Dell support staff ordered to play dumb on faulty computers

Newly uncovered court documents have landed Dell in hot water.

The documents obtained by the New York Times have found that the company deliberately concealed problems with a known fault with its desktop PCs and urged support staff to spread uncertainty.

The court papers were looked at a court case in which Dell was sued by Advanced Internet Technologies in the US. The company accused the PC maker of deliberately concealing defects in its computers.

Although the case was settled out of court in September, the documents submitted as part of the case show how Dell instructed its staff to deal with the tirade of complaints of its SX270 OptiPlex. These problems were caused by faulty motherboard capacitors in 2003.

The capacitors suffered from an overheating problem that caused them to bulge, fail, and combust. The GX270 was also noted to be a problem with the company planning to help customers who had bought more than 50 computers and who had at least five percent of those systems fail.

Other customers fell into the “fix on fail” category, meaning they would need to report issues to Dell after their computers had broken, the documents show.

Of course Dell is no stranger to exploding laptops. Back in 2006, the Inquirer  broke a scoop when a reader attending a conference in Japan narrowly missed being singed by a Dell laptop that suddenly burst into flames.

“The damn thing was on fire and produced several explosions for more than five minutes”, the reader reported.

Dell at one stage estimated that between 45 percent and 97 percent of its SX270 OptiPlex computers would suffer from problems caused by the faulty capacitors, which were part of a batch also obtained by Apple and HP. Although the companies tried to pull faulty computers from the market to fix them, Dell didn’t want the news to spread.

Instead, according to an internal Dell document, staff were told not to “bring this to the customer’s attention proactively”.

Dell also provided a type of question and answer sheet to employees, which included this exchange: “Why has Dell not taken a more proactive approach to rectifying the issue? Our approach to this issue delivers the best customer experience because it minimises disruption.”

Even when an eagle eyed customer who had witnessed failing machines called up to express concern, Dell told its staff to “emphasise uncertainty”.

Seems misleading customers is standard practice in the consumer technology market. Apple’s tremendous antenna-gate mishap. Fully aware, customer care staff were instructed:

“Gripping almost any mobile phone in certain places will reduce its reception. This is true of the iPhone 4, the iPhone 3GS, and many other phones we have tested. It is a fact of life in the wireless world. If you are experiencing this on your iPhone 3GS, avoid covering the bottom-right side with your hand. If you are experiencing this on your iPhone 4, avoid covering the black strip in the lower-left corner of the metal band. The use of a case or Bumper that is made out of rubber or plastic may improve wireless performance by keeping your hand from directly covering these areas.”