Dell’s lack of service – no M1330 after all

I ordered the Dell XPS M1330 with a specific trip in mind. Before ordering, I confirmed with their online sales agent whether if I ordered at that moment I would receive the laptop before I needed to leave. I was told that if I selected the 9 cell battery then it would be scheduled to be received no later than the day I was leaving but if I gave the agent my order reference number, they would prioritise the order so that it would be delivered in time.

I placed my order, gave the Internet Receipt Number, and asked if they would e-mail me to confirm when they'd had increased the priority of the order, which the agent agreed to before wishing me a "wonderful day ahead". I kept a copy of the transcript of the conversation just in case and awaited the e-mail.

Almost a week later and without having received anything and the predicted date still one day too late, I contacted Dell's customer support and asked if they could confirm that I would still receive the laptop before my trip and that the order priority had been increased as promised since it was on this basis that I placed the order in the first place.

Here is the personalised response that I received:

Thank you for contacting Dell online customer service. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delays you are experiencing with your order.

Your current estimated delivery date is [xx Feb 2008]. Order Number : xxxxxxxxx

Due to the popularity of the product our demand has exceeded supply. Our factory is working with our suppliers and Dell will always try and improve the delivery date on your order.

Once the order is shipped the carrier company will contact you to arrange delivery.

No mention of the conversation I'd had. No specifics. In fact this response could have been automatically generated given that my original enquiry indicated the topic was "checking order status".

I replied with the following:

Does that mean you can't now guarantee delivery on or before xx Feb? If that is the case given that was the condition on which I placed the order then I will have to cancel the order and request a full refund. Please can you confirm if I need to cancel?

I didn't really want to cancel the order but I was hoping this might provoke them into perhaps reading my original mail and maybe double-checking that they weren't going to live up to the original promise.

However the reply from Dell makes it apparent that their customer service system is driven by multiple-choice standard responses. Presumably the service agent reads your mail and has two or three different standard responses that can be sent at the push of a single button. This was their response:

Thank you for contacting Dell online customer service.

As per your request we have cancelled your order {order number xxxxxxxxx}, under Case number (xxxxxxxxx).

I have contacted the finance department to check whether we have received the payment or not in case we have received the payment the refund will be requested immediately once we have an update from Finance.

To be honest I was shocked and other people to whom I've relayed the story were speechless. You'd think they might be interested in trying to persuade me not to cancel. I was trying to give them money after all.

Dell used to be a great company. I've bought laptops from Dell for years and I can remember fantastic examples of great customer service from them. That time has gone. It's apparent that they don't care about their customers any longer. It's not clear whether the problem was with the original sales agent making promises that they knew they couldn't keep or with the customer service agent who it appears didn't really read what I wrote. They didn't try to put it right either way.

I'm not sure what I will do now. Both the MacBook and lightweight Sony laptops have a price premium and don't include some of the features of the Dell. Nevertheless, if it's not possible to actually buy the M1330 then I'll need something else. Most disappointing.