Law Office Computing
Annual Customer Service Reviews 2002
The PC business is in a terrible slump except for Dell and Dell is making its mark with service. What is not well known is the fact that most PCs other than Apple are made from standard components manufactured by someone other than the builder of the PC. Thus, it is not really accurate to say that major computer companies such as Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard and Compaq "manufacture" computers. It is more accurate to view them as assemblers of parts manufactured by others. The confluence of intense competition, razor thin margins and generic components means that the price you pay for a desktop computer from a major manufacturer is not substantially greater than you would pay for an equivalent computer from your local GarageTronics builder. All of the major manufacturers are moving to the "just in time" model developed by Dell and price competition among the major manufacturers is intense. Thus service rather than price becomes the most important consideration and it is here that Dell still rules. Even if you can't stand Stephen the world's most well known supercilious teenager (Dude, you're getting a Dell!!), you can rest assured that the staff at Dell is helpful and smart both at the time of initial sale and for continuing service. Dell gets my personal first place award for the 5th consecutive year. But the competition is heating up and the pretenders to the crown are coming on. The benefit is all yours because competition among computer assemblers reduces cost and can increase quality if you carefully choose.
All computers are not equal, even when they are made from standard parts. There may seem to be an inconsistency between the fact that some computers perform better than others and the fact that they are all made from generic parts. The explanation for the apparent conflict lies in the direct analogy to winemaking. Two winemakers can put together generic ingredients in different ways. One will produce a masterpiece and the other will produce junk. It's pretty easy to send back your wine but if you have a bad computer it is not so easy. And often the problem with the computer is the same problem as the problem with the bad wine. You send the wine back to get a different wine not to have it patched up by the addition of a few more ingredients. If a computer is a bad product because its component parts don't work together well, no amount of fiddling and tweaking will make it O.K. You are stuck with it and with the cost of the reduced productivity that comes from having an inferior product.
There is another advantage that comes with mass manufacturing of computers and that is that experience often teaches that a particular combination of generic components doesn't work as well as another combination. In the fast paced world of computer assembly the ability to respond to that information and to incorporate it into a better product is critical. It is here that the "just in time" assemblers of computers such as Dell have a big advantage. Their customer base provides them with constant feedback and their service organization is able to identify problems that show up on a broad basis. Often those problems come about because of subtle dissonance that occurs among the hardware, the operating system and particular software applications. It is here that experience counts for everything just as it does in wine making and in heart surgery and in law practice. Nobody wants to have their heart operated on by a fellow with an IQ of 180 who is eager to learn but has no experience. Nobody would turn over a major piece of litigation to the new associate who just happened to be editor in chief of the Law Review. The truth is that experience counts in life, in litigation, and in computer building.
What then is the difference and how should you choose? For me the difference is service. Everything else being equal the quality of service is the thing that makes difference. The quality of service is not only a function of time it is also a function of experience and management. Back in the '80's WordPerfect developed its dominance in the word processing field on the basis of its high quality service. Today Dell Computer Corporation is retaining its dominance in the manufacturing field on the basis of its service and is making money when others are not. Some really big names have absolutely awful service. I have had clients who bought a name brand computer by mail who have been unable to get any significant service and who have spent more time trying to fix machines than they are worth. No matter how good your computer is, if you can't get considerate, fast and knowledgeable customer service you are in trouble. Dell's service has been top rated for years now and it is not surprising that it is about as good as you can get. But recent surveys have show that IBM is catching up quickly and has now surpassed Dell in the Notebook area. If you want to read the details go to the August 1, 2002 issue of PC Magazine at www.pcmag.com where you will find the latest customer service statistics. Dell walks away with the award for Desktops but surprisingly slips behind IBM, Toshiba and Hewlett Packard in the notebook category. Dell still provides top rated service for both notebooks and desktops but has slipped out first place in the Notebook category because of a higher than average need for repair rate on its new notebooks. I have had several Dell Notebooks and they have been solid performers under a multitude of conditions. The bottom end contains some surprising names like Compaq, Acer and NEC, which are just bad across the range of Notebook categories. The don't touch/don't buy categories for Desktops includes Compaq, Hewlett Packard and eMachines.
This year the survey contains top rankings for printers (Hewlett Packard in a walk), PDAs (HandSpring), servers (Dell), digital cameras (Sony) and home networks (LinkSys). Even Internet Service Providers are ranked in both broadband and dialup mode with local providers being highly rated.
IBM and Dell show that companies that care about technical support can provide it on a national basis in an effective and efficient manner. They both give me faith that the American business machine and computer industry can combine quality, service and price to compete effectively in the international markets that will be dominant in the 21st century. Now if Stephen could only find other work I would be one satisfied customer!
(This is an update of prior Law Office Computing articles on Service and Customer Satisfaction)