One of the pitfalls of an inordinate interest in technology is that many illusions about ‘the latest greatest gadget’ and the ‘newest coolest laptop’ are regularly and rudely demolished. And much of this disillusionment takes place at the very first instance when we come in touch with the service and support end of world-class and legendary technology manufacturers.

Somehow, every ISO 9000 (or something) wielding technology heavyweight seems to meet its match when they enter India and find it difficult to even approach the standards they deliver as a routine in the western markets. And to be fair, it isn’t as if they haven’t tried. Consequently, we have low expectations, high anxiety and the inevitable touch of cynicism, when hardware headaches strike. Personally, just the thought of having to go through the inevitable circle of toll free calls, inter-departmental transfers, follow-up emails, repeated service centre visits and inexplicable replacement delays is enough to convince me to just junk the hardware and find something new in most instances.

There’s probably something karmic at play here, but I get the feeling like I’ve danced this dance with almost every Fortune 100 hardware manufacturer– and seen my friends do the foxtrot with the ones I missed. Several are downright obnoxious about delivering service support (try getting replacement videogame power adaptors), others woefully labour over the smallest issues (replacing a laptop DVD writer), and many others seem to be utterly clueless or callous when it comes to meeting any ‘after sales’ commitments.

But for the last 3-4 years, I’ve been repeatedly hearing about one company that seems to be getting it right.  In fact I’m probably understating it a bit — between my own personal experiences with them and the endorsement of our Lamington Road box pushers, I get the sense that they pretty much seem to have become the consensus favourite for best product support in India.

It's all good with Dell

It's all good with Dell

And awkward as I strangely feel about naming them (does it make me a fanboy?), that company is Dell.

Of course, I’m sure there are some who feel otherwise and I’m expecting some emails to the contrary. However, after a long series of interactions I’ve concluded that they’re systematically better equipped to solve service related problems than any other brand I’ve bought in India in the last decade (let’s try and forget the dark ages before then).

Why? Firstly, let’s acknowledge that delivering good support is actually a pretty complex task. But more importantly it’s because the combination of intent, focus, design, commitment, resources, coordination and incessant effort needed to succeed is something that’s very difficult to achieve. And many others have failed trying (especially in price over-sensitive markets).

But Dell seems to have made more progress than anyone here has and is differentiating itself from competitors largely on this parameter. Ground-breaking product vision isn’t really the main reason people choose Dell (though they have several neat products).

My first personal experience was with a Dell laptop I had about 4 years ago (purchased from the US – which blew its power supply because of a brutal power surge. I was cringing about what they’d have to say — ‘warranty only for Indian purchases, sir’ or ‘we can’t be responsible for bad power damage’ or ‘hand it over to the local service centre and we’ll check for spares’. I was pretty much prepared for the worst and resigned to at least a few days of downtime.

Imagine my amazement when they said “we’ll ship a free replacement to you overnight, just hand over the defective part”. I have to admit that the surprise escalated to jaw-dropping shock when I actually had the replacement in about 23 hours after I made my initial call. And along the way I’d had a couple of proactive calls asking for some details and confirming the shipment dispatch. Put that together with a courteous and coherent courier rep, and I pretty much thought it was a one-time only lightning strike. It still left me shaken for a while though.

While I was relating this story to a very technology-savvy friend (still in shock), he told me about a recent experience which was even more amazing. His Dell laptop developed a mysterious and difficult to diagnose display problem (even for him), which could have been because of multiple reasons. Instead of a regular “you’ll have to take it in to our service centre” routine, Dell checked his configuration and shipped him several parts – a motherboard, video card and video connectors. These were then used by a visiting engineer to solve the problem in less than an hour at his place. Just outright replacement, no discussion and no delays. I know (again unfortunately from personal experience) that there isn’t one other manufacturer here I would expect to even get the list of parts right, let alone all the other complex logistics and coordination required to execute this quickly.

All of this convinced me to suggest going for Dell when my mother-in-law was on the lookout for a new laptop last year. What I’ve learnt since is that they have both the systems (using remote log in software) and the patience to solve even software problems (an irritating Bluetooth mouse configuration issue). But what really topped it all was that they replaced a failed motherboard free of charge even several days after her laptop's warranty had expired.

About the same time they again managed a sub-24 hour turnaround for an outright ‘no questions asked’ replacement of my 15” Dell LCD, which had developed a button defect. What is it with these guys? Really.

All of this meant that when my wife decided to get a laptop (last month), she made it pretty clear it had to be from Dell. True to form, it has arrived one day ahead of schedule, and again with an inexplicably cheerful courier guy.

The problem for them is, they’re going to find it really difficult to meet my sky-high expectations the next time.

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