Dell – Good Customer Service, Bad Corporate Waste

Posted by: on Mar 23, 2008 in Opinion | 13 Comments

This is a brief commentary on corporate waste. Last summer, I bought a Dell laser printer. After moving my office, I accidentally damaged the installation CD. I checked the Dell Support website for a downloadable version of the CD, or at least the same network installation app on the CD. That critical app is/was not available online – only partial drivers and patches for older operating systems could be found on Dell’s site. I called support to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious. The support rep acknowledged that the network installation app and full set of drivers were not available online and that I would need to request a replacement CD. I was told the CD was free, so I put in my request.

The next morning, the CD was delivered to my door. It was sent overnight. From a service point of view, this was fantastic. I was expecting a week or so, but never 18 hours.

After the surprise and delight wore off, I got to thinking about the situation. The box was huge. A laptop would have easily fit in it. It also weighed a lot – much more than cardboard and a CD.

I opened the box and found a huge amount of wadding taking up 80% or more of the empty space inside. Below the wadding was a thick, heavy user manual for the laser printer, and shrink wrapped with the thick tome was my slim little CD.

Barring the fact that the CD should be downloadable in its entirety from the Dell website (costing Dell nothing), I thought the following:

I didn’t need or want a massive user manual. (Who would?!) The CD could have been sent to me in a smaller envelope, like a standard FedEx envelope or even a bubble-style envelope. It could have been sent 2-3 day air, or even by USPS media mail for about $0.60.

The expense involved in this sort of frivolous and wasteful shipping practice is staggering when you consider the number of similar occurrences that likely happen on a day to day basis. Even if there were only 20,000 such “lost or damaged CD” requests per year (roughly 50 per day worldwide), the overnight shipping, the cost of the superfluous user manual (printing and raw materials, not to mention deforestation), the oversized and wasteful cardboard box, and all the paper/foam padding.

At 20,000 estimated occurrences per year (arguably a low estimate), the cost could reach $400,000 or more. Nearly half a million dollars to send out replacement CDs.

Had Dell put a policy in place to not ship user manuals with each CD (ask the customer if he/she wants it – 99% would not) and use thinner, more efficient packaging and shipping methods, costs could be cut by 70% to 80% – easily.

Or, add the stinking CD to the support site for download – or make it a download-by-request email link. Cost = $0.

Another thought – the carbon footprint for sending out unwanted user manuals and other materials overnight is h-u-g-e. That big, fat, poisonous and lumbering carbon footprint could easily be reduced to near zero by Dell if they’d just pay a little attention to where they’ve got wasteful practices.