Despite my dislike for all things outsourced, my first experience with DELL's call center in India was a largely positive one.
So this week, during a particularly intense session of software testing, the 500GB hard drive on my DELL Precision 530 decided to kick the bucket. Windows 7 RC and various flavors of Linux refused to install on it, none of the diagnostic utilities and recovery disks and tools I had at my disposal could resurrect it or even reformat it, and the unit started to make a nasty clicking noise. Conclusion: This is hard drive is not "resting", this hard drive is pining for the fjords, this is an ex-hard drive, et cetera.
Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.
So naturally, I pulled the disk out, and replaced it with one of my many spares that I use for testing. Re-installed Windows 7, back in business. The drive that died was a Seagate ST3500620AS, a low end 7200RPM consumer SATA2 disk, with a replacement value of $45 to $60. Under normal circumstances, when you buy a retail-boxed disk drive, you call the manufacturer up, they look at the serial number, and if it's still within warranty period -- usually 3 to 5 years -- they send you a new one. Unfortunately, this particular drive was labeled "Manufactured for OEM Distribution" so calling up Seagate for a replacement was a non-starter.I recalled since purchasing the PC from COSTCO's web site just under a year ago, that the machine had a 2-year warranty (COSTCO extends the regular PC manufacturer warranty an additional year, a detail I advise many of you to take note of)
I dreaded the idea of calling up DELL's technical support, knowing full well I would have to be transferred to some horrendous call center in Bangalore or Mumbai, and spend God-knows-how-many calls and hours on the phone navigating through a labyrinth of support technicians to get a simple part replaced. 3 or 4 hours of my time is worth a lot more than a $50 part, and I strongly considered walking away from the prospect of a long afternoon and leaving it at that.
However, I thought about the principle of the thing. The machine was under warranty, the part should be replaced by the manufacturer, and it's not often that I experience technical support like an average consumer, since I tend to support myself. Maybe it might help someone else to recount my experience or increase my appreciation for what the average Joe has to deal with. So I went to the Dell web site, clicked on "Support" and entered my tag number. The site provided me with a list of frequently asked issues, which I bypassed, and went directly to the "Contact us" link, which was a toll-free number. Lock and Load, baby.
After about 60 seconds going through the voice response system, I get transferred to anonymous person with Indian accent #1. He takes down my issue tracking number that the web site had given me, and tells me that I've called the Corporate support number, but he'd be happy to transfer me to the Consumer support line. That takes another two minutes.
Consumer Support picks up the line. Another Indian accent. The first thing this representative tries to do is sell me Dell premier technical support, which among other things would give me a more rapid response and the privilege of talking to Americans. As I only had one Dell PC, and it was a rather inexpensive one at that, I declined the offer. Besides, it was a slow afternoon and I was starting to find the Indian-accented English soothing.
For the last 5 years, I've worked at two large IT professional services firms, where many of our large engagements have incorporated Strategic Outsourcing. In English, this means that some component of our labor will include people from Asia, in order to remain competitive with services firms that do the same thing.
I have mixed feelings about this in that I don't like to see American jobs outsourced to developing countries, but at the same time I have come to respect and enjoy the company of my colleagues from the Subcontinent, especially the ones that have established long-term residence here. After all, when I travel for services engagements, they are usually the only people willing to go out for Indian or Pakistani food with me. There's just so much Panera and Pappadeaux/Pappasitos and office park cuisine a man can eat.
So I get transferred to the Consumer technical support representative. His name is Minesh, and he's got a very strong, but understandable Indian accent, at least understandable if you've had experience working with Indians. He takes my name down again, looks up the issue code, and then asks me about my problem, in which I explain to him that the hard drive appears to have died, that no operating system will install on or recognize it, and that the drive is making an awful noise.
I told him I already removed the drive, replaced it with a spare, and the PC is now functioning normally. I also mentioned to him that I worked for a large technology company and I know what I'm doing, Minesh sounded relieved at this, since it probably meant he'd get me off the phone pretty quickly and onto the next person in his queue. Still, we went through some elementary scripted tests by booting up the PC with the drive, attempting to get into the tools partition -- which fails -- and then I heard the dreaded words,
"Do you have your original Dell restore/diagnostics CD? I just need to verify some error codes."
I don't know if anyone has seen photos or videos of my office/personal datacenter/mad scientist lab, but the chances of finding the original media was bleak. I explained to Minesh that since purchasing the computer, we had a flood in the basement and I lost a lot of books and CDs and personal belongings. I was able to rescue the computers, but the Dell CD was probably long trashed. I told him that I'd be willing to download it from Dell's web site and burn it to a CD on another PC.
"We don't have it available, sir. Are you sure you aren't able to find it?"
"I think that it would require a divine act from Ganesha himself to find that CD, Minesh."
(laughter) "Let me talk to my supervisor. This may take a few minutes."
So I wait for about 15 minutes on hold. I'm starting to think I might be screwed. Minesh comes back.
"Mr. Jason, are you sure you are unable to find the original disc?"
"Okay... let me talk to my supervisor again".
I wait another five minutes. Minesh comes back. "Well, it sounds like the drive is dead, and I don't want to waste too much of your time, so I am going to close your case out and schedule a technician to come out and replace the unit."
"Technician? (dang, I'm impressed) Wow, uh, that's really nice of you, but you can just send the part, I'm probably just going to keep it in reserve."
"Yeah, it sounds like you know what you are doing. Would you be willing to talk to my supervisor for a few minutes about your customer experience?"
"Surely. Thanks Minesh, you were really helpful."
Various call center forwarding moments aside, I thought the Dell customer experience with their India call center was surprisingly good. However, I will note that I have a lot of patience with non-native English speakers, and being a technology professional, I know things just break and know not to get angry with the other person on the end of the phone, since I HAVE been at the receiving end myself. I also know to speak slowly and clearly to non-native English speakers, and if I don't understand someone on the other end of the line, I ask them to repeat what they said.
I can certainly understand, however, how an average consumer who didn't have my background or even my cultural appreciation for India might not come out of the experience as positively as I have, particularly if it was something a lot more complicated than just a simple hardware failure. I know that when my Mother-In-Law had to call Hewlett-Packard on the phone for a printer software driver issue, she spent several hours on the phone with them. My call to Dell was under an hour.
So to Dell's support center and Minesh -- I bid you Namaste. The light within me honors the light within you.
How would you rate your call center experience with the various PC and equipment manufacturers? Talk Back and Let Me Know.