If the angry posts on Dell's Facebook profile are to be believed, Dell's tech support team is made up of rude, incomprehensible reps. We encountered none of that, however, during our experience with Dell this year. Ranking in the middle of the pack with a B grade last year, Dell continues to show signs of improvement. Over the past year, Dell has focused on improving its support services, especially on its website, to make it easier and quicker to get help. However, the average call time to Dell's call centers was 27:03, the longest we tested this year.
To test Dell's services, we looked for help on keeping a laptop running even after its lid is closed, how to set up a picture password in Windows 8, and how to set up Dell Backup and Recovery on a Dell Inspiron 15.
Web and Social Support
In the past year, Dell says it has updated the design of its support website (www.dell.com/support) to offer more intuitive navigation, reducing the number of clicks required to get help. Overall, the website is easy enough to get around, with a helpful "Detect My Product" button for you to get information relevant to the device you're using.
Unfortunately, the myriad options in the top menu made it difficult to find specific information, because of sections that seem to offer similar things, such as Drivers and Downloads, Dell Software Download Center, Manuals and Product Support. I didn't know where to start to find information on keeping my laptop on after closing the lid or setting up a picture password. Thanks to the search tool at the top right, I easily found an answer to the second question, but Dell didn't have resources on the first.
The company also made it possible for users to post questions on its Facebook pages over the past year, and says it "will attempt to assist." I posted on Dell's profile asking how to keep my laptop on even after closing the lid, but did not receive a response within a month.
Dell's Twitter team (@Dell) was more responsive, replying in 2 hours to my tweet on how to set up a picture password. The tweet directed me to a Microsoft support page instead of actually giving me steps to solve my problem, but it did resolve the issue.
Dell's Web chat service proved helpful as well, as a rep walked me through keeping my laptop on upon closing within 25 minutes. That time would have been shorter had Dell not needed to find out who the computer was registered to, but the agent, Tarun, was responsive and helpful, for the most part. If your computer is second-hand, a gift or an office device, you might run into delays trying to verify who owns it.
Every call placed to Dell's help hotline is greeted by the company's voice-based operator system. I liked being able to speak my product's service tag instead of having to enter it while juggling the phone and laptop, and the system interpreted my queries accurately most of the time. Like last year, Dell's agents were reliant on remotely accessing our computers to troubleshoot.
My first call to Dell's tech support started at 2:55 p.m. ET and lasted just 6 minutes, thanks to the efficient and helpful Mel in the Philippines. I asked for help setting up a picture password, and he quickly walked me through the steps, after cautioning me that this login method is more complicated and less commonly used.
Other calls were not as breezy. The next call began at 10:27 a.m. ET on a Monday, and was answered by Dennis, who was in the Philippines. After taking 6 minutes to look up and confirm my information, all the while politely asking me to bear with him, Dennis informed me (incorrectly) that it's not possible to prevent my laptop from going to sleep when I close the lid. I explained that I wanted to run downloads and close the screen while I go to bed, and Dennis suggested an alternate method to make that possible (setting the display to go to sleep in 5 minutes while the computer continues running).
He walked me through downloading the remote assistant GoToAssist program, which was set up in just a minute, and went into Power Options in the Control Panel to set it up. Dennis was helpful and clear, explaining what he was doing each step of the way. It took him a few minutes to go through all the steps and restart my computer. He stayed on the line for 5 minutes, all the while explaining what was happening, to make sure the changes worked. Although his solution was not what I was looking for, Dennis listened to my problem and offered a method that worked. The call ended at 10:53 a.m. (26 minutes).
My third call, placed at 8:30 p.m. on a Thursday, was transferred from department to department as each rep struggled to find the right place to send my question: "How can I set up Dell Backup and Recovery?" The fourth person I got passed to was Rohan, in India, from the Dell Backup and Recovery department. He informed me that the software in question was only able to reset my laptop back to factory settings, and I could only set up regular backups (which is true, but Dell doesn't make this clear when it touts the service) and recovery disks if I had paid for the premium version.
I decided to do a factory reset, and Rohan repeatedly reminded me that I would be wiping everything from my notebook if I decided to go ahead. The rep clearly and quickly walked me through the steps. At the end of the call, Rohan asked me to hold for his supervisor, who greeted me 4 minutes later to ask if there was anything additional I needed. This call lasted 50 minutes.
Overall, Dell's Web presence made up for its underwhelming call performance this year. Thanks to a speedy Twitter team and a helpful chat service, I quickly found solutions to most of my problems online. On the phone though, agents' insistence on finding out who paid for the device before deigning to help added a chunk to the company's average call time (27:03), which is the longest we've tested. I also got transferred from department to department on more than one call, which was frustrating.
Dell needs to streamline its support site to make it easier to get to the live chat function, cut down on the red tape and transfers at its call centers, as well as beef up its Facebook response team, to rank higher in future Tech Support Showdowns.