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Tech Support Showdown 2010

Your notebook is only as good as the help you receive when something goes wrong.


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Dell

Dell Tech Support Results
Hold Time Minimum<1 minute
Hold Time Maximum10
Average Call Length<21
Phone Grade 2010C+
Web Grade 2010B-
Overall Grade 2010B-
Overall Grade 2009C-
Overall Grade 2008B

877-293-1197
support.dell.com

After having received the lowest score in phone support last year, Dell claims that the company has introduced "a new structure enabling us to help customers resolve issues on the first contact." Dell mostly lived up to these claims, though you may need to pay extra depending on your issue.

Dell's support site has so many options to choose from that it's initially overwhelming. The site offers a variety of troubleshooting tips and ways to customize your searches, such as by OS or notebook model. There is also a support page dedicated entirely to Windows 7, where we found information on HomeGroup.

We quickly found answers to two of our three questions on the site, but the Windows 7 page lacked any information about power options. Searching the troubleshooting database only turned up articles for power options in Windows XP and Vista. In addition, the automated Interactive Support Agent never gave us good advice. For example, when we asked, "How can I make my laptop boot faster?", the system responded by asking us if we had a printer problem. Eventually, we set up an online chat. After a 2-minute wait, Indivar (our support agent) provided a solution within 10 minutes.

Fortunately, the automated phone menu was straightforward and managed to direct us to a support agent in just under 2 minutes during each call; hold times consistently lasted less than a minute. During peak hours, the longest wait time was 10 minutes, which is below average but much better than the unacceptable 19-minute wait we endured last year.

When we needed help improving our laptop's boot time, Manog in India started off by telling us we could ask him questions or tell him to slow down at any time during his explanation. He then told us to try booting the notebook in safe mode to see if it started up faster than normal. After we confirmed that it did indeed boot faster, he showed us how to change our netbook's startup options using msconfig. While our phone call was lengthy at 29 minutes, Manog successfully diagnosed our problem and showed us the solution in detail.

For our second question regarding file sharing in Windows 7, we were directed to a department known as the Dell Solution Center. Neeraj told us that because our question was software-related, it wasn't covered under our warranty. The price he quoted for support was a whopping $139 for three days of service. He never even told us to try checking Dell's free online resources; in the end, we spent 24 minutes unsuccessfully trying to obtain a solution that we found on Dell's support site in less than 10 minutes.

During our last call we talked to Canesh, also hailing from India, who kindly walked us through setting up the power options in Windows 7. Upon answering our question, he noticed we had an Inspiron Mini 10 and tried to sell us an external DVD burner. After politely declining his offer, we were given a case number to reference if we ended up having any more problems. The call was hassle-free and took 14 minutes.

Overall, Dell has improved its tech support, especially when it comes to phone-based help. Two of our phone calls turned out well, with short hold times and helpful support agents. However, we didn't appreciate the prospect of paying $139 for simple instructions that could be found on Dell's site for free. And while Dell's online resources are plentiful, the site could be easier to navigate.

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