Slaughter's saga: Ex-councilor tangles with Dell

No one could accuse Kay Slaughter of being too quick to throw in the towel: The well-known citizen and former City Councilor has earned a reputation for sticking to her issues– particularly the environment. Now she finds herself in the role of frustrated consumer.

By the time she wrote Dell Computer on July 22, asking that someone take responsibility for solving what had mushroomed into a very large problem, she felt as though she was devoting her life to ministering to her ailing laptop.

Slaughter bought the Inspiron 4100, which cost $1,540, in March 2002. Things were okay for the first six months or so, but then the computer started crashing "on a regular basis" when she was in Word– and she began, on a regular basis, to spend long stretches on the phone with various technical service representatives.

"If you check the records of my technical calls," she wrote, "you will see that I replaced the Word software (because it appeared that the version I obtained from Dell was for a Macintosh), replaced the CD drive, drained the power from the battery, reinstalled Word, reinstalled the XP service pack (after copying all documents on my computer), [and] reinstalled device drives (which included several unsuccessful efforts to reinstall the mouse)."

Furthermore, she asserted, in addition to the continual crashes, the internal mouse quit working. After talking to Dell technicians and going through two series of diagnostic tests, she finally bought an external mouse.

Slaughter wrote Dell for the first time on June 27. "I have an extended three-year warranty on the computer," she stated, "but I am not confident that, given that one-third of that time has expired, this computer is going to work. I would like you to send me instructions on how to return it to you for a complete overhaul and correction of the problems.

"I had been told that Dell was a wonderful system, and I have been very disappointed with these persistent problems and the seeming inability to resolve them."

On July 8, Slaughter got a call from a technician on the Dell "escalation team," who, she claimed in her July 22 letter, concluded that she "needed to have further testing completed by a technician prior to returning my computer to Dell.

"I called the 800 number on July 11, and the technician, after going through several hours of tests, said she would send a box for the computer. I also received an email confirming this exchange. However, it is now July 22, and I have received no follow-up, no box, and no return.

"There is something seriously wrong with this computer," she asserted in conclusion, "and I would urge that you scrap it and provide a new computer."

I spoke with Venancio Figueroa, Dell communications manager for consumer public relations, on Wednesday, July 23, and arranged to email copies of Slaughter's letters to him. He said that he would forward them, in turn, to the escalation team.

This time the escalation team lived up to its name. The next day Slaughter received a call from Dell, saying that a new Inspiron 5100 (the 4100 model has been discontinued) was being shipped. It arrived on Monday, July 28.

I'm delighted that this worked out so quickly and so easily. But I'm left with the same question I have so often: Why didn't the company work harder to solve the problem– before a reporter began calling?

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.