Next Business Day

Remember Dell Hell?

In 2005, Jeff Jarvis got a lemon of a laptop and made the story of his customer support tribulations public on his blog.

The saga eventually came to a seemingly happy end, with Jeff getting a refund (and happily spending it at an Apple store), and leaving the company's CEO with this parting bullet-pointed advice:

1. Read blogs.
2. Talk to bloggers.
3. Blog.

In other words, "join the conversation your customers are having without you."

And Dell did, and apparently so well that Jeff wrote the congratulatory "Dell Swell" piece in Business Week two years later, wondering "whether Dell had even become a Cluetrain company". Dell itself blogged about it.

If what Jeff wanted was revenge for all the hold music Dell had made him listen to, he couldn't have planned it better.

Last week, my laptop broke. A nameless thing, pictured above, that holds down the screw that holds down the heat sink on top of the video card got unglued from the motherboard, causing the video card to overheat and the computer to keep shutting down abruptly.

An unpleasant defect, I thought, but luckily I had bought that expensive three-year warranty, which is still good for another year.  The warranty that promises an on-site technician the "Next Business Day, Includes Nights/Weekends".

That very warranty that Jeff had.

I called the tech support last Friday, on Christmas day. The helpful guy on the other end of the line said he'd ship a new motherboard and a new fan, and I'd get an appointment call on Tuesday (that is, today) from a technician.

Today, I got a robocall saying the parts are on backorder and there would be a delay. This being another holiday week, I don't really expect the computer to get fixed before mid-January. In itself, it is an inconvenience, sure, but not a big deal.

What is a big deal, and more for Dell than for me, is the "next business day" promise.

A brand is a sum of our expectations about a product or service. These expectations are based on our own past experiences, other people's stories, media reports, and all those promises a company makes through its own communications.  When the reality fails to live up to our expectations, the brand suffers. When our expectations fall below the product's price, we walk away.

And when we walk away, the company can end up with a stock chart that looks like this:

So what happened when Dell took Jeff Jarvis's advice, hoping to become, in Michael Dell's words,  "a better company by listening and being involved in that conversation?"

We started to believe in a promise of "a better company", to trust that what had happened to Jeff was in the past and wouldn't happen to us. Our expectations went higher, only to fall harder and crash against the reality. Today, almost five years after the original Dell Hell (and a decade after this open letter), the "next business day" still means daysweeks, or months.

The only advice the company really needed in 2005 was not to make promises it couldn't keep.  What it got was "blog".



This post went up at 5 in the morning. At 9, the post got a Radian6 hit. At 10, a technician called and said he'd be here by 1. He showed up at noon, with new parts. Half an hour later, everything was fixed.

If this is the kind of service that everyone gets, I apologize and take it all back.

And if you are reading this from New Brunswick in Canada on your Radian6 dashboard and it was you who gave it an extra push, thank you.

Read about how Dell "answers the social phone" with Radian6 on Radian6 blog and on Dell's blog.


  1. the sad thing is that we all know this isn't the experience that everyone gets. the experience everyone gets is the "wait and someday we'll fix it" mentality. similarly, i had the power adapter on my vostro break this week, well under the extended accidentaly breakage warranty that i had purchased. after calling dell, expecting a simple "we'll ship a new one out to you" i was informed that the adapter isn't covered, since it isn't "inside" the computer. but they would be happy to ship one to me for $70. boo.

  2. great post -- but i wish you hadn't posted the update because it reinforces poor corporate behavior -- people shouldn't have to post a blog complaining about a brand in order to get the company's attention -- your point about only making promises you can keep is spot on!

  3. See, Denise, I'm wearing three hats here. As a selfish customer, I'm pretty content the PC is back to life. As a blogger, I feel I have to be fair and report what has happened. But as an ad guy, I think it's not too great that you need to have a blog in order to get your warranty terms honored, if that's what happened here.


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