Despite having written for the Internet the last four years, I've never been particularly tech-savy, so you might think I'm unqualified to write a column comparing Dell's computer repair customer service to Apple's. But this is no tech-head review. Instead, I'm only reporting the events of my last week when a perfect storm of mishaps combined to break both my Dell laptop and Mac PowerBook. The timing was especially cruel as I'd just fired up my Twitter account and now my ability to recount my glorious life in real time was more limited (jumping into the void with opportunistic greed was my co-columnist Dan O'Brien, selfishly sucking up all the twitciples he could find while I was away. You're welcome, Dan!). Anyway, here's my story...
I bought my Studio Dell laptop halfway through the run of Hate By NumbersÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ¢ and I gotta tell you, it started falling apart instantly. The screws came out, converting the the cheap plastic casing into a snap trap for my arm hair. Nevertheless, because I am a professional (and because I now no longer have any arm hair) I kept using it. Shortly thereafter though, the hinges gave way and the screen got all wobbly. Still, I remained undeterred until last week when the computer suddenly stopped charging. I decided to remedy all these problems at once. I knew that meant I might be without my laptop for a few weeks, but I still had my Mac. What could go wrong?
The Call To Customer Service
I called Dell's 800 number and was instantly directed to India. Apparently, Dell has found a way to make money off of America's racism and/or xenophobia because now --for an additional fee-- you also have the option of being connected to a customer service technician "right here in America" (I think this ploy will be more successful than the automated message they had first considered: "If you hate talking to brown people, push '1'"). Anyway, because I love people of all races and creeds and because there was no way I was paying Dell one more cent for their crap laptop, I opted to hold for an Indian technician. I was greeted by a "Raj" who filled my head with Slumdog Millionaire images. (no, Raj was not gouging out a singing boy's eyes with a spoon. I meant the tech support scene.) Raj quickly displayed his near-perfect English and startling systematic diagnostic prowess:
Raj: Good morning, sir. What seems to be the problem?
Me: My computer won't charge. I've tried several outlets. But the light on the plug's not lighting up. So I think it's just a plug problem.
Raj: I see. Very good, sir. Have you tried more than one outlet, sir?
Raj: OK, very good, sir. Now if you look at that plug, You will see a little green light. Do you see it?
Raj: Is it lit?
Raj: Is it plugged in?
Raj: OK. Very good, sir. There are two options. Either there is a problem with the computer or with the plug. At this point, I think it's the plug, because the green light on it is not lit. Is that correct?
Raj: OK, then at this point sir, I am 99 percent sure the problem is with the plug. I will mail you a new plug --that is no problem, sir-- and when you receive it, plug it in and if it works then everything is fine and there is no problem sir.
I should have left it at that, but sensing the possible return of my Hate By NumbersÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ¢ series, I thought this was the perfect time for me to get the whole unit serviced. Apparently, that posed a dilemma for Raj. For reasons I still don't understand, I couldn't mail the whole unit back to Dell until we solved that one percent of doubt as to whether the plug or the computer was the problem. Accordingly, Raj suggested he ship the plug, I try out my computer and make sure all works well, and then ship the whole unit off to Dell. He also stressed that I not ship back the good plug ("I fear the techs will lose it, sir"). And lastly, Raj suggested that I remove the hard drive before sending. Accordingly, he walked me through the removal of eight screws (four external and four internal) and the disconnecting and removal of the hard drive from the memory board. That took about 10 minutes. After the procedure, this exchange occurred...
Raj: So you've now removed the hard drive, sir?
Me: Yes. Now what?
Raj: Very good, sir. OK. Now put the hard drive back and close up the computer.
Me: What?! Why?
Raj: Well, you'll need the hard drive to test out the computer when the plug comes.
Me: Then why did you make me remove it right now?
Well, I wanted to make sure you know how to remove it for when you have to.
Raj then took another 10 minutes to give me an ID number for the plug repair, an ID number for the hinge repair, an ID number for our call and his personal extension should I need further care. In total, the call lasted 58 minutes.Two days later I received the plug (yes, Raj, turns out the plug was the culprit. Rest easy). Oddly enough, the Dell mailing box also included mailing instructions which specified that I should include
I never had much of a problem with the Mac. I always thought it was a sturdy little guy. And with my Dell in the shop I started using it for all my needs whether they be updating my Twitter account, Facebook account or latest Cracked offering. And then I dropped it. Mind you it was closed and only fell about two feet to the carpeted floor, but that's all it took. Complete hard drive failure. Also, like my Dell, I'd noticed some plug problems with intermittent charging in the days leading up to the fall.
The Call To Customer ServiceI called Apple's customer service and was pleased to see that their support had not been outsourced to a foreign country. Ever resourceful, however, Apple found a way to make extra money even without Dell's "racists pay more" angle...
Chip: Hi this is Chip. I see you are not registered for our warranty plan that would allow you to have repairs made free. Would you like to join?
Me: But this Mac is six months old. Isn't it still under warranty?
Me: So the repair is already free?
Chip: Yes. So would you like to purchase and additional warranty?
Me: No. After failing to accomplish that attempted financial rape, Chip advised that it sounded like my Mac was suffering complete hard drive failure. He recommended I take it to the Apple store, and so, last Sunday at 10:30 a.m., I hit my local mall. I was pleased to see almost no line for the Genius Bar. Three modern day wisemen ready to help me.
But before I reached salvation I was intercepted by an Apple concierge who informed me that the store was only open for service calls.
Me: Oh, that's OK. That's what I'm here for. I called the help line and they told me to come in.
Concierge: Did they make an appointment for you?
Me: I don't think so.
Concierge: I'm sorry. Appointment only. You'll have to leave your computer and someone will call you in 24 hours. Is that OK?
I consented and filed out some paperwork, including a provision where I agreed to a $100 diagnostic fee.
Me: Why do I have to pay a diagnostic fee if it's under warranty?
Concierge: You don't. We never charge that, but we have to put it.
Concierge: So that your order gets processed, but I promise you won't be charged.
Me: But I'm signing a piece of paper giving you permission to?
Concierge: Yes. You have to give us permission to charge you so we can service it without charge. I knew that didn't sound right, but I was tired and the concierge had really bad breath so I didn't feel like arguing. Accordingly, I took my revenge by converting my last name to Scottish before signing the paperwork.
The Follow UpDespite the promised 24-hour contact time, I did not receive my call from Apple for another 36 hours. Sure, they claimed there was some mix up with differing names on the account (Gladstone vs. MacSucks) but that's hardly an excuse. The phone rep predicted full hard-drive and plug repair in three to five days. Yesterday at 2 P.M., I received a call that the Mac was fixed. I drove to the mall and picked my bad boy up, but realized (just before leaving) that they had neglected to return my plug. Apparently the tech guys had lost that. And after just 10 more minutes of waiting they found a new one for me.
I'm not going to pick a winner. I mean, yeah, Apple has more repair outlets so I avoided the mail and their turnaround time was pretty impressive--a total of three business days. But both Dell and Apple tried to screw me out of money. Both were bogged down in bureaucratic procedure. And most importantly, both manufactured a laptop that fell to pieces in under a year. Like I said at the start, I'm no expert. Just a man who lived through the cataclysmic events of dual laptop failure. I've waded through the morass of customer service and lived to tell the tale. Does that make me a hero? In a way. Yes.