New server arrives: my adventure in Dell customer-support Hell

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Tags: dell, support, phone, tech-support

Yesterday I received a new server from Dell to replace the server I decommissioned earlier this week. My initial impression was favorable: the build quality looked good, the power supply seemed up to the task, and the heat sinks and blowers seemed almost absurdly beefy.

And then I noticed the drive bays.

Dell, doin’ it’s own thing, server style

You need to understand that Dell engineers like to do their own thing on occasion. Sometimes they will use power supplies that have weird mounting configurations. Or snap-in blowers that are hard to source. Or, in this case, drive bays that require goofy mounting hardware.

On this server there are two non-standard things about the drive bays:

  1. They require proprietary, snap-in drive carriers (but for servers this is fairly common).
  2. They are located so close to the edge of the server’s case that special low-profile, right-angle power and SATA data cables are required for drive mounting. This is basically a non-stop train to Goofy Town.

Now, here’s the head scratcher. Somebody at Dell was smart enough to fill each of the bays with a proprietary drive carrier. That person realized that if Dell didn’t provide the carriers, the bays were pretty much useless, and customers would likely be upset because they couldn’t actually use the drive bays they had just purchased as part of their shiny new servers. Likewise, somebody was smart enough to provide the special low-profile, right-angle power cable required for each bay. But nobody thought to provide the special low-profile, right-angle SATA cable required for each bay. Oops.

If it were a standard cable, I could understand the omission. In this case, however, the cable is effectively proprietary and thus should have been considered an essential part of the bay itself, just like the carrier and power connecter are, and provided out of the box.

Dell’s phone support: “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”

So I called Dell, using the phone number on my order screen, to get the required cabling. Once Dell picked up, the problem was solved with a simple, 17-step process, requiring only about two and a half hours in phone-maze hell:

  1. After phone-tree surfing, I ended up talking with Temi. She didn’t know the part number for the cable, so she said she would have somebody call me back.
  2. An hour later, Scott – in sales – called me back. He said he really couldn’t sell me the cables because “there was essentially no resale value to them.” But he said maybe “parts” could help me out. So he transferred me to Manuel in the parts department.
  3. Manuel was able to narrow the selection down to four potential cables. But he didn’t know which of the four I needed. So he said he would conference in a tech specialist, who would be able to pick the right cable.
  4. I ended up back at the main menu of the phone tree. Manuel was not on the line. Oops.
  5. Once again, I surfed the phone tree to business customer service.
  6. This time I was connected to Cathy. I explained the situation. She said she couldn’t help me but would transfer me to somebody who could. (At this time, I had been on the phone for one solid hour.)
  7. George picked up. He seemed clued in. After I explained the situation, I could sense that he got it: It is not cool to ship a customer a server with effectively unusable drive bays.
  8. Unfortunately, George said he was not the right person to take care of the issue. (I got the feeling he was in the support group for big-money enterprise customers and that my small company didn’t quite make the cut.) He said he would give me the exact phone number and extension to call to speak with the people who could get the job done.
  9. When he gave me the number, I noticed it was the same number that had been on my order screen and had started my mad quest through Dell’s customer-support, phone-tree hell. When I informed George of this, he seemed surprised. In that case, he said, he would personally transfer me to a “resolution specialist” who had the clout to get things done. Further, he assured me, he would make sure the specialist understood the situation before he handed off the call. Cool.
  10. George conferenced in Erica and briefly explained the situation. OK, she said, she would help me out. George said goodbye, and I thanked him.
  11. Erica, now in charge, asked me what I wanted her to do. I said, figure out what the right part is, and send a shipment to me. Erica said that she didn’t know what the right part was, but she could transfer me to parts, and they could probably help me out. I said, no way, I had already talked to parts – about an hour and a half ago – and now that I was speaking with a resolution specialist I didn’t want to be de-escalated.
  12. At this point, everything fell apart. Erica said that she couldn’t get me the parts. All she could really do, in fact, was arrange for the server to be picked up for a refund. This blew my mind.
  13. Staying calm, I pointed out the absurdity of the situation: “Wouldn’t it make more sense to conference in the right group and just have them send me the parts? Think about it, you just sold me the server. Now you’re telling me that the solution is to send the server back for a refund? If I do that, it will be as if I had not done business with Dell in the first place. Are you absolutely certain that the best solution Dell has to offer is effectively the same as not doing business with Dell? Doesn’t that strike you as absurd? Aren’t you empowered to do something that makes a little more sense, both for me and for Dell? George told me that you were a ‘resolution specialist’ who had the power to make things right for customers. Isn’t that the case?”
  14. Apparently, the situation struck somebody as absurd because at that moment a gentleman by the name of Michael broke into the conversation. He thanked Erica for her help and said that he would be taking over the call.
  15. After Erica left the conversation, Michael explained that he and George (from step 10) had been monitoring the conversation since George’s hand-off, just to make sure the situation was handled properly. Because the call seemed to be headed in the wrong direction, they felt it was time to take the call back and make things right themselves.
  16. Michael – who seemed like a no-nonsense kind of guy – said that he was going to find out what I needed, make sure it was in stock, and get it to me. And that’s exactly what he did. In about three minutes, he had confirmed the part number of the correct cabling, verified that it was in stock, and then handed the call over to George, who (1) arranged for the shipment, (2) gave it some kind of insane priority that he said would get it fulfilled before the shift change in the next hour, and (3) got me a tracking number. I thanked George for his help, and he gave me his direct line, just in case I ever needed it.
  17. Problem solved.

All in all, I am not happy with Dell’s support. Even though Michael and George kicked ass on behalf of this customer – note to Dell: you need more guys like them – it was too late to undo the damage caused by nearly two hours of ineffective prior support.

I have some more thoughts that I will share later, especially regarding the comparative merits of HP’s support.

Until then, does anybody have any other entertaining phone-support tales to tell?

Update: See Dell-support follow-up survey to read about how my problems with Dell support ended up getting the attention of a business magazine and Dell headquarters.

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