No Magic Wands For Customer Service

So… you wanna talk about service?  Let’s do it.  WARNING: this post will be a bit longer than the norm and is just the tip of the iceberg.  I’ll kick it off and then we will take it where you want to go.

The good news is that we know what we need to do.  You’ve been telling us.  Our number one priority is to get better at problem resolution.  I can almost hear the collective “duh” out there as I write this.  But this problem is complex, from finding the right products on the web, tracking orders before delivery and getting something corrected if it shows up wrong to getting the latest drivers and bios and replacing parts.  We also spend a lot of time helping connect your PCs to other electronic devices you may own, keeping your computers virus-free or even helping you load new software.  Many times we’re helping customers with stuff they didn’t even buy from Dell.  And you want the dell dude (or dudette) that you talk/chat with to be friendly, patient, empathetic and, above all else, knowledgeable about you and your problem.  Oh… and did I mention that you want it to be fast and easy? 

Right.  We got it.  If we could wave our magic wand, it would already be done.  But much too all our chagrin, it takes time.  We are working on exactly these problems… and many more. 

Right about now you’re thinking: “So, if you understand the problem so well… why do you even have it?”   We ended up here because during the days of our rapid growth, each business segment (this is our Dell term to refer to the teams selling to corporations, small businesses, state and local government, etc.) listened to customers independently and tailored policies and services around its customers needs.  For a while, it worked exceedingly well.  

But as the segments grew so did the process duplications and discrepancies.  Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water that slowly starts to boil, we didn’t realize that many of our problem resolution processes were no longer designed from a customer’s perspective.

When you contacted us to fix a problem we didn’t always act like “one Dell.”  Our processes/policies often required multiple groups to get involved.  That’s not good.  It really slowed down our ability to resolve issues and made it too easy for things to fall through the cracks between groups.  This led to difficult return policies, cumbersome rebate policies and confusing pricing structures, for example.  Our agents had to transfer calls to get customers to the people who could solve their problems since they can only see their small piece of the pie.  The organization became complex and difficult for our service advocates to navigate and fix your problems.  We know that.

We’re spending more than a $100 million — and a lot of blood, sweat and tears of talented people — to fix this.  In the past months we have taken a more holistic look at our business.  We are radically restructuring our contact centers — the intent is to redesign the whole process and put customers and service agents at the center of it.  The service agent is our bridge to you and they need to have tools and help available at the tip of their fingers to support you (BusinessWeek Q&A).  

We will make this change, we are well underway, but it took many years to get here and it will take time to re-vamp.  Processes are being reengineered and we are taking a rigorous 6-sigma style approach to doing this, we are increasing our training for service agents and we are developing tools that will help them solve your problems.  We also need to make these tools available to you, as many of you prefer to research and solve your own problems. 

The good news is that improvements will be continuous.  The magic wand won’t get us there all at once, but things are already getting better in many areas.  We have fixed the issue of long hold times for our U.S. consumer customers (those of you buying PCs for personal use in your home).  Last Fall(ish), we had a spike in calls and our average answer time went up to about 10 minutes.  While we didn’t think this was good… we didn’t know how bad it was.  Turns out that the average was very misleading!  We got many complaints and as we looked more deeply we learned that a really big portion of the calls were taking longer than 30 minutes to answer.  Yikes!  We had to completely rethink our staffing practices to handle the volumes.  Now, virtually every call is answered in 10 minutes or less.   In reality, most are answered within 4 minutes.  Whew!  Spikes here and there may throw this off from time to time but “red flags” go up all over the place if ANY customer waits 30 minutes.  We also have found that some of our phone numbers and extensions aren’t getting to the right place or even dead ends… we have cleaned the vast majority of these numbers and are still going. 

A few other things we have done: since May, we have been searching thousands of blogs that mention Dell every day to see what we can learn and to identify problems we can solve.  In June, we began providing free basic OS support (it had been fee-based) since this was the root cause of a lot of customer problems.  In August, in the U.S., we will be reducing use of mail-in rebates and simplifying our promotion and pricing structures to make them easier for customers to understand (More on that in a future post).

I have only scratched the surface of the work we are doing to improve our ability to resolve your problems.  In the coming days and weeks the people responsible for improving Dell customer service are going to join the conversation.  I’d also like to share with you the work our manufacturing, operations, web and product development teams are doing to prevent problems before they happen.  I probably have one of the coolest jobs in Dell, I get to work with Vice Presidents and our top process engineers around the entire corporation on our strategies.  The passion and commitment within Dell is exciting and intense.  We have a sense of urgency.  We have a plan we believe in, and we’re ready to share it and get your feedback.  Where do you want to start?

About the Author: WW Customer Experience