Dell Support Caught Using Shady Sweepstakes to Hawk Warranties

 

Thinking of calling Dell tech support? You may already be a “winner.” In three separate calls during our undercover testing for LAPTOP’s annual Tech Support Showdown, Dell persistently pushed premium warranties. At one point a rep claimed we had won a daily drawing that allowed us to buy a four-year extended warranty for the discounted price of $317. All we wanted to know was how to improve our battery life.

We wish we were making this up – and so does Dell. When confronted with our findings, the company told us that our observations give the company “important lessons to learn from.”

You think? Here’s a blow-by-blow of our experiences and Dell’s responses to our follow-up questions.

Call No. 1: A Software Warranty for a Hardware Question

We made our first support call at 2:56 p.m. EDT on a Thursday, and Sakhi from India took our call with a rather curt tone. We asked how to make three-finger swiping work on our touchpad, but before he addressed our question, he asked for our details and put us on hold for over three minutes while checking our account.

When the Dell rep came back on, he informed us that our problem was a software issue, and that we would have to sign up for a paid software warranty before he could assist us any further. We could pay a one-time fee (with 72 hours of additional support), but this would run us $129 for the single incident. He also offered us a $239 Value-Bundled Plan that would cover four major incidents for the next year, including support for other Dell-manufactured devices such as desktops and printers.

Sakhi pushed us hard to buy the software warranty, saying we shouldn’t even take some time to think about accepting the offer. He informed us that he could have a special discount approved by his manager to get the same $239 software warranty for $199, an offer that would expire if we hung up. When we insisted on mulling it over, Sakhi asked whether he could arrange a call back in 10 to 30 minutes. Really.

Dell’s Reaction

We wanted to know why a touchpad question wouldn’t be covered under a traditional warranty. After all, our query involved hardware and software. Dell said this was an error.

“Any issues to do with the touchpad are indeed covered under the traditional warranty. We will address this misunderstanding with our tech support representatives.”

Call No. 2: Buy Some Hardware to Solve Your Software Question

On our second call, to Denzil at 11:19 a.m., we asked about using Dell DataSafe to back up our computer. Denzil also told us that software questions — even those about Dell-specific software — weren’t covered under the hardware warranty, and that if we wished, we could sign up for the $239 software warranty. We said we weren’t interested, at which point Denzil hastily asked us to at least speak to his manager, who could tell us more about the offer.

When his manager, Raj, got on the phone, he explained that Dell DataSafe Online would be free for 2GB of backup storage for one year. Beyond that, Raj said, there is an option to extend for two or three more years of service for a fee. We were surprised when Raj then suggested that, to get the job done, we buy an external hard drive from our local electronics store instead. He mentioned that this would ultimately cost us less money, and inquired whether we were interested in purchasing a unit from Dell. We said we’d think about it. Raj thanked us for our call.

Dell’s Reaction

In response to our experience, we asked Dell whether tech support reps are incentivized to sell software and extended warranties during support calls, and, if so, whether they’re required to promote these offers during every call. Dell gave us the following response, which doesn’t directly answer our question about incentives:

“The biggest motivation for our tech support teams is resolving a customer’s issue the first time and that is what they are measured on first and foremost. We have several internal metrics that are used to capture resolution rates and measure external resolution rates through esurveys that we send out to customers.

Occasionally, a resolution may involve offering additional service options, like part upgrades or software & peripherals that add value to the product experience, and help prevent issues from occurring again. When customers are out-of-warranty or they contact us for an issue that is not covered in their existing warranties, we advise them to either buy an extended warranty or avail one-time fee-based support.

Call No. 3: Congratulations! You’ve Won the Chance to Pay Us $317!

We placed our third call to Dell at 2 p.m. and, after holding for five minutes, asked Sherma how we could improve our laptop’s battery life. He gave us a hurried explanation about never letting the battery’s charge go below 40 or 50 percent and then, in a surprised tone, told us that we had won a daily drawing to purchase a four-year extended hardware warranty for our laptop for $317.

When we told him that we weren’t interested in a warranty, Sherma told us that only three customers win the drawing per day, and that the normal price for such a warranty is $512. We again told him we weren’t interested, at which point Sherma said that if we didn’t want the discounted offer, he would give it to his next caller. We once again told Sherma that we didn’t want to purchase the warranty, to which he replied in a clearly agitated tone that he was only trying to save us money. He then began telling us that we were also eligible for a software warranty.

We gave Sherma one last chance to redeem himself by asking if his suggestion to keep our laptop’s charge between 40 and 50 percent was the only way to improve its battery life. Before hanging up, Sherma once again asked if we were sure we didn’t want the warranty. Our call lasted just five minutes.

Dell’s Reaction

We were pretty shocked by this daily-drawing sales tactic, so we asked Dell how long support reps have been employing it and whether they will continue.

“Daily drawings are not a regular practice nor encouraged tactic in technical support and we have used your feedback to reinforce this with our teams. Their only priority is to resolve our customers’ issues.”

Bottom Line

Dell says that 80 percent of all solutions in technical support are available to customers on support.dell.com. Based on our experience, we highly recommend going that route. Customers should never feel pressured to upgrade to a premium warranty at a time they’re just looking for a little help.

Telling Dell PC owners that they’ve won a contest in order to entice them to pay more seems particularly manipulative. And while we’re glad Dell says that this is not a “regular practice nor encouraged tactic,” we hope the company stops the practice altogether. At least Dell now admits that hawking a warranty shouldn’t come before helping. Here’s what the company told us when we asked what changes it would make as a result of our findings.

As part of our commitment to excellence and ongoing training for our agents, your feedback is being shared to reinforce the best way to handle similar issues. Our commitment is to resolve the customer’s issue the first time – sometimes that involves a conversation around what is covered in the warranty or not but selling warranties during the support engagement is not the primary route to resolving a customer issue.

Dell’s tech support isn’t all bad. During our testing we found helpful answers through the company’s Interactive Support Agent, live chat and even Dell’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. But grading Dell’s phone support was an easy call this time around: F.

Stay tuned for our full 2012 Tech Support Showdown report on all of the brands.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Not Phil Says:

    My first laptop ever was a Dell. It had faulty hardware and died and Dell would not honour the warranty. Ove a year later I got a letter saying that they’d basically been to court because a large number of people had the same problem and they were willing to fix the machine.

    They never actually did and I have been avoiding the brand and warning people away from them for close to 10 years.

    This further article is further grist for the mill. Dell’s customer service is non-existent, to them the customer is just another pocket to be picked. There may be no worse a company in the tech field and I eagerly await the day they go under.

  2. Zach&Alexa Says:

    Please upgrade your warranty to help fund our next private jet trip to Fiji.

  3. Dustin White Says:

    Oh heck yeah man now you are cooking with Crisco!

    http://www.Anon-at.tk

  4. LionelatDell Says:

    Mark and others here:

    Just wanted you to know that I recently published a blog post in response to the issues that Mark and team encountered when they called in for support. More details here: http://dell.to/Q8VK8M

    Sincerely,

    Lionel Menchaca
    Chief Blogger, Dell

  5. Randy Says:

    About 3 months ago, I had the same problem as call #1. Called about a hard drive/memory problem and they told me it was a software problem when it clearly was hardware. He also tried to get me to pay for incident support when we already had paid support. He even had his own explanation on why it was software and not hardware. I told him it was bogus, but he kept trying.

  6. Susan Miller Says:

    The Dell PC I bought led us into a maze of atrocious offshore support service, aka Dell Hell. I would never subject myself or my family to this company again b/c of it. And we are a very large family.

  7. TOM BOYLEN Says:

    I HAD A PROBLEM WITH A DELL DESKTOP. CALLED, GOT SOME WITH AN AMERICAN NAME IN INDIA. I TOLD HIM I KNEW HE WAS PROBABLY CALLED PATEL.
    HE TOLD ME TO PAY 50.00 AND HE WOULD HELP ME. THEN KEPT LEAVING PHONE AND THEN TOLD ME I NEEDED A CERTAIN PART …COST 49.00. SENT PART, I INSTALLED. DID NOTHING. I CALLED AND SENT BACK. TOOK FOREVER TO GET REFUND. I ENDED UP DUMPING DELL DESKTOP. I WILL NEVER EVER BUY ANOTHER PRODUCT WITH DELL NAME ON IT. THEY DO NOT STAND BEHIND THEIR PRODUCT AND DO NOT TAKE CARE OF CUSTOMERS. …………FRUSTRATED ………..TOM BOYLEN

  8. bdog Says:

    This is the very reason I gave up on Dell. Every tech support call was a marathon of waiting on hold, being passed around to various “supervisors”, hard-sell tactics and warranty pushing. I finally built my own system with a kit from Newegg, and my Dell basically collects dust, and fills in on light duty if my main machine is working hard or involved in some uninterruptible task. I steer people away from Dell whenever possible.

  9. AC Says:

    Please dont blame the phone technicians , they work hard …….

  10. the dog Says:

    Well after reading this post. I am customer of DELL for few years, using ALIENWARE systems. Their tech support is best in the world. I have contacted previously a lot tech supports: Apple, ASUS, Acer and many others. But DELL has proved that their AW UK support on 0800 279 9751 is the best. I would never change from DELL to any other company.

  11. Stretch Says:

    I just finished reading your blogs and it is right on target. I purchased a Dell laptop from Best Buy about 4 months ago and recently it would not boot. I took it to Best Buy and the Geek Squad said it needed to have Windows 7 reinstalled and I should call Dell and they will send me a disk for between 8 and 40 dollars. I called Dell and they proceeded to tell me how I need to purchase a one time software fix for 129 or a 1 yr software warranty for 239. At one point he put me on hold but be aware that your not put on hold. They are putting you on Mute so they can hear what you are saying. When he came back I told him it is a company computer and will check and call him back. I asked for an extension and he said he would place a conference call at which time I told him I didnt need him to make any calls for me. Then he said he would call me back in an hour which he did. In the mean time I read your article and told him about it. I also said I would never purchase another Dell anything nor would anyone in my family. He then tried to send me to the hard drive support and said that was my problem. I wonder why he did not mention this to start with (not that I agree with it). At any rate I will repair this laptop myself and I am glad there are companies out there like yours digging up the dirty support tactics being used out there. What is interesting is that their tactics have not changed a bit since your calls to them.

  12. The Buzzer Says:

    Just had an incident with Dell Financial Services apparently meant to pump up the bottom line at Dell but very unethical. Please spread this around and do a simple Google search for yourself as well. I would never have believed it unless it happened to me personally. I settled an account with Dell in 2006 and received a settlement letter. Last year, a law firm associated with Midland Funding and CIT Bank sued me for the balance. By this time, I had misplaced the settlement letter and asked Dell Financial Services for a copy. DFS referred me directly to Midland Funding and denied (in writing to me) that they had made the settlement. Fortunately, I found an old copy. If you check the internet, you will find THOUSANDS of similar incidents and literally hundreds of settlements against Dell, DFS, and Midland. This really smacks of a company desperate for revenue. Until I did a search, I had no idea how longstanding these issues were with Dell. State DA’s winning class action suits and getting consent agreements is a real warning sign for anybody funding the cash for Dell going private. Any potential investors and Dell computer buyers, Caveat Emptor!

  13. J. Stephens Says:

    I purchased an Alienware laptop from Dell 2 years ago. I rec’d a popup message informing me the warranty was due to expire & followed the prompts to renew. The renewal was about $700 for the “max period.” I had no idea what “max period” was so I called. While on the phone w/the agent, I rec’d a message that I could no longer renew online. The agent quoted me over $1,000 for a 3-year renewal. It was all so very shady I said forget about it. I tried the online renewal a couple of days later & rec’d the same message…couldn’t do it online & had to call.

    Today I receive a call from Dell offering me 50% off on the Warranty. At the end of the day, I was quoted $700 (the original online price) for 3 years. I accepted the terms.

    How shady is that? Dell is a piece of work. Sadly, I’d be hard-pressed to buy anything from them again. I guess they don’t understand the importance of operating above-board!

    P.S.–I won’t even go into the “Concierge Service” I purchased. I may as well have burned my money on that one!

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