Dell Aims to Ease Battery Recall

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-08-21 Print this article Print

PC maker is honing efforts to make its recall smooth for enterprise customers.

Dell is working to ensure its massive notebook battery recall doesnt amount to an equally large logistical headache for senior technology managers, company officials said.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Aug. 14 announced the recall of 4.1 million battery packs—the largest recall thus far in computer history—many of which were installed in Latitude business notebooks and shipped to customers between April 2004 and July 2006. Dell officials said the battery cells inside the packs present a fire hazard as they could contain manufacturing defects that could cause them to overheat.

Now that the initial recall news is out of the way, Dell is working on the logistics of the recall for enterprise customers, according to details outlined to eWeek Aug. 17.

The PC maker, in an effort to get ahead of the process of collecting recalled batteries and distributing new packs, said it has rolled out a wide-ranging program to assist its corporate customers. Dell began by equipping its sales representatives with detailed technical information and recommendations to supply to customers.

Depending on the size of a given customer, Dell said it expects to handle the recall as each situation demands, from replacing one or two batteries—a process that involves the customer communicating with Dell via its Web site or phone service—to replacing hundreds or thousands of batteries through kiosk orders or on-site clinics.

"We worked hard with our product group [Dells Notebook Product Group, run by General Manager Alex Gruzen] and our corporate communications group to create a comprehensive communications package targeted at a number of levels from the single user or consumer all the way up," said David Ornelas, director of commercial sales and service operations at Dell. "One of the real advantages of having the direct relationships [with customers] is that it really gave us a good distribution channel for real-time information [on the recall]."

However, the recall still presents a sticky situation for Dell.

"They have handled it pretty well. Its unfortunate, but if I [were] an IT guy and I saw that Osaka incident where that [Dell] notebook caught fire, all of a sudden Id have some anxiety. Now at least I have the information," said Richard Shim, an analyst at market researcher IDC, in San Mateo, Calif. "The success of this effort will be all in the execution. [Dell] has the opportunity to either strengthen that relationship [with customers] or blow it."

When consumers flooded Dells phone lines and Web site on Aug. 15, at least a few senior IT managers said they felt they were on their own to find recall details.

Tom Miller, senior director of IT at FoxHollow Technologies, in Redwood City, Calif., and an eWeek Corporate Partner, said he contacted his representative to get information locating recalled battery packs from among hundreds of machines. Miller said he was also looking to make arrangements to replace the recalled packs, some of which were with remote salespeople.

Miller said he has begun working with his sales representative—the first line of communication under Dells plan to work with corporate customers—to use Dell service tags to track down which machines need new battery packs among the hundreds of Dell Latitude 600-family notebooks his company has deployed.

"I see this as an opportunity for Dell to differentiate itself by really focusing in on the customer service aspect," said Miller.

Indeed, for larger corporations, the most expedient process may be to begin by looking at data associated with Dells service tags, a proc-ess that Miller said he was exploring.

Dell uses the tags to reference the inventory of the original bill of materials of each system it sells to a customer, including its battery identification number. However, the information must still be verified, as batteries often are replaced.

Dell said it also is exploring an alternative that could speed the process of identifying recalled batteries for large customers. That process would involve using management software to take a remote inventory of a companys notebook batteries. Dell, however, has not yet determined if this is possible, Ornelas said.

"One of the dilemmas with the battery is that it is not typically one of the commodities or components that is searched for by standard inventory tools," Ornelas said. Tools from companies such as Altiris can identify a battery but dont collect each packs ID number, the key data Dell needs to determine if a replacement is necessary, he said.

One IT director at a large energy company, who asked not to be named, said he would reserve judgment on Dell. "Youve really got a notebook user without a battery for the duration of the turnaround," he said. "I think every company is going to have one or two of these [problems]."

The replacements
Dell is recalling 4.1 million notebook PC battery packs sold between April 2004 and July 2006. Here are the details for making the swaps:

  • Business models include the Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800 and D810 and Dell Precision mobile workstation models M20, M60, M70 and M90.
  • Dell is asking customers to visit or call (866) 342-0011 to check their battery ID numbers.
  • Replacements will take about 20 business days to arrive.
    John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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