Drinks with Dell

When I blogged that I was headed down to Austin and the University of Texas last week, I got email out of the blue from Dell’s chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca, inviting me to meet him and his colleagues over drinks or out at Dell HQ. I said I hadn’t been planning to pack my flak jacket and he replied, “Even though it is Texas, there will be no guns involved.”

When I met Lionel at the bar, he said that he’d told his mother he was coming to meet me and she worried: “Are you going to be OK?”

I think I know how Ehud Olmert feels when he goes to visit the neighbors.

If you’re coming late to this story, I had a rather infamous run-in with Dell here at Buzzmachine when I complained about a bad machine and service. They ignored me, but thousands of similarly frustrated customers did not. Dell’s attitude toward blogs at the time was “look, don’t touch.” But it soon became apparent that my fellow Dell-hell travelers and I were a leading indicator of other problems at the company in quality and service, not to mention revenue, marketshare, and share price (to say nothing of accounting issues). But things began to turn around when Dell opened a company blog, which was off to a puffy start until Lionel, the chief blogger, entered, speaking with customers in an honest, direct, humble, and human voice. Next they put together a team to reach out to bloggers who had problems. They started a social-y site called IdeaStorm so customers could tell Dell what to do. And when the company realized how much of a turnaround it needed, Michael Dell took charge again. He and I even met at Davos. So this is the point in the story when I come to Texas.

Punch lines (and punches) aside, I had a fascinating, even gratifying, visit with Lionel and his colleagues, Richard Binhammer, one of the blog outreach team, and Dwayne Cox, their boss and a corporate executive and spokesman.

It is clear, through them, that at least at some levels, Dell has changed its culture and certainly its attitude toward bloggers. They now see value in reaching out. As they’ve said before, bloggers tend to state their problems clearly, which makes it easier (and, I assume, more efficient) to solve them. A problem solved is not only a customer likely to be saved, but also often leads to good PR and branding as the bloggers recount their happy endings. And the Dell guys say they get information and data from this; they hear about problems that may arise before others in the company do, because their customers are talking about it.

The team said that IdeaStorm was Michael Dell’s own idea and passion. And before we met, the company announced that because of IdeaStorm they’d decided to offer Linux now not just in servers and workstations but also in desktops and laptops. The people at IdeaStorm pushed this hard. Dell came back worried about how many flavors of Linux it would need to ship and support. They wrote:

The IdeaStorm community’s interest in open source solutions like Linux on Dell platforms has come through loud and clear. Many of you have suggested a survey to help Dell determine which distribution is most popular, and we think that’s a great idea. Based on your idea, we now have a short survey, which will be open until March 23, where you can tell us more about your favorite distribution of Linux, your preferred method of support, and more.

More than 100,000 people took that survey, leading to Dell’s announcement. And the discussion continues on the blog.

Welcome to the age of customer control. This isn’t just crowdsourcing. This is crowdmanaging. Companies still fear this. But, hell, if even Dell can lean back and let its customers begin to take charge, anyone can.

Still, it’s only a start. None of this is to say that Dell’s problems are over. Judging by the emails, comments, and links to further Dell hell stories that I still get just about every day, the problems with quality and service continue. I do see the Dell people coming into my comments and solving problems; I do hear from customers who are grateful to them. But by and large, most of the contact I get (and there’s not much I can do with any of it) is further recounting of problems. When I met Michael Dell, he said they still have a lot of work to do. They do.

An organization of this size and international scope can’t be changed overnight. But Dwayne Cox made it clear over drinks that Dell now knows it is a company in turnaround mode. The first step is admitting you have the problem. The next is figuring out how to fix it. And if the company now has its customers involved in that process, I have to believe that it will at least be better informed.

Lionel, who came from years of customer service and PR at the company, said the team working on the blog and with bloggers loves it. Aren’t there a few people out there who just can’t be satisfied, no matter what you do? Lost causes? Bozos? They agreed that there are a few and the outreach people don’t always say yes to their demands. But my drinking companions agreed that in an open forum, other folks tend to know who the bozos are. And the bozos tend to stand alone.

That, you see, was the real moral to my story. Whether or not I was a bozo, I did not stand alone. My story wasn’t about me but the people around me, the ones who said, “me, too.” I was merely the agent of coalescence. That’s what you have to watch for on the internet. That’s what the internet enables.

Dell, like many companies, is looking at new software that will make finding and analyzing these points of coalescence easier. But one of the morals of their story is that reports of data — vectors of the frequency of the use of the phrase “dell hell” — take you only so far. The canary may warn of trouble, but it doesn’t know the way out of the mine. You need people talking with your customers. And that’s why Richard Binhammer and the guy who tried to help me, John Blain, are so important. They can actually fix problems and answer questions. They can make judgments. Most of all, they can enter into a conversation with people. And that conversation need not always be about falling on the company sword. They can also tell you when you’re wrong. Richard said that when the Linux talk bubbled up, one blogger pooh-poohed it and said Dell would never release Linux machines. After Dell announced that it would, Richard went back to the guy’s blog, smirking, with a dish of crow. Companies make a big mistake when they think that their customers are out for blood and battle. No, we’re out for a conversation with a real person. We’re reasonable — most of us — when we are treated reasonably.

And there is the genius of Lionel Menchaca. In a flash, he transformed the image of Dell in my eyes. From a company that wanted to look at but not touch people like me, that wanted customers to come deal in the company’s space on the company’s terms, here suddenly was a guy who spoke honestly and directly. He admitted the company’s problems. But he also answered back. When I criticized the Dell blog in its first days for not linking and conversing (and remember that some readers said I should stop harping on them and get a life), he stepped up. He told me over drinks that he remembers when I said talking to a blog without links was like talking to a brick wall. He knew that was true; he was just so busy getting the blog launched that he hadn’t joined in yet. But then he started linking and conversing. Here, we all could see, was a reasonable man. He immediately earned the respect of me and many other bloggers; this, too, was a point of coalescence. Like Robert Scoble, he gave a borgish company a human voice. He gave us respect and got respect in return.

It works.

So what fascinates me so much about Dell is that it can rise from worst to first. Precisely because it got hammered by customers now empowered to talk back to the wall, it had to get smarter faster. Whether Dell can fix the rest of its problems, I don’t know. But if it keeps on the road it’s now on, it could well end up being the smartest company in the age of customer control. That would be one helluva turnaround.

Over nachos and fried somethings (don’t tell my wife or cardiologist), Dwayne Cox, the boss, pointed to the guys across the table and said that it was because of me that they had their jobs. I doubt that. But still, that was the gratifying part of the evening. For you see, just as I’m sure the people at Dell got quite sick quite a while ago of hearing the name Jeff Jarvis, I got tired of being the poster boy for the angry and suddenly empowered customer. I don’t repudiate or recant anything from my Dell hell experience. I just got tired of the story not advancing.

And so it was a delight to sit down with three guys from Dell and look at the new world from the same side. These guys get it. They understand what I had to learn (and made my first law): Give us control and we will use it. Don’t and you will lose us. And that’s what puts us on the same side of the table.

There’s more I want to learn about this transformation and so I’m angling to find an excuse to go back to Austin . . .but I promise I won’t get a Dell tattoo. (I should add that I paid for my beers.)

So when the evening was over, Binhammer gave me a ride to the restaurant where the UT symposium was having dinner. But I got the address wrong and we couldn’t find it. So I told him he should just drop me off and I’d get a cab. He refused. What if I got rolled? Then the story the next day would say: “…Jarvis, last seen with a Dell employee…” He delivered me safely home. And I suspect that on his way home, Lionel called his mom to say that, yes, he was OK, too.

  • http://www.calvertisd.com Josh Hymer

    That was actaully encouraging! Please check my post from your article: Dell schmell

    http://buzzmachine.com/2007/01/10/dell-schmell/#comment-346763

    Thanks for your effort, and thanks to Dell for attempting to make customer service better. Dell still has a long way to go. I have been a Dell corperate buyer for close to 7 years. They have changed a lot, and only resently for the better. I hope the progress will continue since I have a 75/25 Dell/Gateway network. I know I will be dealing with them often. Thanks!

  • http://deleted Tansley

    This was, quite possibly, one of your most encouraging entries to date, Jeff. The real power of the web revealed. Awesome.

    Have you watched the movie ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’ yet? You probably should, and draw your own conclusions.

    One can only IMAGINE the sort of clout that might be brought to bear with a blog discussing the overall blinkered stupidity of the American auto industry, particularly in light of the production of greenhouse gases.

    Our great hope is that the web will remain free and allow the sort of dialogue that prompted Dell to once again become customer-oriented. May it happen to other businesses in a grand domino-effect.

    Our great FEAR is that media-hoes like citizen Murdoch will try to get their hooks into it and turn it into yet another organ of oligarchy. If and when THAT happens, I suggest all your readers owning beachfront property consider SELLING, ASAP, and buying mountain acreage…

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  • David Marshall

    Nearly 15 months ago, I began a stroll down, what Jeff Jarvis would have called “Dell Hell Lane”. A close friend, one that sits on the cutting edge of the world of blogging, upon hearing of my nightmare experience, pointed me to Jeff Jarvis’s Dell Hell blog archives. But after navigating the streets of Jeff’s Dell Hell, I began to realize that I had to make a decision; a decision that could potentially leave me empty handed and Dell all the better because of my efforts. Did I want to travel the road-less-traveled by the American consumer, or did I want to go for the jugular?

    I had spent months trying to get, or should I say “take”, something from Dell and I must confess that the thought of “out doing” Mr. Jarvis was attractive. I wasn’t lacking for disgruntled-producing experiences. Not only did I have my own issues, but along the way, I found another group of Dell XPS 700 customers that needed a “voice”. The amount of time, money, and energy expended, demanded that I push for something more meaningful than a 25% coupon or even a “free” computer, so when I hit the fork in the road, I decided to travel down “Give” and not “Take” Lane.

    Helping customers by helping Dell become a more customer-centric corporation, looked a whole lot more attractive then getting my system for free. Dell had just publicly announced that 150 million was being spent to improve customer care and I decided to give them some help! I have always believed that you can’t get better if you don’t think anything is wrong, and so began my campaign to push Dell to be willing to admit the failure, ask for forgiveness, and make things right for Dell customers. In a nutshell my message to Dell was going to be: Failure is the Foundation for Success.

    In September I emailed Michael Dell, briefly outlined my concerns, and offered to fly down to Round Rock and share my ideas on what Dell could do to take better care of its customers. Two days later Michael Dell’s VP of communications emailed back and extended an invitation to “come on down”. Was I surprised? Yes and no. A recent Wall Street Journal article on Dell, that featured me in the opening paragraph, didn’t hurt my chances, but to make it to the top was encouraging to say the least.

    Dell, to my surprise took my visit seriously. They not only gave me the red carpet tour, but they sat me down with vice presidents and engineers; anyone and everyone that had the power to make a difference. Why was I so confident that Dell was truly listening? Because they wrote down my suggestions! Dell was interested in what I had to say. They were interested in me. They really did care about the concerns and feelings of their customers.

    I met with Michael Dell for over a half an hour and this is what I learned. He was a compassionate man, which genuinely wanted HIS customers to experience the “value” that Dell representatives are famous for speaking about. I had a burden and a message that I had traveled with. I came to challenge Dell to do what ,few if any, American Corporations are willing to take a risk and do; Admit failure, say, “I’m sorry”, and make it right. I even used the word “challenge”, which in hind sight was a bold thing to say to the founder of one of the world’s most successful corporations. I challenged Michael Dell to “turn this failure into success”. When that meeting ended, I knew I wanted to be that guys’ friend!

    Now finally, here is the relevance to Jeff’s blog post on “Drinks with Dell”; Lionel Menchaca. Lionel appears to have done for Jeff Jarvis exactly what he did for me. He allowed me to see the “human side of Dell”. He showed me compassion and care. He never bragged. He was never guilty of the kind of listening that nods and quickly moves to “His” next point about what he was doing. My concerns were real and Lionel never tried to explain them away with Dell philosophy.

    You can tell by a person’s face if they empathize. Lionel had empathy for the ordeal that I and other customers had experienced. He apologized for Dell’s failure to meet customers with their concerns. He took criticism with every intention of becoming a better company. And most importantly he made me feel that Dell wasn’t just using my advice to make Dell better, but to make it better for Dell’s customers.

    Lionel Menchaca was by my side for the two days that I was at Dell. Lionel made it possible for me to “want to” see the best in Michael Dell. Lionel was “proof” that Michael Dell cared about customer care. When I read the blog today, I am able to “feel” Dell’s interest in the customer because I have spent time with Dell’s blog manager.

    In the end Michael Dell was so wonderfully “human” and his corporation took care of the customers I mentioned. Dell is listening to the voices from the internet. Dell is listening to its customers and Dell is all the better for it. You know, now that I reflect on this 15 month journey I realize that the fork that I came to, and the road I traveled; Dell cut out that path making possible my choice. I will never regret the direction I took .The road to Dell Hell is getting narrower because of guys like Lionel. I am excited about Dell’s future!

  • Benjamin

    The air is thick with the pungent aroma of sycophancy.

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  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    David,
    Thanks for sharing that.

    Benjamin,
    Yes, I was fearing that. And so that’s why I keep emphasizing that they have problems and I keep hearing from their customers who have problems. But on the other hand, after being so tough on Dell, shouldn’t I give credit where it is well due? And do that in a straightforward way, not grudgingly?

  • http://maneydigital.blogspot.com Mike

    I’m with Jeff on this. My kudos to Menchaca (and Jeff) here:

    http://maneydigital.blogspot.com/2007/04/heading-em-off-at-pass.html#links

  • http://mikeabundo.com Mike Abundo

    Dell horribly overworked, overinsulated, underpaid, underequipped, and undertrained many of their customer service people in the last decade. Some of them have actually died of stress-related illnesses. I know, because I live an hour away from a Dell call center.

    Let’s hope they change that, too.

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  • Ron Edwards

    Your blog entries on Dell merely confirm what everyone, who has dealt with Dell over the past two+ years, has already suffered through. Dell’s support and quality have suffered which in turn has caused their customers — both individuals and companies — to also suffer. I know that our company switched from Dell systems and servers to IBM over the past year and a half and only recently began testing the waters again with Dell.

    Dell seems to have proven that once you begin dropping the quality of your product to capture more profit per item sold, it won’t take long for your customers to figure it out. Can they fix everything that’s “broke” and recapture their market share? Time will tell, but H/P and IBM both have good products and support so I imagine they will probably keep a large percentage of those disgruntled Dell customers.

    Didn’t this happen once before with Michael Dell’s previous computer company (Computers Limited, I believe)? And didn’t he have to ultimately change the name of the company to get past the legacy of poor quality and customer support? Just a thought…

  • http://pr.typepad.com John Cass

    Jeff, an excellent article, again I think that Dell is the blogging story of 2007 because of the switch. To go from such a bad position and make such progress is a really great story. Yes, there still may be problems, but it looks as if the company is learning how to put the infrastructure in place to learn how to deal with them.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    What a joke.

    Jeff, you are going to patronize Dell for listening to its customers after you enlightened the company?

    Those of us that are a little bit acquainted with the history of the company and its customer-centric, revolutionary business model are laughing at your clueless, self-unconscious ego.

    We’re reasonable — most of us — when we are treated reasonably.

    That is a crock. Most people over the age of 45 don’t understand technology, feel entitled to perfect products that last decades, and ruin their own machines by clicking on pop-up ads and spam. Then of course, it’s Dell’s fault.

    Computers are disposable. They last for three years, then it’s time to buy a new one.

    The Dell guys found one of my complaints this summer on your blog. They tried to help but couldn’t easily fix it (I wasn’t going to save everything to disk and wipe the hard drive clean), but I don’t begrudge anyone for it. The PC still functions; I have been abusing it for 2.5 years now so it’s almost time for a new Dell anyway.

    Yeah, who bought the beer is real relevant…

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  • http://www.mcalynn.com Duncan McAlynn

    As an Austinite, I’d be happy to buy the first round! Hook ‘em Horns!

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  • http://www.vocalabs.com/ Peter Leppik

    Jeff:

    I’m encouraged that Dell is starting to engage customers and the community. Sometimes a crisis is the only way to force change.

    My company has been tracking the quality of tech support at four major PC companies, and the good news for Dell is that they’re a reasonable margin above the bottom of the barrel. The bad news is that nobody–not even Apple, best of the bunch–really does a great job of delivering support (survey results are at http://www.vocalabs.com/sqtrack/ ).

    Technical support is an inherently hard thing to deliver, and the problems begin well before the PC goes out the door, when companies make design and marketing decisions which inevitably lead to products which are more complicated and fragile than necessary, with no real customer benefit. Walt Mossberg had a gread column today about how bad the out-of-the-box experience is these days, even for tech-savvy geeks like himself.

  • http://deleted Tansley

    To CaptiousNut: Well, a LOT of people over 45 don’t understand technology, but then a lot of people UNDER 45 who’ve never worked a tech-related job aren’t very up on it, either.

    I’m fifty, have worked in printing/advertising for over 30 years, and understand computer technology both inside and out. I BUILD my own PCs, continue to use an AMD K6-2/500 running Win98SE which I built SEVEN years ago (which still runs just fine, and navs the web just FINE also, thank you,) STILL think MACS are THE superior system (and I’m cross-platform, so don’t try to BS me on this one) and firewall-block most pop-ups (except for the ones from the Rainforestsite and the Hungersite – go there and you’ll see why…)

    I don’t expect perfect products unless I build them myself. So far, my PC is doing fine…so is the Mac Quadra 800 on the other side of my desk…which also still runs just fine (in it’s typical, semi-buggy, CISC-chip fashion), after about TEN years of fairly steady use.

    The ‘disposable computer’ myth is just that – a MYTH. Computers are only disposable for gamers and multi-media developers. People doing DTP , web design or any basic office work can get by on ‘stone knives and bearskins’ if we have to.

    The Dell story is possibly one of the best interactions between a company and its customers I’ve seen. Nobody can fix everything, not even me, but at least they’re willing to LISTEN and turn things around, if they can.

    I’ve known plenty of people upset with Dell, and I don’t think Jeff was patronizing them, here. I think he was giving them their day in court. Period.

  • Matt in Denver

    I am over 45 and know technology. I purchased a Dell computer 2.5 years ago. I have has hardware problems and working with the Indian customers service reps was very difficult. Also, they had to send a technician to the house truoble shoot. This very young lady had no clue. My computer still does not work properlly – I have just given up on Dell. I will never purchase a Dell product again.

  • http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php Billy Beck

    If I take all this — the whole long epic, in context — at face value, then the logical conclusion is that Austin, Texas is going to need a much bigger airport.

    My question has always been: how bloody stupid did they have to be to just *ignore* customers in the first place? Know what? When I come across stupidity like that, I leave it to itself, pronto.

    Fuggetaboudit.

  • susanna in alabama

    Nearly four years ago I bought a Dell laptop, the Inspiron 8500. It’s been a workhorse; I’ve treated it gently, but it’s also been all over the place with me. It’s been just wonderful. I also got the extended warranty on parts and labor. Last year the screen suddenly developed wavy lines. I had to wait forever to get to talk to someone, but once I did, the process to getting it fixed went great. Long, but great. They tried diagnostics, did not fix it. They sent a local tech out to replace the screen, that didn’t fix it. She came out again and wound up replacing the graphics card and finally the motherboard, which turned out to be the problem. The tech they sent was friendly, very competent (as far as I could tell!), and patient with answering my questions. I’ve generally had a good experience with Dell, and it’s highly likely I’ll buy from them again when I’m next in the market.

    Just wanted to give a positive story too! I’m glad to see that they are addressing problems others have had, because it gives me hope that they will still be the go-to company when I replace this laptop.

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  • http://banedad.blogspot.com Bane

    You might find this interesting, Jeff:

    http://banedad.blogspot.com/2005/11/fleeting-moment-of-fame.html

    I gotta say, it was weird seeing my policy on a poster on TV in a Dell building.

  • Brian

    Don’t take this wrong, but doesn’t mentioning you ate fried somethings on your blog defeat the purpose of making sure your wife and cardiologist won’t know?

  • FormerDellManager

    Jeff,
    Take my word for it, you will be writing a year from now that Dell is still having problems with customer service etc…. This is all deliberate, not a result of bad luck or mis-management. It has gone on for years and years, with lots of opportunity to fix it. You just dont get it quite yet. The pr folks you met drink their own kool-aid and dont know better. Everything Dell does is based on a cost/benefit analysis, and as long as it appears to be cost effective to screw the customers, it will continue.

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  • Tech Pro

    FormerDellManager says:

    “Everything Dell does is based on a cost/benefit analysis, and as long as it appears to be cost effective to screw the customers, it will continue.”

    This is the real issue. Sure, Dell’s got some great employees like Lionel Menchaca who really want to solve the customer service problem.

    Problem is, customer service is *not* the problem. It’s Dell’s fundamental business model that causes all this grief, and unless and until they change that, Dell Hell will continue (if slightly mitigated by the earnest efforts of valiant employees).

    Dell ships defective machines at a high rate on purpose. It’s a business decision – in pursuit of low prices they have deliberately sacrificed quality and necessary controls.

    When people try to get help with these bad machines, Dell has made another business choice: to do everything they can to discourage customers from getting what they paid for, so Dell can pocket the difference.

    Sure, Dell knows that their customer service reps don’t support their customers, and annoy many of them to the point that they give up and go away. Ring the register for Dell every time an unhappy customer throws out his intentionally faulty machine and just buys a new one.

    Dell’s customers are not people, never have been. IT managers are their only real constituency and only the biggest ones with the biggest budgets matter. Any individual or small/medium business that buys from Dell is a chump by Dell’s definition.

    Will Dell change this? No, despite efforts like the one you describe here. As long as the big IT buyers are happy, they have no motivation to alter their successful model.

    Everybody else who buys Dell can, by design and decision, go to hell. Dell Hell.

  • http://ayalrosenthal.info Ayal Rosenthal

    I completely agree with you forecast for Dell. They can rise for worst to first. Their cusotmer service has improved tremendously over the past year. Unfortunately, the machines they built a year ago still suck today.

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  • http://www.bashwagon.blogger.com joe summerlin

    FormerDellManager: I’ll bet $50 bucks you are wrong. I work for Dell.

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  • http://www.chicagoboyz.net Mitch

    I recently did something fatal to my desktop and was shopping for another. The Dell site supposedly lets you essentially build a machine, but really all I found was various options to put things on or take them off a standard build. They had no information about what kind of motherboard, power supply, or RAM they used, or whether the components could be upgraded. Video card information was either sketchy or absent.

    I just followed your link over to their blog, and it turns out that much of their equipment is built with non-standard parts and cannot be upgraded. Thank heaven I didn’t buy their stuff. I wound up pretty much rebuilding my old machine with an up-to-date motherboard, processor, graphics card, and memory. When one component did not work, I sent it back to Tiger Direct, Micro Center, or NewEgg and got one that did. It was a pain in the neck, but if something else goes wrong, at least it can be fixed. And I don’t need to go through customer service to get it done.

  • David Marshall

    This post is long, and before you consider bailing out, right up front here is my thesis statement: American consumers don’t trust Big Business. In fact, they don’t like them at all. Yet when there is a significant positive response to the cries of the customer, it doesn’t seem to be all that news worthy, and this, more than the failure of companies, is what worries me.

    My wife and I teach inner city kids and many of them will not stand a chance of ever getting a large American Corporation to listen to them, let alone take care of them. Recently Chase Bank in error charged us for a late payment. After some 8 phone calls over a 2 month period my wife “thinks” they are going to fix it. She thinks! She hangs up the phone and says, “They don’t listen. They don’t care!”

    Corporations are facing a crisis but don’t seem to see what the customers see. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are just 3 examples of companies in trouble, contributing to Michigan’s loss of 300,000 jobs in the past five years. My dad worked for Chevrolet for 37 years. He won their annual one recipient Award of Excellence back in the 60’s. After 30 years of driving nothing but Chevrolets, a brand new engine in my Monte Carlo mysteriously blew up, just 200 miles out of warranty. When I asked GM for assistance they said, “No, we don’t consider you a loyal customer. You didn’t get all of your oil changes at a GM dealer.” The crisis is real, yet it doesn’t appear to be forcing the change that Peter just suggested, “Sometimes a crisis is the only way to force change.” Or should I rephrase that, “…. a large change.”

    Jim Collins, in “Good to Great” shares a similar insight. Collins writes, “In confronting the brutal facts, the good-to-great companies left themselves stronger and more resilient, not weaker and more dispirited. There is a sense of exhilaration that comes in facing head-on the hard truths and saying, “We will never give up. We will never capitulate. It might take a long time, but we will find a way to prevail.””

    Last summer Dell made an attempt to tempt the customers from the growing “enthusiast” market to ‘buy Dell’. Things didn’t go so well for the high-performance XPS 700 and a campaign was initiated by an already disgruntled customer on Dell’s very own Dell Community Forum. Nine months later apcmag.com writes, “If disastrous mishaps — such as with the XPS 700 — are avoided, making systems upgradeable by the user is actually a brilliant idea….In fact, it’s really the only way companies such as Dell might tempt the hardcore enthusiasts into buying a branded machine.”

    What prompted the few smaller services such as apcmag.com, Enquirer.com, and others to report on Dell’s new found stroke of brilliance? Because one thing was for sure, no one was calling the first released XPS 700 a brilliant idea! In fact there were some 14,000 posts from upset customers seeking a better product.

    John Cass, last month was here on Buzzmachine sharing words of advice for Dell, “Though hard to bear at the moment, Dell will benefit from responding to customer feedback, and in turn Dell customers will also benefit” I responded to John Cass’s statement to let him know that it was already happening yet I heard nothing.

    I supplied Jeff Jarvis with an email, drawing attention to Dell’s stroke of genius, but it was overlooked. I sent an email to Robert Scoble and offered to fly to him and give a video interview, throwing a spot light on a theme that seems to pop up regularly around the blogging circuit; corporations need to utilize the internet, listen to their customers, and be honest! I haven’t heard back.

    The one media outlet that I thought for sure would write a follow-up story to its September 21 article, “Dell Draws Flak From PC Fans On New Desktop” didn’t think it would attract the Wall Street Journal readers; not now with all of the on-going investigations. No story.

    Here is what Neil Hand, VP of Worldwide Consumer Marketing, had to say to some 10,000 to 12,000 Dell XPS 700 customers on Lionel Menchaca’s Direct2Dell.com blog, “Our number one goal is to delight our customers with our products and services… we did not do that for some of our XPS 700 customers. On behalf of Dell, I want to apologize for that,” says Hand. “We want to show XPS 700 customers our appreciation for sticking with us throughout this process — we appreciate your business.”

    I have spoken with hundreds of Dell customers, and many more non-Dell customers. They all agree, the words, “I apologize”, breaks down barriers and provide the foundation for a new and better corporation-customer relationship. If there isn’t more of this, then I fear that we run the risk of losing those days of corporate loyalty here in America.

    Lionel then went on to outline what Dell is going to do for its high-end XPS customers. Technicians will be dispatched to XPS 700 customer’s locations world-wide and a brand new state-of-the-art, next-generation motherboard will be installed free of charge. At a possible $5-700 per customer, I am thinking that this isn’t some publicity stunt!

    I am not sure what Tansley is referring to when he says, “The Dell story is possibly one of the best interactions between a company and its customers I’ve seen…..they’re willing to LISTEN and turns things around, if they can.”, but I sure do hope that what he is referring to has more substance to it then just Jeff Jarvis giving Dell a day in court with Lionel Menchaca. Dell would be foolish to not entertain Jeff, and to listen to his voice. That makes sense and it is in Dell’s best interest to do so. Good grief, some think that Dell stock tumbled because of the “pile on effect” that the Dell Hell blog caused.

    But in the case of the XPS 700 customers, it was a relatively quiet ‘revolution’. Had Dell chosen to not travel the high road it most likely would have gone away with time. But instead Dell chose to LISTEN to Jeff Jarvis, Robert Scoble and others. They did exactly what was recommended. I admire what Jeff has done and even have his first direct2dell blog post on my hard drive!

    Jeff Jarvis said:
    Glad you’re here. But Scoble is right: The first step is to listen to the conversation about Dell that is already going on in blogs. You want constructive advice? Let me repeat… This is what I advised on my blog more than one year ago, on July 1, 2005: I said Dell needed to learn “…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……Someone there should have the guts to deal head-on with the now-renowned customer service problem your company has. Be brave. Be direct. Be transparent. Blog about your hold time. About your customer service satisfaction ratings. About your return rate. About your reliability. Go out and quote the blogs that are writing about you every day and then answer their problems, concerns, and questions. Best yet: Ask your customers what we think you should be doing. That would get you respect. That would be a real conversation. If you want more advice about what a Dell blog could be and could accomplish, I know I’m one of many who’d be happy to oblige.
    July 11, 2006 2:30 PM

    Dell opened its doors to the inner chambers. Engineers LISTENED. Vice Presidents LISTENED. Media personel LISTENED- Lionel actually had his videographer put together a video and circulated it to Dell employees world-wide. He documented how Dell had failed to properly take care of a customer and shared what the customer was recommending for Dell to improve its customer care. And Michael Dell sat down in a private meeting, with no distractions, and no agenda, and LISTENED.

    Not only did Dell allow the XPS 700 customers to ‘vent’ on Dell’s own Community Forum, but the moderator ‘stuck’ the topic to the very top for ALL to see. Customers were waiting for Dell to ‘lock it down’ but they didn’t. And then Lionel brought the topic right into plain and open view by dealing with the concerns of the customer on Dell’s newly found blog. Talk about being transparent!

    Dell’s bold response to the ‘cries’ of the customer? You could hear the cheering through your flat screen Dell monitor when Dell “came through” for them, and announced the motherboard upgrade program. The “loyalty meter” nearly broke! John Cass was right. Dell will benefit and so will the customer. I just don’t know if he thought it would happen this fast!

    And Tansley was right on as well. The Dell story is, “one of the best interactions between a company and its customers.” And only time will tell, but Cass may be prophetic when he says, “If Dell becomes the new gold standard for online customer service and technical customer support through blogging, its competitors have a lot to be concerned about..”

    Don’t get me wrong. Jarvis, Scoble, Cass, WSJ and others are doing a great job. They have to wade through masses of information. But it is true that the big huge generic breakthroughs, where the general customer populations are benefactors of improved customer care, are simply not going to attract attention the way that Corporation failure does. It isn’t one of those “Pile-On Stories.” Of course it isn’t, because who is there to pile on! It’s a small population right now and it needs to be grown.

    And that is why the radar must be left on after writing those glaring criticisms of Large Corporations, so that if and when they respond and actually heed the advice and DO something for the customer, it won’t be missed.

    Think about it. The 8th richest man on the planet, after just resuming his duties as CEO of a $60 Billion monster corporation, listens to a teacher from Detroit, who owns only one Dell computer, and the result is that up to some 12,000 customers are going to receive a $500-$700 upgrade along with improved future customer care. And except for the few small outlets that printed a small article, no one was willing to share the story with a public that is pleading for Corporate America to LISTEN!

    Is it any wonder that companies are afraid to take a risk and be honest, vulnerable, and apologetic and fix it to boot? And the sad part is; I really do think that a story like this one would give a few customers some hope that someone in these big, ugly, and selfish American Corporations really does care. It might be time for a Positive Pile-On!

    I can’t say it enough: Thank You Michael Dell. Keep it up. Someone has to set a new trend, even if it takes some time until it becomes “The thing” to blog about. All of my life, driving foreign was like asking for my inheritance early! But this year I bought a Honda and my father shed a tear…..for GM.

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  • http://chuckzblog2.johnstonz.net Chuck Johnston

    Right on, Dave (Marshall)! I agree that the the traditional (print and electroninc) media should follow up on the positive results of customer empowerment in resolving debacles like the one involving the XPS 700. You wrote: “Is it any wonder that companies are afraid to take a risk and be honest, vulnerable, and apologetic and fix it to boot?” What company is going to go out and deliberately expose itself to negative publicity if no one notices their efforts to remedy the problems? Unfortunatley, it’s not going to be the “sensation-based” media that gets the job done. Ultimately, the same grassroots network of bloggers that surface these problems are going to do it. They need to be the ones that get the word out about the good stuff—AND the bad stuff—that follows. I wonder if/when the traditional media are going to finally wake up to the fact that they are rapidly becoming irrelevant?)

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  • http://forgefirst.ltdbtinternet.com David UK

    Dell – how do you get hold of them?
    I had a laptop delivered on Friday April 11 at 9.15am it was faulty, I reported it straight away and twice more since but I have had heard absolutely nothing from Dell. I wish I had listened to those who said what a poor company this is to deal with once they have your money. Does anyone know how to get in touch with Dell when they do not answer e-mails?

  • Ben

    In response to David UK: “Does anyone know how to get in touch with Dell when they do not answer e-mails?”
    Start a blog!

  • texastig

    Here’s a great idea. Dell should make product manuals with the correct operating system.
    They sell new laptops with Vista but the manual has WindowsXP reference’s through it.
    Yes, I was one of the lucky ones not to get any info on Vista. I have to call techsupport all the time.
    Thanks

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  • Dude

    Dell’s faults are entirely of their own making and of course they are going to take the time to listen to their biggest critic (Jeff). Jeff I believe you are walking a very fine line and not one that I envy in the slightest. No company is perfect, Dell however deserves more than their fair share of the blame heaped at them. That being said the reaction to their current demise wasn’t like it happened overnight, it was years in the making.

    Now how do they correct that? Right now they look like they are in “damage control” mode. The long term problem that I see is that they now have a lot of Pissed off peeple out there that are not going to go running back with open arms.

    The one company I would equate Dell to is Quark. They are making all the same mistakes that Quark made in the late 90′s early 00′s. Quark has attempted to right their ship and Dell is using many of the same tactics. In regard toi my comment above Dell should inquire with Quark about how easy it has been to regain their former customers after years of systemic, relentless poor service.

    In Dell’s case its now IBM, HP and even Apple that are reaping the benefit of the angry masses, instead of Adobe in Quark case. The parallels are striking.

  • Peter Russert

    Great story. I kept wondering about the relevance to politics in addition to business.

  • http://cboimc.blogspot.com/ Tyler

    As graduate students at Northwestern University, we have recently been writing a blog about blogging and specifically the way that blogs are utilized in the business and academic worlds. We recently wrote about corporate blogs, and in our post we discussed the Direct2Dell blog that was launched in response to Dell Hell. We were wondering if the general public truly forgives Dell for their past poor customer service because they have created this blog, or if people are still critical of their customer service. We would love to here your opinion on our blog. Here is a link: http://cboimc.blogspot.com/. Thanks!

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  • http://www.classidol.com Dell

    This is very encouraging, thanks much for this. And yes, u should get a Dell tattoo ;-)

  • David Marshall

    Jeff, I know you have shown a renewed interest in Dell’s efforts to connect with their customers on the web. In the event that you haven’t heard, Dell has officially started their “Free Motherboard Upgrade Program” for their XPS 700 customers. Go here and work backwards to see the many posts that Lionel has put up. http://direct2dell.com/

    As I have expressed before; I am saddened by the lack of coverage that an “event” like this has attracted. It seems that most everyone takes aim at companies like Dell, criticizing them for not “listening” to their customers. And now that there finally is solid tangible proof that Dell really is not just talking about listening to customers, but are “putting their money where their mouth is”, the media excuses the lack of coverage with, “It isn’t what the readers want to hear about.”

    No doubt, that if the media decided that they wanted to make it newsworthy they could, but that would require some guts and no doubt is too risky. I was able to get a large media outlet to cover the “bad and the ugly” of the XPS 700 launch, but try as I might, I cannot get the editors to comment on the “good.”

    As the jobs continue to shift to Asia, and as China marches higher and higher on top of its 1.5 Trillion pile of American Dollars, maybe it is time to make “Doing the noble thing”, popular, before everyone in our culture considers it popular to buy foreign.

    I lived in Taiwan for 12 years and service is everything. I had a ceiling fan installed by some mom and pop outfit in Tiachung. Two guys worked all day to get it installed and to see me satisfied. It cost me $20 U.S., yet somehow they managed to “see” profit! China didn’t just stumble into this world economy.

  • David Marshall

    Now how sad is that. I spelled my home city wrong! Taichung! If just feels better making it right!!

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  • http://www.dellpassword.com Dellpass

    It just goes to show that you can get results if you are persistent. Kudos :)

  • http://www.aceahosting.nl Billy

    Dell should make product manuals with the correct operating system.

    Billy

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  • T. Walker

    Interesting. As someone who can often choose which companies are presented for product selection when new contracts are up for grabs, I find this … interesting. And I take heed of the warnings to investigate support and service thoroughly before selecting the top five picks. Basically I will google search and see before dealing with any company for work. Why not? It is fast, easy, and I read rapidly. Good service should be rewarded, bad should be discarded.

  • cxftgrtghfg

    Следуя современным тенденциям, Dell оснастила Studio 15 экраном с кинематографическим форматом 16:9. Отдельные компоненты опционального аппаратного обеспечения также соответствуют последним технологиям. Dell внезапно начал рассматривать свои потребительские ноутбуки как “объекты стиля жизни” и предоставляет, например, последний Studio15 в 17 различных дизайнах. Решение о выборе аппаратных компонентов становится меньшей из проблем…аккумулятор для DellStudio XPS 1647 Возможно, вы еще помнитеплоский, клиновидный дизайн прошлых ноутбуков Studio. Не повезло тем, кто не привык к нему, поскольку нынешние серии Studio 15 остаются ему верны. Намеренно простым дизайном Dell, вероятно, вновь удовлетворит вкусы большинства – http://russiabattery.com/dell-studio-xps-1647.html

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