Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information has posted on her journey to the ninth circle of hell via Dell. In general terms the experience sounds familiar - being strung along by a series of people who tell you half a dozen different and mutually exclusive stories and in the end not receiving the product you ordered and the company thinking that because you got your money back you should be happy even though they've wasted massive amounts of your time and emotional energy.
I did find it a little surprising that Dell were unable to track a package worth $850. But having said that, I ordered a product worth $100 earlier this year from another company that sent it via ordinary mail. They had no way to trace it when it didn't arrive and in the end they had to send me a replacement which makes a couple of extra bucks to be able to track the package seem like a good investment.
One area where I strongly disagree with Jane is on relating this problem to the fact that Dell has some of its call centres overseas in places like Latin American and India. In my experience there is absolutely no correlation between the location of the call centre and the quality of service. In fact the very worst call centre experience I have ever had was courtesy of my good friends at Comcast and their call centre right here in Colorado (Denver.
I know from first hand experience that there can be real benefits in offshoring (not only cost savings but also things like being able to provide 24 hour service without making people work in the middle of the night). I work with an offshore software development team in India who do great quality work, but its success is heavily dependent on us doing our job of defining the requirements at this end properly. The lesson is that if companies are not committed to implementing well designed customer service processes it doesn't matter where the poor schmuck holding the telephone is located or whether his name is Ray or Raj.
The other thing that surprised me was that she seemed to think the only place she could buy an affordable computer for her aunt was from Dell. My advice would be that unless you are a real power user, go down to Wal Mart or Best Buy or Circuit City and buy whatever they've got on sale. I had a look at Wal Mart earlier this week and you can get an eMachines desktop for less than $600, which I'm sure would be more than adequate for the typical aunt, or if space is a consideration I saw a Toshiba laptop for $699.
Update: It turned out in Jane's response to one of the comments on her post that the real problem was that her aunt's son (her cousin I suppose) is a gamer. I decided around the time that the original Playstation was released to keep my gaming platform and my computer separate, something I've never regretted. The total cost of a standard computer plus a game console is about the same as a highly specced PC (you can buy the desktop I mentioned above and still have $250 left which wil get you a Playstation 2 or xBox and a couple of games), and it's a whole lot less troublesome and lets one person play games while the other uses the computer.