Consumer Watchdog Writes on Dell's Poor Performance in 2007 Computer Reliability Report

Dell Ranks Fifth in 2007 Computer Reliability Report

Consumer Watchdog
By George Gombossy
October 26, 2007:

Dude, You Might Be Getting A Headache With That Dell

Dell has become one of the most well-known computer companies in the country. Unfortunately it's also establishing a reputation as the most troublesome among the top brands.

Purchasers of Dell computers from Connecticut and throughout the country are increasingly complaining about misleading advertising, equipment failures and, most serious of all, unreliable customer and technical services.

Rescuecom, a national computer repair franchise, analyzed its tens of thousands of records and reported this week that among the five top brands, Dell computers had the greatest likelihood of needing service.

The survey, based on each brand's market share, showed that Apple computers - by a huge margin - were the least prone to problems.

Computers by Lenovo and IBM came in second, followed by HP, Gateway and then Dell. Last year, the first time Rescuecom provided its analysis, Dell was in fourth place with Gateway in fifth.

"Results of the report - based on 46,000 service calls to RESCUECOM - provide computer users with unique insight about the likelihood that they will require support beyond what is provided by the PC maker's warranty," the company said.

Complaints that I have received this year back up the report's findings on Dell. Of the six complaints I have received about computer reliability and marketing issues, all involved Dell computers.

But all these complaints, said Rescuecom owner David Milman, don't mean that consumers and businesses should stop buying Dell products.

Milman said Dells are still relatively cheap and well built compared to lesser-known brands. He said customers just need to know that advertised prices, financing, warranties, at-home repairs and technical help will probably not live up to Dell's promises.

For their part, Dell officials concede there have been problems as the company continues to grow, but they insist customer service is important.

"The customer experience is Dell's No. 1 priority," said Jodi Zweifler of Dell's global communications, as she promised to look into the complaints from Connecticut residents I sent her. A future Watchdog column will update how the complaints from these customers were resolved:

Gus Vaughan of Cromwell said he bought his computer in May, and within a few days it developed severe problems, including locking up. He and his wife, Joanne, spent more than 12 hours on the phone working with technicians, trying to solve the problem. Those efforts ultimately included taking apart the computer.

When the telephone consultations didn't work, Dell sent a repairman to their home, who discovered the computer had serious hardware problems. After more phone calls, Dell decided to send the couple a new computer, which took almost two months to arrive.

Frances Wilson of Bristol paid full price for a computer by check three years ago. Nevertheless, Wilson, 88, started receiving bills from Dell. She wrote to the president of Dell, as well as to several other officials at the company without getting any results.

She said she finally had to hire her accountant to write several more letters to Dell before it stopped demanding that she pay $300, which she did not owe to the company.

Marion Bradley of North Branford, another senior, said she had a "Dell from Hell" right out of the box. Her son set up the computer for her, but several programs would not work. She called Dell in March and was told she had to hire an "expert" for $138 to help her.

Bradley, the retired head of the English department at North Branford High School, said the calls to those experts were worthless. Her daughter-in-law finally was able to fix the computer after spending several hours with it.

When she bought her computer she was told there would be no interest charges if she made all payments on time. She said she made timely payments but still got billed for interest, which she is disputing.

Gregory Burr of Westbrook tried to be a nice guy when he bought his Dell last year. He wanted to pay by credit card, but the Dell salesman asked that Burr instead sign up for a Dell loan so the company would not have to pay the credit card company a fee. Burr agreed.

That act of kindness turned into a nightmare as Burr's name got mixed up with another customer's account and he spent months trying to clear his credit.

These types of problems resulted in a lawsuit by the New York attorney general's office against Dell and Dell Financial Services, which is jointly owned by Dell and consumer financing company CIT.

The suit accuses Dell of luring customers with zero percent financing and then charging them high rates. It also accuses the company and Dell Financial Services of fraud, false advertising and deceptive business practices.

"While even one dissatisfied customer is too many, the allegations in the AG's filing are based upon a small fraction of Dell's consumer transactions in New York," Dell said in response to the suit.

Well actually, there were 700 complaints in New York and, as we're learning, several in Connecticut.

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant

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