Dell service tech: I've never heard those beeps before

We had one of our developer’s workstations fail on startup this week. Upon powering on, it would emit a series of beeps, and then power down.

We took note of the series of beeps: 4 beeps, pause, 4 beeps, pause, 4 beeps.

A call into Dell support, explain the problem, and they say they’ve never heard of that sequence of beeps before, so they don’t know what that means. The developer even put his cell phone up to the computer and powered the PC on, so that the phone support person could hear the beeps for himself. It was very comical to observe.

The phone support person schedules an onsite technician for the next day, but lets us know that he’ll only be bringing enough parts to get to the BIOS screen. Additional parts may be necessary beyond that, but he won’t have them with him. Hmmm…

So one of our other developers does a bit of Googling, discovers that the way to search for beep sequences is like "4-3-4", and then does a Google search for "4-4-4" precision 470. Boom. First hit. From the University of Minnesota. Not from Dell.  Tools to Help Solve Problems : Dell Precision™ Workstation 470 and 670 Computers. It says that code 4-4-4 means Cache test failure. Sounds like the processor cache has an issue, so it probably needs a new processor.

Next day, Dell tech shows up, listens to the beeps, and says "I’ve never heard those beeps before. I don’t know what that sequence means. It’s not in my list of codes". Our developer: "It means the processor cache is bad."  Sure enough, the tech replaces the proocessor (which luckily was one of the few parts that he brought along), and the machine is back to its happy state.

The point of this little story is not to give Dell support a hard time (knock on wood, I’ve always had good experiences with Dell support). It’s to illustrate that there’s way more knowledge in the world than in your own little knowledgebase system. Even though you make the product, and you have a knowledgebase about your product, don’t assume that your knowledgebase is the end-all-be-all of knowledge about that product. Customers already know this. When I have a problem with a Microsoft product, I don’t go to so that I can search their knowledgebase. I use Google so I can have access to everyone’s knowledge, whether that’s an actual database of KB articles, a static web page, a blog or forum post, or even a wiki. And most of the time I do find what I’m looking for. And more and more, the answer to my question is usually in a blog post.

So if customers already know this, why don’t support agents? Is global information not being utilized by support agents? Are we really giving the tools, training, and access to global information that they need to provide a remarkable experience? Perhaps this is why the area of Knowledge Management seems to be such a hot topic nowdays.

Follow-up note to this story: I looked closer at the UMN website where we found the codes, and it’s actually the Dell User Guide that comes with that particular model of workstation. It’s Dell’s own documentation, yet neither the phone support rep, nor the onsite tech used that documentation as a knowledge source.