makes some good PCs. But that won’t matter if people won’t buy them because the perceive that Dell is going to screw them over. For customers perception = reality.

One of the things that I’ve always believed is that you have be upfront by providing the public with information and apologize when you screw up. You need to express regret and sympathy or you just come out looking like you’re protecting your backside. I don’t think that Dell has done the “regret and sympathy” part (likely because they may believe it harms their legal position). But Dell did say how they were going to improve things:

“Dell also told the court that it has started selective recording and auditing of sales representatives to avoid misrepresentations and has invested millions of dollars in customer service and technical support, significantly reducing customer waiting times on the phone.”

One could argue that they’re waiting for the legal issues to be sorted before they really try to repair their image. I’m just not sure they can afford to wait that long.

UPDATE: New York State has a website dedicated to Dell related complaints.

UPDATE #2: Globe And Mail readers don’t seem too happy with Dell. Their comments board doesn’t have a positive comment on it (although at the time I write this there are only 10 comments which is hardly a large sample size… Still the optics are not good).

UPDATE #3: Slashdot has picked up on the story. Many ex-Dell techs have put in their $0.02 worth on their time at Dell, and their feedback is not good.

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