Dell Tech Support: 2015 Rating
If you have a problem with a Dell notebook or desktop, chances are you'll get your problem resolved a lot faster if you look for the answer online. We found that, while Dell's website and online chat were great for resolving issues with our laptop, the company's phone support not only took a long time, but also failed to resolve any of our issues.
I had three questions I wanted Dell to answer: How do I get "Hey, Cortana" up and running, how do I change the audio on my notebook, and how do I reverse the direction of two-finger scrolling on my touchpad. For this test, I used a Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series notebook.
Web and Social Support
Among other upgrades, Dell told us that it has worked in the last year to make its support site easier to navigate. Indeed, I found it fairly easy to find what I was looking for. The support home-page has three large tabs: Product Support, Top Resources, and Orders and Support Requests. Here, you can find multiple ways to connect to tech support.
All three options directed me, essentially, to the same page, which prompted me to enter a service tag to identify my notebook first.
An Interactive Support Agent (the Ask a Question button) proved very useful. Under Hot Topics, an item named Meet Cortana brought me to a page with a number of Cortana-related topics, including "Turn Cortana on and off," "Reasons Cortana doesn't talk to me" and "Cortana can't hear me." All led to Microsoft support pages, but the answers there were very easy to follow.
When I used the Interactive Support Agent to ask, "How do I reverse scrolling on my touchpad?" it asked me first if I had a notebook or desktop, then listed a number of other topic items, including Cursor Is Erratic, Multi-Touch Gestures and Slow-Moving Cursor. I selected Multi-Touch Gestures, which brought up two additional topics: Enable Gestures and Gestures Explained. Selecting either option opened the same page, which had an illustrated guide not just explaining how to enable gestures, but also showing what they did. I even learned about a new one.
I also used Dell's online chat tool, which connected me with a rep named Syed after about a minute's wait. This time, I asked about a different issue: The Dell Audio control panel wasn't displaying menu items and words, just a bunch of blank spaces and a few slider bars. I uploaded a screenshot of the problem to him, after which he took control of the system remotely. He informed me that it could take 30 to 40 minutes to resolve.
After taking remote control of the notebook, he had me show him where the problem was on the notebook. Next, he disabled the Digital Display Audio in the generic Windows sound control panel, to no effect. Following that, he updated the BIOS and restarted the computer, and the Dell Audio control panel was back to normal. In all, the entire exchange took about 40 minutes.
Dell also has a tool called SupportAssist that you can download to your notebook or desktop, which will monitor your system and automatically notify Technical Support if something goes wrong. You can set the utility to run scheduled scans, and send you desktop alerts for a number of issues, including those concerning Hardware, Software, Security and BIOS.
The company said that its social team typically responds to queries in an hour or less, but don't expect a prompt reply. When I tweeted at @DellCares, asking how I could change the scrolling direction on my Inspiron 15, the account responded 37 minutes later, asking for clarification. I then sent a message back, but it was another 53 minutes before I heard back again. This time, the team sent a link to a Dell support page that showed how to adjust the touchpad.
I also reached out to the Dell TechCenter Facebook page by posting a screenshot of the issue and asking for help, but didn't receive a response until 3 and a half hours later.
Dell said that consumers should experience fewer transfers when they call tech support versus in previous years. The first person you talk to should identify the issue, then transfer you to a second person who can resolve it. While that was largely true during my testing, I found calls were just as tedious this time around, and less than helpful.
I made one call during the day (around 4:45 p.m. EDT) to ask how I could get "Hey, Cortana" to work. After answering a few questions to an automated voice, I was put on hold for 15 minutes before being connected to a rep named Chad. After I described the problem, he then said it was probably more of a Microsoft issue, and gave me that company's support line, before transferring me to Dell's software-support services. However, the call was suddenly disconnected. I called back on a landline, and, after explaining my problem to Sangyam, was told that, because I didn't have a software warranty, I would need to purchase a year's subscription ($239) or pay a one-time service fee of $89, which was good for three days.
Later that evening (9 p.m. EDT), I called to find out how I could change the direction of scrolling on the touchpad. After going through the same automated process, I was put on hold for 12 minutes before Jalvin picked up. While explaining my issue, I told him that I had upgraded my notebook to Windows 10. He told me that the company was getting a lot of calls from customers who had upgraded, and recommended that I revert my notebook back to Windows 8.1, and that I should wait three to five months to upgrade.
Jalvin then transferred me to Ajith, who, after spending 10 minutes registering the computer in my name, had me install remote-access software so he could check the drivers on the laptop. He, too, then said that I needed to purchase a software warranty in order for him to help me. "There are a lot of glitches in Windows 10," he said.
He did add that a yearly subscription includes 5GB of online storage, a monthly phone call for maintenance and the Dell Tech Concierge tool. He also quoted a different price for the one-time fee: $129, valid for one week, plus a call back from a senior technician.
When I balked at the price — the notebook itself cost less than $400 — Ajith then put his supervisor on the phone, who said that they would need to install new drivers to get the touchpad working correctly. When I told him that the price was too high, he suggested I go to Dell.com/support. In all, the call lasted 1 hour.
For the record, the correct drivers were installed. Right-clicking on the Dell Touchpad icon in the task bar let me select Touchpad Properties, which then opened the Dell Pointing Devices control panel. From there, it was a simple matter of unchecking the Reverse Scroll Direction box.
To be fair, both issues are software based, but when the resolution to both is a matter of clicking a single button, it hardly seems worth the cost of the software warranty.
Dell does a good job offering multiple channels to help resolve any issues you have: Its notebooks have a proactive diagnostic tool, and through the company's website, you can call, email or chat online with a representative. Even if you try and fix the problem yourself, the site is fairly helpful in guiding you along the process. The least efficient, or effective, way of getting a problem resolved is through Dell's call center. Phoning tech support may seem antiquated to many, but that doesn't mean it can't be as good as other methods. Based on my experience, the live chat was the best method of getting my problem solved.