An evening of confusion with Dell customer service

Photo: ndevil

I got my Dell Mini10V in the mail yesterday. It's small and red and pretty, but I had one minor issue with my order. When I was personalizing my order online, it asked me if I wanted a 24WHr 3-cell battery or a 56WhHr 6-cell battery; the 6-cell was just $35 more, but had double the lifespan. I went with the 6-cell. As soon as I pulled it out of the box, though, I realized it was way too big to fit into my favorite bag. It was my fault; I had ordered the wrong thing. I called Dell's 1-800 number to see if they could process an exchange; it was the beginning of what turned out to be a baffling journey into the labyrinth of Dell's customer service phone line.

After a few minutes of hold music, I got through to a woman who told me I could return the 6-cell, get a refund, and then purchase the 3-cell separately. I wanted to ask her how much the refund would be for, but after telling me she'd email me a UPS label, she hastily thanked me for choosing Dell and then put me on hold so I could speak to a sales rep who would then sell me the 3-cell battery.

The sales rep was a soft-spoken woman named Jame. After asking me about three minutes of questions about what kind of laptop I had purchased and how, she told me I could buy a 3-cell battery for my Mini 10V for $129.99 + tax, how would I like to pay? Before I paid, I wanted to know how much I was going to get refunded for the 6-cell. She said it would be around $135, but she seemed unsure. I asked her to put me back on the phone with the person whom I had talked to about the refund so I could double check.

She refused. "I'd really like to sell you this battery first," she said.

I explained that I didn't want to pay $129.99+ for an extra battery for a $299 computer without knowing how much I'll get refunded for the one I was returning. She kept asking me why I wasn't buying the battery from her, and I repeatedly told her that it was because I wanted to confirm the return amount, and besides, I can buy it on for the same price, free shipping, without spelling out my name, address, and credit card number over and over. Finally, she said:

"Ma'am, I didn't want it to come to this, but I'll tell you this, I want to make this sale. If you don't buy the battery, I won't get my commission."

"I understand," I said, politely at first. "But I really don't want to spend that much money without knowing how much I'll be refunded."

"I told you, you'll get about $135."

"Can you please just put me through to the returns person?"

"But then I won't get my commission," she said, refusing to hang up.

"That's really not my problem. Can you please just do your job and put me through to the returns department?"

"I am doing my job. My job is to sell you this battery."

"I'm not going to buy it now. Since you can't answer my question about the refund, I need to talk to the person I was talking to right before you, who might be able to."

"Then is it okay if I call you in 15 minutes to sell you this battery again?"

"Ok, fine, call me back later," I said.

The hold music again. A few minutes later, someone picked up, thanked me for calling Dell, and asked me for some information so that he could connect me to the right person. Two people later, I finally got an answer — I would get $35 for returning the 6-cell battery that retails for $149.99.

"But someone just tried to sell me the 3-cell for $129 and told me I'd get $135 back for the 6-cell," I said. This woman had no idea what I was talking about, so she put me back on hold.

To be fair, I rarely have a good experience calling toll-free customer service numbers for any company. But in the hour and a half that I spent on the phone with Dell, I spoke to about ten different people, listened to an hour of hold music, repeated my customer number, my order number, my address, my return authorization number, my purchase ID number, my phone number, and my computer's service tag number at least two dozen times total, and spelled out my name another dozen times. I got blackmailed into staying the phone with one person eager to make a sale and was commanded to get off of my headset (I'm not kidding — one guy literally yelled at me to get off my headset because he couldn't hear me) by another. At the end of the day, I was left with no idea whether I could exchange my 6-cell for a 3-cell and a conviction that these Dell customer service reps must be unhappy, untrained, underpaid, or all of the above. (I should also point out that I probably never would have encountered this giant battery issue in the first place if the Dell web site made it clear how big and how heavy the 6-cell would be — I mean, I knew it would stick out, but there was no image or metric given to gauge how much with.)

I talked to a Dell spokesperson this morning, who explained to me that the battery can't be broken out of the system and returned or exchanged separately.* "It's part of the components in the system, like the processor, the memory, and the OS; once you receive your system, you can't pull those parts out. Your options are to return the whole thing or to buy a new battery."

But of course! This made perfect sense. What didn't make sense was the wild goose chase that customer service sent me on last night.

*She also said they would use this incident as an opportunity to retrain their service reps, and that it has never been their intention to mislead their customers.

Photos: Disaster Area (Thumbnail) and Ndevil (Mini 10 battery)