Tom Evslin can’t find his robot.
UPDATE: Tom found the prodigal Roomba. Newsflash in the archived comments here.
The age of caveat emptor is over.
Now the time has come when it’s the seller who must beware. Caveat venditor.
A company can no longer get away with consistently offering shoddy products or service or ignoring customers’ concerns and needs.
For now the customers can talk back where they can be heard. Those customers can gang up and share what they know and give their complaints volume. Of course, they can use their reviews and complaints to have a big impact on a company’s reputation and business.
Public relations has to take on a new meaning. It can no longer be about the press and publicity, which just separate companies from the public they are supposed to serve.
Public relations must be about a new relationship with the public, with the public in charge.
: All that is quite obvious to any of us. But it is far from obvious to too many big companies … like Dell.
I tested Dell and they failed. Their customer service mechanism did not recognize a machine and service pattern and customer that were a mess. They didn’t try to fix it.
I could have stayed on the phone for hours and gone up a tier at a time playing the customer having a psycho fit (ask anyone who has heard me go after customer service people who don’t serve: I play the role well).
Instead, I chose to write about the saga here. I chose to elicit the sympathy and conspiracy of fellow pissed-off Dell customers. I chose to see whether Dell is listening.
They are not.
Their media people were not reading the media that matters — media written by their very own customers. This page is already No. 5 in Google under Dell sucks. I gave them time. They failed.
So then I emailed their media department and told them to read this blog. I gave them a cheat sheet. They didn’t. They failed.
Only when I wrote to the Chief Marketing Officer, Michael A. George (email@example.com) did I get a rise out of the company: A very nice (of course) woman named Linda with an accent (Southern… and I don’t mean Bangalore) called to promise to ready the endless email exchange with Dell.
But as we say on the internet: That doesn’t scale. If every dissatisfied customer had to email the Chief Marketing Officer, Michael A. George (firstname.lastname@example.org), he’d never have time to market.
: So here’s where things stand right now. Linda offered scripted apologies (in the same breath that she read the standard notice that the call was being recorded). She didn’t hold onto her arguments about Dell policy on at-home service (when I said that her very own employee admitted that the at-home technician would not bring the parts necessary to fix the machine). She didn’t rise to the legal bait of calling the at-home program “fraudulent” and my complaining about lost work (can you say “compensatory damages”?).
She offered to send me a new machine.
I said I had no faith in Dell, in the quality of its products or its service.
I asked for a refund.
She then offered a full refund.
I said I would decide what to do my early next week.
In the meantime, Apple and PC cultists will battle over the dead body of my Dell.
: You know what: If Dell were really smart, they’d hire me (yes, me) to come to them and teach them about blogs, about how their customers now have a voice; about how their customers are a community — a community often in revolt; about how they could find out what their customers really think; about how they could fix their customers’ problems before they become revolts; about how they could become a better company with the help of their customers.
If they’d only listen.
Well, I suppose it’s a start. The NY Times today extols the wisdom of consumer-goods advertisers letting their consumers have a role in campaigns and products:
Crest, a division of Procter & Gamble, is asking people to go to the Web to vote for their favorite from a short list of contenders: lemon ice, sweet berry punch or tropica exotica. Samples of the flavors are attached to some Crest products.
Marketing executives say the campaign reflects an increasing interest by companies in involving consumers in their advertising. The trend is another way to break from traditional advertising that viewers increasingly can tune out with TiVo and other digital video recorders. Marketers say the Internet has also made interactive campaigns easier to conduct.
Note that it says they want to involve consumers in their advertising.
I quote Doc Searls in every PowerPoint BlogBoy dance I give [available for hire -advt]:
“Consumer is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. It implies that we are all tied to our chairs, head back, eating ‘content’ and crapping cash.’ “
It’s not about consumers — us — getting involved in the company’s — their — advertising. It’s about companies realizing that they are us and we are them:
I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together….
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.
It’s about companies realizing that we who buy and use these products are in a better position to both market and invent them.
So it’s nice that P&G is letting us vote on a limited set of toothpaste flavors. Really, it is. I’m not being sarcastic, well, not too sarcastic. I guess I feel empowered picking lemon ice (my choice). It is a step in the right direction. But only a step. It’s not a zippy ride on the Cluetrain.
If P&G really had balls, they would have the people create the flavors they want and make the executive decision about which ones to make and then create the marketing campaign about them. If P&G really wanted to succeed, it would give up control to the people they used to call their consumers.
More like this:
Similarly, Staples Inc. is starting its Staples Invention Quest vote Aug. 10. Staples accepted product ideas from customers this spring and said it would award a $25,000 grand prize in September and nine semifinalist prizes of $5,000 – along with possible production deals – for the best inventions, chosen by Staples judges and online voters.
Since the Crest voting began May 2, about 500,000 votes have been cast, said Tonia Elrod, a Crest spokeswoman. Staples, based in Framingham, Mass., received about 12,000 invention proposals this year, up from about 8,300 last year, said Jevin S. Eagle, the senior vice president of Staples Brands.
Another step in the right direction. But if Staples had balls, it would open a forum, wide open, asking office workers the world around to say what products they want and how the products they sell need improvement. Go here and see why you should build a keyboard impervious to crumbs. Build it. Then take a picture of the happy snarfer typing away (a blogger, I have no doubt) as your marketing campaign. He’s not asking for a cut of the profits but it would be the neighborly thing to do.
You have to give up control — really give up control and mean it — to win today.
(And you’ve just witnessed me starting to write that damned book.)