Dell and TiVO: A Tale of Two Customer Support Experiences

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 29, 2017

Like a lot of folks, my family owns a fair share of technology products and gadgets, including notebook PCs, broadband modems, wireless routers, hard drives, printers, flat screen TVs, and DVRs. Like many other things, those products occasionally go on the fritz or break entirely. You do whatever you can to avoid this—inform yourself, shop smartly, look for deals—but sometimes contacting customer technical and product support is required.

It’s my belief that a company’s true character can be measured in its support processes and organization. Sometimes the points they reveal can be valuable and positive, other times not so much. I recently went through two such experiences, one with a Dell notebook and the other with a TiVO Roamio OTA DVR that I think are worth discussing.

The products/problems

Let’s first consider the products and the events that triggered the service calls.

  • Dell – The Dell notebook is an XPS 15 I purchased in May 2016 for my wife, Barbara. At the last moment, I included a year of the company’s Premium (in-home) Service despite the generally good experiences I’ve had with Dell products. Though the notebook worked perfectly for months, some anomalies appeared in February. When I tried to install a new version of Quicken for tax season, the system froze repeatedly and the right click function stopped working. Dell’s online diagnostic processes failed to discover or correct the problem so a service call was the next step.
  • TiVO – Oddly enough, we purchased the Roamio OTA DVR about the same time we bought the XPS 15, and the TiVO unit began having problems a few days after the notebook’s issues appeared. We noticed a constant grinding noise, and the box seemed overly warm to the touch. A check of TiVO’s discussion boards revealed this to be a fairly common problem that only the company could repair. Time to call TiVO customer service.

Dell Premium Service

I initially contacted Dell Service via online chat which required a 10-minute wait but a representative quickly got the ball rolling. After I described the problem and we went through some simple tests, he suggested the trackpad needed replacement. I scheduled an appointment with a service technician and less than 48 hours later he showed up on time and replaced the track pad.

Unfortunately, that didn’t fix the problem so the service tech told me to reconnect with Dell. The rep there said I should ship the system to a repair facility near Dallas, and when I said that we no longer had the original box, overnighted a shipping box and FedEx return label to me. Dell received the system the day after I took it to a FedEx shop, and two days later shipped it back in working order with a new heat sink and repaired motherboard.

The XPS 15 worked fine for a week, then began overheating with a strong burning smell. Not surprisingly, after being powered-off, the system would not restart. After another online chat, Dell emailed me a FedEx mailing label, we overnighted the XPS to them and received the repaired notebook (this time with a brand new motherboard) three days later. It’s worked fine since then but I did buy an additional year of Premium Service coverage.

Throughout the process, Dell’s technicians were polite and helpful. They regularly emailed us progress updates (including copies of my online chat sessions) and both called and emailed us to ask if we needed further assistance, had any questions or could provide suggestions about how to improve the service experience. That outreach made a complicated and frustrating situation significantly more bearable.

TiVO customer support

Our TiVO service experience began with phone call and spending 45 minutes on hold. The service rep listened to our description of the grinding noise, then remarked that he’d “never heard such a thing before.” That seemed odd, given how many customers complained about similar problems on the company’s online discussion boards. The rep offered to send us a new Roamio OTA but said there would be a $40 “replacement service” fee. In addition, he required us to pay for a new unit but said the purchase would be refunded after TiVO received the old unit.

We were surprised by that, especially since the malfunctioning Roamio was less than a year old but we agreed and were told the new unit would arrive in 5-8 days. Then came our second surprise: discovering that the old Roamio (which was still functioning) could no not connect to the TiVO service or record video. I contacted TiVO by online chat and only waited 10 minutes for a rep who explained that the company’s policy was to remove old products from service as soon as a new box was ordered

The only way to get around the policy included another surprise: TiVO’s chat support cannot be used to access/change customer accounts or purchase products—for security reasons, only call-in center reps can do that. If we wanted to reconnect the problematic Roamio to our service, we could call back and create a temporary account for it, then call back when the new box arrived and resume our normal service. We decided to forgo that process.

When the new Roamio arrived, it worked fine mechanically but could not connect to the TiVO Android smart phone app my wife uses for programming. The discussion boards included numerous complaints about the same issue but when I contacted TiVO via chat (and 20 minutes on hold) the service rep said he’d “never heard of such a thing.” He suggested using TiVO’s “classic” phone app instead but that app was apparently incompatible with Barbara’s Nexus 5 handset.

To say we were frustrated is an understatement, then a week later the new Roamio froze and stopped working. Instead of restarting, all the lights on the front panel simply blinked in unison. Another chat with TiVO service required another 20 minutes on hold then another rep said he’d “never heard of such a thing.” He emailed us a FedEx label and told me to include the power cord since it “might be contributing to the problem.”

After dropping off the broken Roamio at FedEx and waiting for a week, I contacted TiVO again by chat and discovered that the box hadn’t arrived–not surprising since TiVO uses FedEx’s cheapest ground service. We received a note two days later saying the broken system arrived and the replacement had shipped.

By some miracle, it arrived just four days later, but when I opened the box I discovered that they hadn’t included a power cord. Back to online chatting with a TiVO service rep who told me I would have to call in to order a replacement. After another half hour on hold, a service rep placed the order, our new cord arrived four days later and after nearly three weeks, we finally had a working TiVO Roamio OTA.

Final analysis

If there’s a central lesson in these two incidents, it is this: Dealing with broken or malfunctioning products can be inherently frustrating for customers but poorly designed, overly complex support and service processes can increase that frustration exponentially.

Outside of the problems with the XPS 15 never occurring in the first place, it’s hard to imagine how our experience with Dell could have been better. The customer and technical support personnel we dealt with were knowledgeable, sensitive to our situation and worked to resolve the problems quickly and efficiently. We came away feeling that the extra we paid for Dell’s Premium Service option was worth every penny.

Our TiVO experience contained lessons, as well, though mostly in the negative sense. First and foremost, companies should make an effort to be aware of what transpires in their online discussion boards and inform support staff about issues they can expect to hear about from customers. The TiVO representatives we chatted or spoke with were polite and helpful but it doesn’t take long for the “never heard of such a thing before” defense to pale into absurdity. Second, representatives should proactively explain important policies and details, including shipping times, fees and account rollover processes.

Finally, vendors requesting customer feedback should take the time to read those responses. At one point during our Roamio OTA experience, I sent TiVO a note detailing the specific problems we were having with the company’s Android smart phone apps. Three days later, I received a note back apologizing for the issues with the remote control and asking if I’d like a replacement.

When it works, the Roamio OTA is a great product for home entertainment but if or when the current box malfunctions, our guide in shopping for a new solution will be, “Anything but TiVO.”

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