How Dell screwed up my order

Yesterday I put in an order for twin Vostro 200 mini-towers. The transaction was simple, just using a credit card over a secure web site. I expected an uneventful sale and a short wait to get the computers. Unfortunately Dell had other plans.
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor on

Yesterday I put in an order for twin Dell Vostro 200 mini-towers for the kids (anyone who has two boys will understand why I had to get two identical machines). The transaction was simple, just using a credit card over a secure web site. I expected an uneventful sale and a short wait to get the computers. Unfortunately Dell had other plans.

About 10 minutes after I clicked 'Submit', I got a call from home. "Did you get the email about a problem with the order?" my wife wanted to know. I didn't, so I asked her to forward it. The mail said:

Order Delayed

While processing your order, we were unable to obtain authorization from your card issuer for this purchase.

Please contact your card issuer for assistance by calling the customer-service phone number provided on the back of your card. When the issue is resolved, call us at 1-877-819-3355 with your Order Number for further processing.

Great, I think. I must have given them the wrong credit card number. But just to be sure I called Citibank's customer service. I was put through to representative immediately. She looked up my account and found the charge from Dell. "There are no problems," she said, "the charge went through just fine." Friendly and efficient; the call probably took under a minute.

Citi customer support: A+

So next, as instructed, I called Dell customer service. "If you received a message, and require credit card assistance, Press 1". I wonder how many messages they send out, that would require an entire menu item devoted to the problem. I press the key. "Please wait." So I wait. And wait. And wait some more. About 20 minutes later, "Stephen" answers the phone. I didn't record the conversation, but here's how it went as best I can remember:

"How can I help you?" said Stephen. I can hear many other people talking in the background. Stephen speaks with a rich accent.

"I got a message about a problem with authorization on my credit card, but the card company says there is no problem," I said.

"What is your order number?" I give it to him.

"There was a problem authorizing your credit card," Stephen tells me.

"Yes, but I called the card company and they said the charge went through ok."

"Would you like to use the same card on this order?" asked Stephen.

"I don't want to be charged again. Can you tell me why there was a problem?"

(slight pause) "Would you like to use the same card on this order?" I'm reminded of my morning trips to McDonalds. The people there don't speak English, but have learned certain key phrases and responses. As long as nothing goes wrong, it's not usually a problem. But if something goes wrong...

"This is the card I want to use but I don't want to be charged twice for the computer," I replied. I can tell where this is going.

"What are the last 4 digits on the card number?" He asked. Resignedly, I gave him all the relevant information.

"Ok, Mr. Burnette, the charge completed normally. Can I do anything else for you?"

"Can you verify that I will not be charged twice for this computer?" I know this is a losing battle but I have to give it a try.


"No, you can't verify that, or no I won't be charged twice?"

(pauses) "You will not be charged twice." he said. "Can I do anything else for you?"

I thought about asking for some kind of customer rep number, but decided it wasn't worth it. "No, that's all, thanks".

5 minutes after I hung up, I got a call from home. "The credit card company called and left a message," my wife told me. It was from fraud detection at Citi. "They said I had to answer the phone or call back, and the card was frozen until then." So she called them. There were two separate charges for the computer, and we had to cancel one of them.

Dell customer support: F

When I ordered the computers I wondered how Dell could make a profit charging such low prices. If I built the computers myself it would likely cost more. Apparently Dell has had to cut a few corners, such as in order processing and customer service to make this possible. But I wonder if it's worth it in the long term. When I ordered my first Dell years ago I was impressed with how "smooth" the whole operation was. The order was complete and the computer built and shipped within hours. Customer support answered the phone when I needed them, and we had no problems understanding each other. Ah, well, like full service gas stations, I suppose such conveniences have been sacrificed to razor thin profits. I look forward to receiving and unpacking the computers with some trepidation, wondering what other sacrifices have been made.

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