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Dell overhauls support offerings

After years of customer complaints, Dell has overhauled its support offerings to create more streamlined -- and local -- service packages.

Dell Inc. has announced that it will scrap the support offerings that have frustrated users over the years. In their place, Dell has introduced the new two-tiered system Dell ProSupport that analysts say is simpler and should be more effective.

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Dell has distilled its previous 10 support service offerings into two customizable packages with service-level options and proactive management to enable customers to tailor services to fit their technical expertise.

The new system has been about a year and a half in the making, said Cary Gumbert, global product manager in the Dell Global Services division. "We have about 60 million active contracts for support on our commercial product lines, and this change will touch all of those. This is a pretty big deal," said Gumbert.

Dell decided to redo its support plan after receiving negative user feedback about poor response times and annoyances like scripted troubleshooting.

All of the major server vendors have learned that there is an absolute penalty for anything less than the best support.
Ron Silliman,
analystGartner Inc.

"We understand that IT pros in data centers don't want scripted troubleshooting, and we have responded to that," Gumbert said.

Serving the spectrum
The new system is designed to fit the spectrum of users: from mom-and-pop shops with no IT staff to companies with well-supported IT, Gumbert said. A system administrator who needs support and knows what the problem is -- an issue with virtual machines on a Dell server, for example -- can now be sent directly to an expert trained to deal with the problem through ProSupport Fast Track Dispatch, said Gumbert.

For larger companies, Dell's existing Enterprise Support offering came in Basic, Silver, Gold and Platinum Plus levels.

Customers can register for a ProSupport plan that suits a data center either through a full package or à la carte. The new ProSupport system is broken down into two levels:

  • ProSupport for IT is designed for technical experts. It includes 24/7 support options such as Fast-Track Dispatch and a service that speeds resolution for certified IT professionals by dispatching parts and Dell technicians to a company's location.
  • Dell's ProSupport for End-Users program is geared toward organizations without a dedicated IT department. It includes how-tos, software and collaborative support for common applications and tasks such as Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, Intuit QuickBooks and wireless access configuration.

ProSupport extends beyond problem resolution and hardware support to include proactive management. With the right options, customers can reduce technical incidents by as much as 37% and critical downtime by as much as 48%, reported Dell, citing results from an internal study.

Dell has piloted the new support offerings like Fast Track Dispatch with customers leading up to the launch. Dell reports that one large unnamed customer saw a 30% increase in IT team productivity because of the advantages of the new Fast Track option.

With the new support setup, Dell has increased the number of certified trained experts -- and they are local. With ProSupport -- a commercial offering -- calls are handled locally; North American customers can speak with a representative based in North America; other regions will have local support as well. Such local support is not always available for consumer products.

Customer support numbers, contracts, and technical account managers for the installed base will not change with the overhaul, but now these users can order additional features à la carte or as a whole package, Gumbert said. For example, highly mobile customers may need the Theft Protection feature but may not require Accidental Damage. The same goes for data center customers. Some may require two-hour support, others may select four-hour support, a spokesperson said.

Poor support is suicide
Dell has been fairly open about the need for improvements in its customer support. It invested $150 million through 2007 on its "customer experience" initiatives and claims to have seen signs of improvement as of last year. Dell also increased customer service agents, and average hold times for U.S. customers shrunk from nine minutes to three minutes as of March 2007. The company claims has also reduced call transfers by more than 30% and improved first-contact resolution rates by 20%.

Ron Silliman, a Gartner Inc. principal analyst of infrastructure support services in North America, said Dell's new ProSupport system is an "incremental improvement over what they had before, which was complicated and confusing."

"Dell was making considerable strides in becoming a major player [in the server market] between 1995 and 2005. As you try new things, your programs in one location can get away from your other programs in another location, and that is what happened," Silliman said. "Dell has gone back and looked at itself, and one of their strengths has always been selling services and support for servers, when competitors weren't doing that. They looked at that and simplified their support system, because people want simplification."

Silliman said that no vendor's support stands out from the rest. "All of the major server vendors have learned that there is an absolute penalty for anything less than the best support, and they pay close attention to it," Silliman said. "The distinctions between the major vendors are not very large. They have gotten very good at supporting their own products, because not to is suicide."

Dell ProSupport is available immediately to those enrolled in the Dell Registered Partners program, corporate and small- and medium-sized businesses and public organizations. ProSupport pricing varies based on the type of system and the location..

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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