Dell's problems isn't down to paint, it's communication

When you stop to think about it, you realize what a really lucky company Dell is. After years of below par customer service, it still manages to both attract new customers and retain many of its existing ones. It even manages to get irate customers to tell it what's going wrong - but is Dell listening?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

When you stop to think about it, you realize what a really lucky company Dell is.  After years of below par customer service, it still manages to both attract new customers and retain many of its existing ones.  It even manages to get irate customers to tell it what's going wrong - but is Dell listening?

The latest issue to hit Dell are delays relating to the XPS M1330 notebooks.  The delay, according to Dell's blog, is partly down to paint:

One example of this is the painting process. Right now, Tuxedo Black is the only color that is consistently meeting our quality standards. That's one reason why some customers are getting their orders before others. The finish on the XPS M1330 is similar to a custom paint job on a car, but with one additional complexity—on a car, typical viewing occurs from several feet away. With a notebook, the typical viewing range is much closer... sometimes a foot or less. This requires a different level of attention to detail.  Why do I bring that up? There was no problem painting hundreds at a time.  But as we increased the volume, otherwise manageable factors like dust contamination caused our successful yields to decrease.  Adding to the complexity, the Crimson Red and the Pearl White colors require more coats of paint and more touches to create the finished product—that means there is more opportunity for dust contamination.

All this ultimately results in fewer finished parts from the paint line than we expected.  You may have noticed on Dell.com yesterday we discontinued the Pearl White color. The reason is that we are just not able to produce the kind of volumes of high quality product that we need to support demand. It takes about 5 coats of paint to get the appearance we were looking for.

The screens are also problematic:

Unanticipated part shortages also hold up our ability to ship products. The most obvious issue is one mentioned in earlier posts-the LED backlit LCD display. First off, it's new technology, and that means there are fewer suppliers available. Bright white LEDs provide the backlight for the LCD instead of a fluorescent tube. It results in a brighter display that offers better color reproduction, is thinner and lighter, and draws less power. This relatively limited supply base combined with stronger than anticipated demand-the number of orders has simply exceeded our expectations-has contributed to the delays. Our vendors are ramping production as quickly as possible, but these displays continue to be in short supply.

The problems as seen from the point of view of Dell's own customers are quite different.  While many customers are annoyed by having their orders delayed several times, what's really making customers angry is the fact that they don't feel that Dell, as a company, is able to pass on information effectively in a one to one fashion.  This blog post relating to paint issues has received hundreds of comments from customers who ordered systems back in June and who are still waiting for them to be completed.  Some customers are only slightly inconvenienced by the delays and are willing to wait, but others are absolutely livid, and with good cause.  But it doesn't matter whether it's positive or negative feedback, most of these customers are doing Dell a service - they're telling management (for free) what's wrong with Dell and suggesting ways that the company can put this right.

Here are some excellent suggestions that I picked up from the comments:

  • Set realistic delivery dates.
  • Make sure that options that might cause significant delay are highlighted early on so the customer can change their order if need be.
  • Make sure that all customers are informed - by phone and/or email - when their system has been delayed.
  • Don't charge the customer until the order is ready for shipping.
  • Make sure that customer service representatives have access to all the information they need to give the customer accurate information on their order.
  • Never, ever lie, or give the impression of having lied, to a customer.
  • Have a clearly defined compensation policy for when customers are messed about by excessive delays.

These are just a few points, but they would go a long way to help keep customers happy while they're waiting for their systems.  This issue with the paint can't have become an issue all of a sudden at the beginning or August (when the post was made by Dell).  The company must have known there was a problem much sooner than this yet continued to take orders and tell waiting customers that their orders would ship shortly.  Telling customers about the problem sooner rather than later and giving realistic shipping dates is far preferable to waiting and giving people false hope.

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But is Dell listening?

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