by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
I may be talking a lot about non-Apple computer companies, but to be frank, my attention isn't focused solely on Apple, and I suspect neither is yours. Today I'd like to tell you about three guarantees made by Dell for purchasers of its MS-DOS-compatible desktop and notebook computers.
Dell guarantees that if you call for tech support during operating hours (which are 6:00 AM until midnight, Central time), you will be able to speak with a technical specialist within five minutes. If you choose not to hold even that long, they guarantee a callback within one hour. If you don't get someone within five minutes and a specialist doesn't call back within an hour, they'll give you a check for $25, or a $25 credit towards your next purchase.
They also guarantee that, if there's a hardware failure on your system while it's covered by a Dell service contract, and you notify them by 5:00 PM central time, a technician will arrive to address the problem by the end of the next business day.
Most impressively, if you encounter a compatibility problem with your Dell computer within three years after the original purchase, they will work with you to identify the cause of the problem, and if it can be solved by updating your system, they will provide the change at no charge. (This assumes that the incompatible product is something that was designed to be compatible with comparably-equipped systems of the same vintage.) If they can't get it working, they'll even let you return the machine for a refund (depreciated over time, of course).
Now, I haven't reproduced all of the fine print above (such as the fact that the guarantees apply only within the U.S.), so if you're interested in Dell's guarantees, give them a call. However, I thought it was worth looking at the level of support being offered by some computer companies in the world of bad-reputation clones. Dell itself doesn't have a bad reputation, but they certainly will make it difficult for less-dedicated clone manufacturers to hold onto their market share. At the same time, if Dell is actually making good on all of their promises, they would be a good role model for some companies you and I work with.
Another new idea comes from Compaq, the company Dell set out to undercut long ago. Compaq just introduced RemotePAQ, a custom software program that works much like Carbon Copy or Timbuktu, allowing a tech support person to actually see a user's screen. Compaq will ship RemotePAQ with all machines it manufactures, and the service comes completely free, although you need a modem. All you do is boot the PC with a special diagnostic diskette and select "Prepare the System for COMPAQ Service Call" from the main menu. A Compaq tech support person can then call in and remotely run diagnostic programs, retrieve files for testing, or send new files, such as software updates or patches. For anyone who has tried to walk a novice through a complex process over the phone, the utility is obvious.
Dell -- 800/433-2792