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June 26, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Dell email support

Jonathan Heimberg writes in:

I e-mailed Dell support the following request...

I need a system restore CD for an inspiron 5150 purchased in 2003. Thanks!

...and they wrote back the following note:

Dell's e-mail software interprets your message as a request for help with buying an auto/air AC adapter for your Dell notebook computer.

To purchase an adapter to charge your portable computer from your car or
while in an airplane go to:

* Click Notebook Accessories in the Browse For Products list
* Click Power Adapters and then choose Auto/Air
* Click the company name to see more details

If you have other battery questions please check our general battery and
AC adapter troubleshooting guide at:

Where in my "problem" do you see the keyword "adapter", "car", or "airplane"?

Dell email support needs to improve how their support database matches keywords from their customer's emails.



And yes, Dell's support is broken

Posted by: Josh at June 26, 2006 12:23 AM

This reminds me of trying to get an instruction manual for an old floor polisher I bought. When I entered the model number for my machine on Hoover's web site, it gave me the manual for a machine I don't own. When the model number of that machine is entered, the web site shows the manual for an entirely different machine than the one I own, or the model number I had entered.

Automated computer systems such as these are broken.


Posted by: Dylan at June 26, 2006 12:25 AM

Shoot! I was first when I started typing. Oh well. I guess I was second. And third.

Posted by: Dylan at June 26, 2006 12:27 AM

that ftp link caught my eye... is that unusual or what?

Posted by: gmangw at June 26, 2006 12:28 AM

Whole websites can be made about Dell support's brokenness.

At least I can download some BIOS updates from their site once in a while.

Posted by: gamekid at June 26, 2006 01:02 AM

This isn't actually all that broken if you know that 100% of their AC adapters fail in the first few years, sometimes causing fires but always costing at least $50 to replace. We should be thanking Dell for their forward-thinking practices: Allowing us to buy new AC adapters in advance of the old ones burning down our houses.

Posted by: abcdario at June 26, 2006 01:54 AM

Dell sucks!

Posted by: mac zealot at June 26, 2006 02:52 AM

ftp - f*** the people. My sons get the use of a laptop from their high school every year. This year they had Dells and they sucked. They were always crashing and running slow, especailly when you were trying to play Everquest during math. ;) Seriously, they were bad and we had to pay to replace the power cords. $50.00

Posted by: JAC at June 26, 2006 12:38 PM

Hey, I have a Dell laptop and it works fine. Unless you count the time I had to reinstall windows, the modem, and my sound card, but other than that my laptop works fine. Oh, I forgot to tell you that every time install a new program I have to reinstall my sound card.

Posted by: texas fire make at June 26, 2006 02:11 PM

I have a love/hate relationship with Dell. Last two desktops have been Dells. Just don't attempt to get ANY kind of support. You can call them and end up talking to someone in India with an accent so thick they are almost uninteligible. Or you can E mail them and get canned replies that have nothing to do about your problem. I think the EM route is a bit better. If you keep telling them often enough they may eventually give some actual help. Customer support is close to being non existent these days. Though I must admit Amerimark called me for 4 days to tell me the battery operated can opener had been shipped. (Okay, so I'm a gadget nut! I still use a manual can opener.) I suggested it would have been much cheaper to have sent a simple Email. She was pleasant as could be and said they have a room for of people making these calls. Least they are trying I suppose.

Dell support: BROKEN. It's a well known fact their supprt is horrible.

Posted by: SparkS at June 26, 2006 02:40 PM

How do you know it is broken, if you didn.t do what they told you? Sounds like a pretty bizzare solution, but hey, they say to buy some adapter plug, and maybe you get your restore CD included.

Posted by: Danny Crane at June 26, 2006 03:52 PM

I've had a Dell for 6 years, and the only thing I've had to do is replace my RAM.

Posted by: Mnok at June 26, 2006 07:36 PM

Broken 2 ways. . .

1. No human review/sanity check of the results.

2. No link that basically says "This response did NOT answer my question".

Posted by: Mike at June 26, 2006 08:12 PM

Mike: Right!

Dell support: SO BROKEN!!!

I think it's just a really dumb machine that doesn't know what you're saying.

Posted by: Another guy named Alex B at June 26, 2006 10:02 PM

I have a sad suspicion that the so-called match was based on fuzzy or soundex matching of 'inspiron' to 'adaptor'.

Fuzzy matching has a place in some kinds of research, when you're trying to cover a complete topic and there may be names which are misspelled, mistyped or have a variety of spellings. Legal research is a great example.

However, every fuzzy matching tool I've seen has a confidence factor for each match, and here, they have probably set the confidence level too low. Very annoying!

Posted by: Avi Rappoport. at June 27, 2006 05:33 PM

CD --> DC?

Just a thought.

Posted by: rapbacon at June 27, 2006 11:09 PM

I'm saying this is broken on Johnathan's end. First off, he could have paid the optional $10 for the OS disk when he bought it. Second, he e-mailed tech support when he's past his warranty. Most home use computers from Dell only have a 90-day warrenty. After that he needs to call in and pay for them to send him the recovery disks.

Posted by: Fayth at June 27, 2006 11:26 PM

I've gone through two Dell laptop AC adapters in the past 12 months. So my guess is their software is probably looking for the most popular issue that matches any of the keywords in the inquiry (e.g. getting a new laptop adaptor), instead of showing all matches for all keywords.

If that is indeed the case, then they need to at least revise the boilerplate in their auto-response so that they seem less stupid when they give the wrong answer (they probably also considered, and rejected, providing other possible matches in the same auto-response - but that risks overwhelming people with too much info which isn't answering their question).

In my experience, I have *NEVER* gotten a useful auto-response from anyone's email support. Either it's totally off the mark, or it provides info I already knew.

Posted by: Alex B at June 28, 2006 07:09 PM

Guess what? My 3rd Dell AC adapter just died (THIRD ONE THIS YEAR AND I DON'T EVEN TRAVEL WITH IT!!!), and I have an Inspiron. More reason that my theory is correct (and more reason that I will avoid Dell products in future).

Posted by: Alex B at June 28, 2006 10:01 PM

The AC adapters for any laptop are broken. It's not just Dell. Like the one for dad's old Toshiba that quite literally exploded. Fun to watch though.

Posted by: Fayth at June 28, 2006 10:51 PM

It's great how the email is just so confident that what you want is an auto AC adaptor.

Posted by: NK at June 29, 2006 01:45 PM

I am a customer advocate at Dell headquarters. I found this blog and would like to offer my assistance. It would appear that there are several people that have problems which could be resolved here, and others who could provide some valuable feedback. Please feel free to email me at Either myself or one of my peers would be glad to assist in any way that we can, or take any feedback that you may have to offer.

Posted by: John at July 7, 2006 01:05 PM

yeah... no one will probably read this, but thought I'd put my 2 cents in here...

I am a tech support person at a company that uses Dell computers almost exclusively, and the instances of needing to replace laptop AC adaptors in the almost 6 years of using Dell laptops has been extreamly low. We are into our 3rd generation of Dell computers now, and I can estimate there are approx. 1500 laptops in use (x 3 generations = about 4500 laptops). While I cannot give an exact number off the top of my head, I can make an educated guess of maybe 2% to 5% adaptor failure rate, and that is across the lifetime of the generations (about 100 - 225 replacements). Now also realize that about 50% of those replacements were for reasons other than the adaptor just "failing". A large number of those replacements has been because the user did something to the adaptor, not because it just failed.

It doesn't really surprise me too much to hear so many people comment about that type of thing tho... you normally never hear the 95% - 98% of our users call up to say "wow, my AC adaptor is working great... thank you".

Posted by: Memnon at July 19, 2006 10:52 PM

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