Friday, May 28, 2010

An Awkward Triumph

I'm right, yet I feel guilty.

Long time readers may remember the saga of my computer purchase from hell. As a refresher for those who don't want to revisit the past, here's the brief version:

After three years of obsessing, I found the perfect desktop computer and I ordered it for my birthday. It arrived late and did not work. Right out of the box, Dell had me removing the back panel and shaking and replacing components. After 2 hours, they agreed to take it back and send me a new one. The new one arrived several weeks later, and, once again, it did not perform as promised. After much angst, Dell's solution was to send me a new motherboard which I “could very easily install in the tower.” At that point, I had had enough. Who wants a new car with a replacement engine? I didn't buy a refurbished computer, I bought a new one. It was my birthday present after all, and I wanted it to be special. I decided that I wanted to return the machine; I'd pay the big bucks and buy a Mac. At that point, trebling the cost seemed a small price to pay for the restoration of my sanity.

Unfortunately, since it had taken Dell 4 months to determine that the problem was theirs and not mine, returning the device was no longer an option. The 30-day return period had elapsed.

I'll let that sit there for you for a minute or two.

I had filed a claim with my Visa card on the day the machine arrived – unusable and unfixable. Dell didn't really care about that claim. They kept harrassing me and calling me and sending me letters. I returned the favor and responded to them all. When I had had enough, I called my Visa carrier and spoke to Wes. He agreed that I was not asking for very much – I only wanted a return label and an authorization code – and he offered to take the matter out of my hands completely. “Let's see how they respond to a credit card company instead of to a woman in Tucson.”

That took place last spring. I've been working with and around the issues I have with the Dell tower, and I've been saving my shekels to make the switch to a Mac. I'd come to terms with the problem and had moved on to other, more pressing, things over which to worry. Everything was fine until Dell began calling me again last month. “Harry” and “Thomas”, through their thick south-asian accents, reminded me that I had not paid for the machine and that Dell was not amused. My responses were always the same: You have to contact Visa; this issue has been sent upstream and I am out of the loop.

I was pretty comfortable with repeating my mantra and agreeing to call Visa and provide my authorization for Dell to ask questions about my account and I wasn't really worried about anything until Tuesday, when I received an unsigned letter from Dell telling me that they were really sorry to have to send the account to collections and end our relationship in a law suit but they really had no options. I had forced their hand - “You have given us no choice in the matter.”

Hmmmmmm.... I had given them no choice in the matter? All I ever wanted was a return label. The packaging is taking up space in TBG's garage and he's none too happy about it. I would be delighted to give the machine back to them and go on my merry way. Gritting my teeth and trying to stop my hand from shaking, I dialed the phone number on the back of my credit card and began playing telephone symphony with the “push here” instructions. With only one minor delay, I ended up in the same department I'd found last Spring. Wes, my hero of 2009, was no where to be found, but William was a fine replacement. He listened (they are all good listeners in that department) and agreed with my analysis (so, of course, I was in awe of his powers of deduction) and then he paused. “All you want to do is return the tower, right? Why don't you do that?”

What followed was my explanation of the arcane rules which Dell has established in order to return equipment. There are no addresses on any paperwork a customer might accrue during the course of purchasing a computer from Dell which will accept a return. Dell must send you a password-protected attachment to an email which you can then download and print and use as the mailing label. Their website even tells you not to send the equipment to a random Dell address. Yes, William, I had been trying since last March to obtain one of those labels. I'd begged, I'd pleaded, I'd cried, I'd cajoled, and Dell kept offering to fix the damn thing, with me doing the work, guided by “Harry”'s and “Thomas”'s whose Mumbai dwelling parents never bestowed those monikers on their offspring.

(An aside – does Dell think I feel better talking to a faux-Harry than a real Amit? There's racist thinking living inside that paradigm... and I think it's directed my way. Assuming I'll have a problem with a foreign national is insulting. Assuming that I can't hear that my customer service representative's native language is not English is insulting. As long as his English is clear and his manner is charming, I don't care where he lives or what his name might be. I resent the implication that I do.)

After further review of the file, William told me that Dell had “broken the rules.” Now things were starting to feel better. I love it when a referee calls a foul on my opponent. Visa had notified Dell of the issue, and had retrieved the money they'd paid Dell for my computer. The next step was for Dell to “file a rebuttal” providing their side of the story. Then I could respond to their rebuttal and back and forth we'd go, with Visa acting as the go-between. That's part and parcel of the credit card agreement between merchants and the card companies.

Well, Dell had never filed the rebuttal. Worse, they had gone outside the system and employed a third party to collect the funds. That, apparently, is a big no-no in Credit Card Land. Once again, William told me that “they had broken the rules.” What does that mean, in practical terms? It means that Dell is screwed. By not filing the rebuttal they forfeited their rights in the case. By going to an outside party to collect the debt, they'd broken the contract between Visa – Dell – Me. Instead of trying to return the computer that has never really worked right, I was now the owner of a computer to which Dell had no right to expect payment. I didn't have to pay and I didn't have to return the computer.

Visa is sending me a letter verifying these facts. When next confronted by Dell or its minions, I am to present this letter and not worry.

Hmmmmm...... TBG is rightly concerned about our credit rating and the effect this activity will have on the number Ben Stein yaks about on those whack-a-mole commercials. (At least I assume he yaks; we put him on mute the moment his countenance graces the screen.) I'm of the opinion that there should be no change since I am right and Dell is wrong and Visa agrees with me, but skepticism is the order of the day when our finances are involved. A call to the rating agencies will, no doubt, be in the offing as I am certain that this saga has only reached the end of another chapter and not the end of the book.

But it's been an interesting journey in the back-offices of two major companies. Dell is a closed system with no interest in solving problems. Justin, the Visa supervisor, said it best : “If they'd only worked with you instead of against you none of this would have happened. This would have been simple.”

Well, simple it's not been. But I have met some wonderful men in Visa's help section. They must take calming classes before they are allowed on the phones, and yoga and meditative breathing are undoubtedly on their lunch menus. 100% of the people in their department have really listened and really heard what I had to say. They weren't automatically on my side; I had to explain and answer questions and prove to them that I'd tried. But their job was to treat me as a responsible adult who was having a problem. Dell's job seemed to be to separate me from my money, without displaying any interest in how the situation came to this point.

Once again, I am forced to stick with this Visa card. Though there are benefits from another card that might be more useful to me, Visa's help desk has been so perfect that they have earned a customer for life. As I told William and Justin (and Wes last year) I'm bitter..... but in a good way.

I'm also feeling guilty.  It was never my intention to have a computer for which I did not pay.  All I wanted was to return the damn thing.  Now, I've "won" kinda sorta... but it just doesn't feel right.  Honestly, I'd send it back if I could..... but, then again, that's been the problem from the start.