Welcome to the first of a series of case studies designed to demonstrate how supplier size should be factored into sourcing decisions. These experiences were part of an experiment that I documented to test some hypotheses that I’ve had.

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We’ll kick off the series by discussing an experience with Dell, Inc.

Let me start off by saying that I absolutely love Dell computers. I’ve owned and used many computers over my life: IBM, HP, Toshiba, Gateway, etc. But none has been as reliable as the Dell’s I’ve had. All of Next Level Purchasing’s computers and servers are Dell.

So I am a big fan of Dell’s quality. Now, their service is another issue.

Earlier this year, the service plan on one of our servers was about to expire. Dell sent me several emails promoting the opportunity to renew our service agreement. One of those emails said that if we renewed our service agreement, we would receive 100 “Dell Dollars” – essentially a credit that we could apply to a future Dell purchase.

In business-to-business purchasing – particularly large-business-to-large-business – these types of incentives are often ignored. But Next Level Purchasing is not a billion dollar company (yet), so $100 is “real” to us. It certainly factors into a total cost of ownership equation for the service that we were interested in purchasing.

So we extended our service plan on January 24 by working with our Dell sales rep, Jeremy Swayne in California. Jeremy said that we would receive our Dell Dollars within 4-6 weeks.

They didn’t arrive.

So on March 12, I emailed Jeremy. No reply.

I called Jeremy on March 19. However, the voicemail was no longer Jeremy’s – it was Terri Frosky’s. So I left a message explaining the situation and requesting a return call within 48 hours.

No reply.

I called again on April 6, got voicemail, but instead punched through the prompts in the hopes of speaking with someone live. After punching what seemed like a half-dozen prompts, I reached a woman with a foreign accent who identified herself as “Angela.”

Angela said that she couldn’t help me but gave me a number to call: 818-705-0000. When I dialed that number, it wasn’t even a Dell number!

You can imagine that I’m getting a little upset now, right? Well, the cost of my time spent by this point definitely exceeded the $100 worth of free Dell merchandise. From a total cost of ownership perspective, it didn’t make sense to continue.

But I had the idea for this series of supplier case studies and the lessons it could teach purchasing professionals, so I decided that I would commit to following this to completion and documenting every aspect of it in the spirit of purchasing education.

One of my philosophies when dealing with supplier problems is to always be nice first. Some buyers go right into aggressive mode at the slightest sign of a problem. I like to be nice first. But if that doesn’t get the job done, you have to change tactics.

So, because Terri Froski didn’t return my earlier “nice” voicemail, this time when I went into her voicemail, I was a little more aggressive.

Before I tell you what I said, let me make this clear: I don’t recommend the following tactics when you are a buyer for an employer. I can get away with this type of stuff because I’m the president of the organization I work for. Trying this in your job could be disastrous to your career.

So on Terri’s voicemail, I said that if I don’t get a call by the end of the day, I am going to put a video on YouTube showing how bad Dell’s customer service is. Terri called back within an hour!

It’s a shame that people respond to threats but not polite requests. In contrast to what the old adage is, you don’t always catch more flies with honey than vinegar (or whatever that goofy saying is).

Terri said that Jeremy Swayne had left the company and that the Dell dollars weren’t previously applied. She said she applied them and I should get them by email or mail within 6-8 weeks.

Of course, they didn’t arrive.

So I tried calling the Terri/Jeremy extension on June 11 and got a voicemail greeting that did not include a name. Someone named Simon called me back and said he was new to Dell and there was no record of me having been sent the Dell Dollars. He gave me another number to call.

Keep in mind, I am only continuing with this ridiculous waste of time to document some things that my hypotheses are proving!

At the new number, I reached a gentleman by the name of Joesam who said that he was in the Philippines. He worked on the issue while I was on the phone. He asked if he could put me on hold for 2-3 minutes. I said yes. He came back, we talked, and he asked if he could put me on hold for 2-3 minutes again. I said yes.

During the phone call, he asked me eight times if he could put me on hold for 2-3 minutes!

Fifty minutes and 14 seconds later, Joesam said I’d receive a $100 coupon by email in 3-5 business days. And – believe it or not – I did!

For all of US residents’ complaints about offshoring, it is sad that US people weren’t able to accomplish in 5 months what Joesam in the Philippines accomplished in one phone call (even if it was a 50 minute phone call!).

What a horror story, huh?

But this is very typical in small-purchaser-big-supplier relationships. I have another supplier horror story that I’ll share in my next post before I get to some some success stories. Then I’ll tie all the stories together with a set of guidelines that I’ve developed from testing my hypotheses.

Stay tuned!

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President and Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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