This is going to be a rather long rant about my recent experiences with Dell customer service.


I have a Dell laptop. My parents and I split the cost for my birthday, after the lemon of a Zenbook R gave me back in 2012 died for the last time with a disconnection between the power plug and anything useful. The Dell, a refurbished Latitude e5440, is “heavy” according to my friends. It’s pretty light on the visual branding, which I appreciate. It’s not the best laptop–there are some weird things with the wireless (there is no unique wireless switch–it’s tied to the bluetooth and this is not obvious). The total cost for it was about $700, including the Gold Service Warranty, including Accidental Damage.

Skybax and I hadn’t had many adventures together until, earlier this month, it was time for the PFF. Skybax and I were going to travel southward: Debian was running great, my ssh keys were in the proper places, I remembered all the appropriate passphrases, and the wireless was spot on.

Outside of Philadelphia,Skybax shut off mid-sentence.

Exciting Adventures in Home Computer Repair

I’m an electrician at the PFF. This means that I hang out with a bunch of electrics, theater, computer, and awesome people for ten days every August. After I tried the standard range of things to get a laptop up and running again–every combination of battery/charger in/out as exists, the force system start key combinations, and blood sacrifice–the team set upon the brick Skybax had become with voltmeters and years of expertise, measuring every potential place of power flow and what is, or could be, moving between them, comparing the results with those from other, more functional machines.


Customer Support

I have this fancy warranty, which promises next business day service with all sorts of stipulations and disclosures. I call support, and talk to a lovely man named Trevor. I give him the option of sending the part to where I am and sneaking someone into the festival–because, if we’re honest here, that’d be totally awesome. Instead, it is decided that doing the repair in Boston would be better on their end.

I leave the call feeling pretty good about Trevor (who at this point is the anthropomorphic form of Dell) and where this is going.


I fly home on the 19th and pretty promptly get a call from Unisys, the company doing the actual service. Bob–everyone involved in customer support and end service lives with only one name–tells me his schedule and I tell him mine: I just got back, my flight was super delayed, I need to be at work for a bit, I’ll be home around five. Bob informs me that he only works 9-5, asks what we’ll do, and then–when I say I don’t know–hangs up.


Not knowing what else to do, I e-mail Trevor and he asks me if I can make other arrangements. I wonder what busy people who happen to have this warranty do.

Interlude: Privilege

I recognize the expectation of privilege in time that is associated with the privilege of things like fancy warranties. Of course someone with the Gold Pro Star Ultimate Warranty can either have someone come into their office or just take off mid-day to meet the Unisys guy (it’s always a guy).

Scheduling, Again

I ask around and one of my friends who bases himself out of a coworking space offers to manage the laptop fix. I talk with Jenny–the Unisys scheduling lady–and explain the situation with her. I ask if we can schedule the time over e-mail, so SW has the autonomy of giving out his phone number (who knows which one he wants to use), I want to know what’s going on, and I don’t want to mediate a conversation between two people over the phone. Jenny gives me an e-mail addresses, promises she’ll get back to me after her break, and I send a message to her and SW.

And I wait. And wait. And wait.

SW instigates a conversation with Jenny. She does not respond. I don’t actually have a number to call, beyond Bob’s, which proves to be unhelpful.

Sometime between Thursday and Friday (over a week since my first conversation with The-Face-of-Dell (think about this in the way you’d refer to the human voice of a cold, cruel god)) an appointment is scheduled for Friday. Then it’s rescheduled to 4pm. At 5:08, on Friday, I get a text from SW saying that the new Unisys guy is there.

Around 7pm, I get a call saying Unisys Guy (Steve, not Bob), has fixed the bricking issue, but now the screen “has a few issues with red interlacing.”

Thus begins the two hours I spend on the phone with various people around the Dell/Unisys/CS mess.

Unreasonable Requests

Monday, the 25th, I am leaving my beautiful city–again–to go to Portland, OR for an exciting week of tech conferencing. (Did you know that not all serious conferences are as much fun as tech ones?) I need the service request to be changed from Boston to Portland.

The way the service system works is that the parts are shipped overnight/next business day from Dell to a Unisys person. The Unisys person then makes an appointment with you to meet up.

Talking with Steve

Points of the conversation:

  • The order needs to be put through before $TIME in order for it to be shipped Next Business Day, arriving by Monday.
  • Steve won’t be able to do it by then, because he won’t be home until 9pm.
  • Steve’s supervisor won’t answer his phone.
  • Steve tells me to talk to Dell.

Talking With Abraham

Getting your computer fixed requires having a computer in front of you to arrange things. I call the Dell number in my phone. I have my computer’s service number ready because that’s also stores in my phone. The Dell Phone Computer System Lady does not accept my service number and links me through to someone somewhere in the company. She works with Ispiron, she tells me, and shunts me off to a Latitude guy, who hands me over to another person–Abraham.

Abraham has now replaced Trevor as The Voice of Dell. After a few minutes of conversation, I ask him to put the order through before grabbing his supervisor. When I explain to him the change of service location, he says he needs a new serving address.

“I don’t know,” is the truth. I don’t have a computer to look it up, time is ticking away, all my housemates are out of town, and I just want this thing handled so my laptop will be fixed Monday. He doesn’t understand this and I explain that I am going to this conference, don’t know where we’ll be, don’t know the address, and don’t know where any actual servicing will occur. He says he needs an address and says I can look it up (which I can’t, because I don’t have a machine capable of doing so). I suggest using the post office or, frankly, anywhere in Portland because the new Unisys guy and I will have to make a schedule anyway.

He says he needs to go talk to his supervisor. Eventually, he comes back and tells me he can put the order in, we’ll figure out an address thing, but that the deadline for Monday shipping was fifteen minutes ago (it’s half an hour after I hit the call button).

He hands me off to Graham.

Graham, the Supervisor

Graham is a supervisor–Abraham’s supervisor in fact. He has a slightly high pitched voice, and repeats the same business speak I’ve heard from everyone so far.

“Are you a computer person?” I ask him, interrupting something meaningless he’s saying.

“Yeah, I guess. I build my own computers and stuff.”

“Cool. I’m a computer person.” I realize as I say this it’s true. I am a computer person. “I’m going to the Debian Conference on Monday. People are already going to laugh at me because I have a Dell and not a Thinkpad, and now I don’t even have a Dell.”

The conversation shifts a bit at this point.

Interlude: I Don’t Hold It Against You

Throughout the entire conversation, throughout all of these conversations, I make a point to remind the Voices of Dell and Unisys that I know it’s not their fault. They are “tiny cogs in a big corporate machine that doesn’t care about individuals (i.e. me). I mean, after all, only fifty people read my blog on a good day.” I have one of those rare experiences where I regret not being internet famous, and being able to sway the world with my digital opinions. I know they’re wonderful people, just doing their jobs and using scripts someone else wrote. They’re nice guys, I repeat again and again, and they are also the faces of my newest enemy, Dell. Dell is now the force at which I direct every bit of hate and anger I have for The Man. Dell is now The Man and, most regrettably, these people are Dell. I apologize, again and again, that I am angry and frustrated and tired and incredibly let down with their company and that it’s NOT THEIR FAULT. They are wage slaves in a dark, thankless society, needing to toil away for the profit of others in order to survive. I will say “fuck” and I will grit my teeth, and I will try and remain calm, and I do not hold it against them in any way.

“If I’m getting too unreasonable in conversation,” I say “please tell me. We can stop and find new ways to communicate that work better for both of us. Okay?”

“Okay,” they agree.

More with Graham

And the conversation continues. I am an unstoppable force; they are an immovable object. I won’t take no for an answer, they are completely unable to say yes. I demand they fix the problem, they say they can’t. I explain how you can overnight things even on weekends, they explain that they don’t have the abilities to do so. I ask to speak with Graham’s supervisor, who, he informs me, does not speak with the public. I feel hopeless and trapped and frustrated. I cannot move up the chain anymore. Graham, Supervisor of the Phone Tech’s Graham, Graham, the Slightly Nerdy Guy Who Built His Own Computer, is the highest up person at Dell who I can even talk to and then there’s only so much he can do (i.e. nothing more than Abraham).

Flustered, I go back to my previous statements. Now I am an unmovable object and I refuse to budge on how unacceptable this all is and how they need to fix it. I explain my situation again and again. Graham reads the file, says it frustrates him just to see how long this has taken, and then ruins any good grace I have begun to feel towards him by telling me that Unisys has trouble getting in touch with me, when, in my world, I put forth every effort to contact them and to be friendly and helpful until Steve turned on my laptop, saw a red screen, and called and blamed Debian.

Graham, in his favor, attempts to mend his wrong to me (which, I explain, I know isn’t his fault, but now he speaks for Dell and Unisys, Dark Masters of My Fate). He states firmly, and finally, that all he can do is put the order in and wait until Tuesday for it to arrive.

I then ask how he is going to restore my faith in Dell, tech support, and even him.

Interlude: Expecting Free Stuff

I don’t know how it happened, but we now expect things for our trouble. I would have preferred they just Fix My Fucking Computer, but since they cannot, I Expect Them To Give Me Something Nice in Return. We expect companies, especially, to give us presents when We Have Been Wronged. I don’t know why this is. I think it’s because if companies were individuals, we–or I, at least–would understand that sometimes things happen and it’s not a big deal, but companies, large corporations, aren’t apologetic and have so many points in them they shouldn’t mess up.

“What do you want?”

Graham, for his benefit, asks me what I want. We’re not beating around any bushes here, he knows I want something and after all this time, we have learned to be honest and straight forward with one another. Well, he has. I don’t know, not having thought this far ahead past my attempts to be a Hard Negotiator and Not Back Down. I tell him I want my fucking computer fixed last week. He offers a six month extension on the warranty. “But I have to put the request in, they may not approve it,” he warns.

Back to Abraham

I’m handed back to Abraham, after thanking Graham, reminding him he’s not a horrible person and I think he’s been really nice. Abraham looks up the general address to DebConf, with emotional support from me in his Internet Searching. He puts the request in for the parts to be shipped to Portland, OR.

I find that I am in no actual way placated and spend the rest of the night playing with a weather balloon because Somerville.

Things That Really Get Me

  • It’s going to be about, if not exactly, two weeks between the TinyTop breaking and it being fixed
  • A lot of this could have been avoided if Jenny from Unisys answered her e-mail
  • It would have taken less time to overnight the TinyTop to Dell, had them fix it, and then mail it back.
  • Steve tried blaming Linux

It’s Not Over Yet

Remembering that Steve said there were some screen problems, but that it still worked, I turned Skybax on today to see what was up. The screen was nearly completely incomprehensible, flashing between a total, blank red, and then a blank red with sporadic lines of legible pixels breaking up the emergency monotony. I sigh, sit down to write this (after being pretty sure, before that time, I would not write a blog post about this tech support experience) and play some Bad Religion.


“I mean, that sort of wood design is very in right now.  How could they even afford that?”

“The wood with bark still on it is hip?”


“Well, those are ceders that fell in the hurricane. They just went and picked them up.”

“I wonder how much work it was to take it to the mill and back. Are there even mills around here?”

Someone points to a tattooed, bicycle capped, bearded man without a shirt on. “It’s his. He has a mill.”

We stare.

“Think he wants to be our friend?”