Economising on Customer Service

I am sure most of us have experienced some dismal experience when calling a technical helpdesk, being put through a maze of automated menus before finally getting through to some bored, half-trained “engineer”. An example of this from my own past is here. However usually the one bit of an organisation that is fairly responsive is the sales function, for obvious reasons. I relate the following personal example of the risks that a high-tech company can take when it decides to “economise” in this area.

I recently needed to buy a new printer and rang up Dell to do this. Dell now pushes its “consumer” (for which read “cattle class”) sales though to an offshore centre. I placed my order and awaited the confirmation email: nothing. The following day I called, went through the menus again and explained what had happened to another Dell sales person. He told me that there was no trace of my order in the system, do I duly went through the whole thing again, wondering quite what happened to the original details, which after all included my credit card details. I specifically said to he salesman “please make sure that the order was not duplicated”, and I even gave him the name of the sales lady I had originally spoken to. “No problem” I was assured.

A week or so a printer duly arrived, and all seemed well. A couple of days later there was another knock on the door, and, surprise surprise, a second identical printer arrived. I declined delivery, explaining the situation. Well, you can probably guess by now that, despite me sending back the duplicate printer, I was charged twice, so I duly rang up and spoke to the original sales lady who took the initial, seemingly lost order. At least I did this after gong through no less than five separate people at Dell, each of them insisting that I tell the story again and each taking full details (name address, order number, …) every time, as if computers had never been invented.

The thing that reduced me to apoplexy at the end of this was that the sales lady (I could not make this up) suggested that in order to get a refund, I would have to take delivery of a fresh printer, uninstall the one I have sitting on my desk, rebox the current one and sent it back to Dell. Oddly enough, I have declined to do this – pesky customers eh?

So, if anyone from Dell is reading this, please give my money back. For any company executives considering outsourcing their sales operation to a cheap location, just consider what effect this may have on your customers. I can’t say I am exactly itching to order another Dell product at the moment. A customer’s perception of a brand, after all, is significantly derived from their personal interactions with the company. The irony is that Dell used to have an award winning call centre based in Ireland, but seemingly decided that this was all a bit expensive. I am not suggesting that the precipitous decline in their share price over the last eight years can be specifically linked back to their decision to save money on their call centres, but I suspect that it will not have helped.

MDM on steroids

In doing the research for our six-monthly update of the MDM market I came across something which surprised me. Generally master data can be complex (such as bill of materials structures) but is not generally very large in volume, at least compared to transaction volumes. The exception is the “customer” dimension in a B2C company, where it is easy to see that 50 million or so records may be needed. Luckily “customer” data is usually quite simple compared to, say, product data, which may have hundreds of attributes.

However I have come across three cases now where the volume of master data records being managed is claimed to be around 500 million records. One vendor I spoke to said they had a customer planning a billion record MDM system. Dealing with hundreds of millions of records rather than tens of millions is a lot more challenging, especially where the data need to be dealt with in real time e.g. if you are adding a new customer account then you need to check whether that apparently new customer account is really a duplicate of an existing account; this should ideally be done straight away.

If anyone reading this has come across one of these really large MDM implementations then I’d be interested to hear your experiences.