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Dell Stockholders Deserve a Refund!

In the days when Apple was really down in the dumps, facing near-immediate doom, Michael Dell, CEO of the company he founded, suggested that Apple’s stockholders should get their money back. The company should then be shut down.

Of course, that was before Dell ran into its own problems with service and sales. And it appears, if you take an investigative story from The New York Times as an example, their problems are far worse than you might have imagined.

Among the blatant examples is the report that they shipped an estimated 11.8 million defective OptiPlex computers between May 2003 and July 2005. Worse, defective computers were often replaced with units that Dell knew were also defective.

A key reason for these failures were bad capacitors on the motherboard. Now in all fairness, other PC makers, including Apple, have been afflicted with similar ills, due to bad batches of parts from a specific supplier. But it appears Dell handled the situation badly, because customers were deceived and, in turn, lost money because they were saddled with loads of broken boxes.

Worse, we’re not talking about small companies being victimized by defective PCs. The list of customers includes such major firms as Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo and even the Mayo Clinic.

Even more interesting is that Michael Dell, who returned as CEO some time back to help rescue the company after surrendering those chores to someone else, may personally be in a heap of trouble. The article states: “Dell set aside $100 million this month to handle a potential settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a five-year-old investigation into its books, which will most likely result in federal accusations of fraud and misconduct against the company’s founder, Michael S. Dell.”

So in short, maybe Dell should be closing the company and giving the stockholders their money back. This is pathetic performance from a tech firm that once prided itself on having great customer support.

Then again, I can’t say my close encounters with Dell’s support people over the years have been all that encouraging. Here’s an example:

Some years ago, I was helping a client who was trying to configure his computer network to recognize his new broadband connection.

Now his Macs, then running one of the early versions of Mac OS X, just worked. The PC, a recently installed Dell, didn’t. When the normal diagnostics failed, I got Dell’s support on the line hoping for a fast answer. I expected to reach a knowledgeable person who’d have the solution at his or her fingertips.

Instead, I got a tragically untrained individual who kept trying to read off a cheat sheet to direct me through a set of simple troubleshooting steps that any imbecile would have done already. Alas, every single time I told him to stop and just answer my questions, he stumbled and returned to his prefabricated responses.

Finally, I requested a supervisor, and as I waited for someone to pick up the call, I went through a couple of Windows command line tricks that, in the end resolved the problem even before anyone answered. Surprisingly, when the supervisor finally did respond, he actually gave a wrong answer!

With a smile, this dedicated Mac user set him straight!

Thank heavens they didn’t ask me to complete a questionnaire to rate the quality of their support, because it would have scored zero from end to end.

Now to make matters worse, I wasn’t dealing with an offshore support team here. Based on the command of English and the lack of a distinctive foreign or regional accent, it would appear both support people were USA-based, but that made them no less incompetent.

To Dell’s credit, they claim to be spending huge sums of money to shore up their support and regain that lost reputation. However, a recent Consumer Reports reader survey of the quality of tech support indicates Dell is still pretty bad, but that’s true of just about every PC company other than Apple.

Of course, few are demanding that the FTC investigate the goings on at Dell, even though it is clear that, over the years, they have been cheating their customers. Despite these issues, Dell’s market share in the U.S. remains high. They are still one of the two PC makers on the planet, behind HP. Unfortunately, far too many companies appear to be falling for Dell’s sales pitches and buying up truckloads of boxes from them rather than consider their very real problems.

Before some of you suggest that The New York Times is just another alleged “liberal media” institution that’s dedicated to trashing any tech company that isn’t Apple, take a look at the facts. The newspaper hasn’t hidden stories about the FTC probes into Apple’s affairs, nor the early teething problems with the new iPhone, such as that apparent reception issue if you hold it the “wrong way.”

Now I don’t really expect that Dell will be shut down and Michael Dell transported to the nearest jail cell to pay for his alleged crimes. At worst, maybe he’ll have to pay some fines, promise to be a good boy, and that will be the end of the case.

As far as Dell customers are concerned, if you really need a generic Windows box, there are loads of better options. You don’t need to buy a Mac if you prefer something without the Apple logo on it.