Poor Dell

Yes, I just said that and with earnest sympathy: Poor Dell. They keep finding themselves taking point in big companies’ scouting missions into the guerrilla- customer-controlled Vietnamese internet jungle. The latest came this week when Consumerist posted 22 tips from a former Dell kiosk sales guy; Dell sent a take-down notice and Gawker Media sent back a go-to-hell notice.

Consumerist was surprised at Dell’s response since the post was actually fairly positive about Dell. After all, it was aimed at people who want to buy Dell products. Now, of course, the problem was that the ex-sales guy revealed a few secrets on how to get the best deals. Dell complained that this was confidential information. One need wonder whether there will be any confidential information anymore — and whether one should build a business model around it.

So I look at this another way: The same lesson that has come to Dell in customer service, marketing, and manufacturing — that the customer is in charge and now has a voice you must hear and are wise to heed — now comes to sales itself. I have no doubt that’s scarier still, for this is sales — this is where the margin is. If this anonymous ex-employee tells people how to get better deals — where else to look on the web site for better prices, what days to buy so you can get a better price the next day, when in the quarter to buy to get bargains that will drive quarterly reports — then how are they going to eek those extra bucks that are getting harder and harder to find in the just-in-time, just-good-enough, outsourced efficiencies that started biting them in the butt lately?

Well, I’d say they’d be smart to learn the same lessons they are learning in the rest of the company. Openness is the best policy:

If people are worried about a better price coming out the next day, then tell them they’ll automatically get a better price if there’s a sale within, say, a week. Then they don’t need a tip from a salesman to game a closed system and they won’t keep waiting to buy a machine, just in case the price goes down and they don’t know it. Now they know, because you’re open. I’ll just bet that will increase sales.

If people are worried that there’s a better price in some other ad or section of the site, give them a guarantee that every price they get is the lowest price available. Nothing’s hidden. You can buy with confidence, because the pricing is in the open.

If people are worried about getting outsourced customer service and that motivates them to pay more for business vs. home systems, then let them get onshore support; they might even pay for that.

You see, if you read between the lines of what the ex-sales guy wrote, you simply see his list of the worries he has heard that keep customers from buying Dell products. Hear those problems and solve them openly and you will sell more products and garner more trust and goodwill and customers. Openness is a strategy.

Now I see evidence that at least some parts of Dell are getting this. Note in the Consumerist post that a current Dell sales rep gave updated information and in each case, the new policy is better than the old one. Dell’s blog is instituting a policy of openness in customer service and product quality and it’s working insofar as Dell’s reputation, at least online is improving. Dell IdeaStorm is opening up product development to customers’ ideas and desires and that is working; it’s leading to new products with customer support — that is, support from the customers themselves — built in. Now I’d say they need to look at how to bring the same spirit of openness to sales.

Do have some sympathy with Dell, though. Every time they do something now, the hot spotlight is on them (and that’s partly my fault). If other companies are smart, they’re sitting back and watching, thinking ‘there but for the grace of a blogger go we,’ and learning the lessons Dell learns now in public. Openly.

Note again that I may be writing a magazine piece about this. In the comments in that post, I asked you to tell me whether your attitude toward Dell has changed. In addition to a few bad tales came these two wonderful one: In a post complaining about HP — not Dell — a Dell blog rep came in and answered the HP customer’s problem with a link to the right page on the HP site. And David Marshall just put up a comment explaining his radical change of heart.

  • http://badideaindeed.wordpress.com/ Philippe

    I agree. Dell deserves credit and respect.

    To give another example of Dell’s responsiveness, have a look at Mack Collier’s post about Dell’s blog (and again, the comments by the Dell reps): http://moblogsmoproblems.blogspot.com/2007/06/company-blog-checkup-dell.html

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/02/25/social-media-saga-continues-as-company-advances-towards-dell-swell/ Jeremiah Owyang

    Dell has come a looong way. I’m sure this will be corrected. Looks like they’re taking some corrective action, as you know from meeting Lionel a few weeks ago, he’s a customer advocate.

    http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2007/06/16/18397.aspx

    I’m tracking the whole saga (or at least the highlights) from this post

    http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/02/25/social-media-saga-continues-as-company-advances-towards-dell-swell/

  • http://www.geofffox.com Geoff Fox

    I am typing this on a Dell 640m laptop, that I love (in spite of Vista). However, I waited and waited to buy because I was never sure I was getting the best price – and I wanted the best price. Between the myriad websites touting Dell deals and Dell’s multiple badging of the same hardware, it’s tough to know what’s what on any given day.

    I found Dell’s website, which should make the experience easier, made it more difficult! Choices of configurations were often arbitrary. This machine could have any Vista – except Home Premium… the one I wanted.

    I’m a stockholder. I want Dell to do better. i don’t want customers to think of them as putzes

  • http://www.theviralgarden.com Mack Collier

    Just to touch on what Philippe mentioned, Dell’s Direct2Dell blog was the latest blog I covered in my Company Blog Checkup series. During my post, I pointed out that Dell should add BuzzMachine to its blogroll. A Dell rep contacted me later that day to let me know that BuzzMachine had been added, after they read my post.

    I think Dell is like many companies, in that the balance of power has just been violently shoved in the customer’s direction, and they didn’t get the memo. So they are struggling to come to grips with this new reality, while wanting to cling to the old.

    But you mentioned that “If other companies are smart, they’re sitting back and watching…”

    I think the smart companies are the ones that are in these waters and making smallish missteps now, as those errors will be whoppers if they sit back watching long enough.

    I think Dell deserves criticism when they make missteps with social media, as does any other company. But I think we also owe it to them, ourselves, and this medium, to make sure that the criticism is constructive, and tempered with the knowledge that that are at least in these waters.

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  • G Allen

    WELL YEAH, SORTA.

    I do agree that Dell is taking some steps in the right direction, but at other times, like this newest Consumerist flap, they’re still the same ol’ Dell.

    And I have to say that Lionel Menchaca’s mea clupa doesn’t ring with sincerity as much as it rings with, uh, thoroughly-vetted spin.

    I’d like to see Dell return to better days and better relations with consumers, but then again I’d like to see Google or Tivo return to being responsible corporate citizens. I don’t think behemoths can be as good as they were in the past, although they may become more influential in appearance management.

    And as long as my most effective weapon is my wallet, I intend to use it. Pay attention Messrs. Menchaca and Dell.

  • http://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/ W^L+

    Dell has a lot more to worry about than trying to get the highest price from those who already want to buy from them. Just from my own experience, I’d say that their service is so bad that they are driving their customers to competitors like HP and Gateway (which have their own problems, so this indicates that Dell’s issues are severe). Most of the same problems you dealt with are still present today.

    Dell is a victim of its own success. Becoming a big corporation means that the company is likely to view its customers as foes, rather than allies. Financing was formerly a way to help more people afford Dell’s products, but is now a separate profit center. Their best bet now is to jettison DFS and let the market provide financing. DFS is driving away repeat business, as people burned by DFS resolve to avoid Dell.

    Even Dell’s Linux and OpenOffice moves (the things they learned from IdeaStorm) are too tentative for the audience they hope to reach. In a market that is eagerly seeking alternatives to Vista, Dell is throwing away the chance to be *the* new PC option for non-Vistalistas.

  • Marian

    I have bought 3 used Dell laptops and 5 new desktops off eBay, and have never had a single issue with any of them, unless something really bad happened to them (one was hit by lightning). The laptop I’m using now, Inspiron 8000, was at least a year old when I got it, and it’s still going strong after 5+ years in my ownership. I’m going to buy a new one this time, because I graduated and now I need a real screamer for my application.

    My first one, a Latitude, (Windows 95 machine) worked perfectly until I allowed my then-third-grader to take it to school for a presentation. He got it home safely, but left it on the edge of the kitchen table, it fell to the tile floor, the CD drive popped out and the ribbon cable looked like it had torn off. The machine looked mangled. It wouldn’t boot – I thought it was a goner. I finally realized that I couldn’t hurt it, since it was already broken, so I took it apart and looked more closely at the CD tray. The ribbon cable was not torn, it had just come unplugged from the clamp that holds it. I reclamped it, then gave a healthy shove to the CD tray to put it back in. Voila! Booted up and ran perfectly until I was in a wreck and it went flying. Even with a cracked screen, it booted fine. I bought a couple of “parts only” Latitudes from eBay to try to fix it. It started working again. All the software changes finally made a Win 95 machine obsolete, so I quit using it.

    This is why I’m a die-hard Dell buyer. If you can drop a Dell laptop on a tile floor, and it keeps on working, you should have a very good reason to buy some other brand. Of course, since all my used machines have run perfectly, I’ve never had to deal with any Customer Service reps. Maybe when I get my new one I’ll have the problems everyone else seems to have, but hey, if a machine never has problems, you never have to call Customer Support, do you?

  • http://www.allbusiness.com/operations/4057811-1.html Glenn (Customer Service Experience) Ross

    Dell is getting better, grading on a curve since they’re a larger corporation, they’re actually improving fairly fast. But as you point out, they still have a way to go.

    I’m with you on the transparancy issue.

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  • Mohamad

    I bought my first Dell in 1996 after working all summer, not playing with my friends, and saving everything I earned when I was 14 years old. It was a Dell Dimension XPS P200s- it was beautiful and it was worth every penny. Just like many of your other customers I became a Dell salesman to other members of my family because of the QUALITY of your products. I probably made you tens of thousands of dollars.
    Sadly, Dell became a greedy Fortune 500 corporation and lost its way.
    My biggest complaint: You outsourced AMERICAN jobs to INDIA (At a time when Americans need new [non-minimum wage] jobs). As a result you screwed your loyal customers just to save a few bucks. You delivered an INFERIOR product – and look what it cost you, you are now number two behind HP (I started buying HP around the time you started to suck hardcore).
    When I call Nintendo (you know, the Japanese Corporation, Nintendo) the tech support is polite, well spoken AMERICANS. They don’t mind paying Americans 20 dollars an hour, because they respect their customers. Can I just ask what the hell is wrong with you people?
    Let me digress briefly – your greedy and deceitful policies speak to a larger problem in this country:
    I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan; as you may all know, the once almighty Ford Motor Corporation is centered here. The Rouge plant was once the largest factory on the planet.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Rouge_Plant.
    It was a testament to American ingenuity and vision. Ford invented the 5 dollar day and invented the American middle class. The same American middle class that is now under siege.
    I am aware that the poor management of the Big Three after WW II is responsible for their fortunes. However, let me say that every other greedy corporation that outsourced hard working American labor and EXPLOITS the impoverished people of INDIA AND CHINA, erodes the American middle class. Why? All so that Michael Dell can be worth 15.8 billion rather than what? 12 billion? 10 billion? How many billions does he need? How many millions of loyal Americans must he RIP-OFF? How many thousands of Dell employees must he LAYOFF?
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18967391/
    When we call tech support and can’t understand the person we are being robbed; we are not receiving the quality of service that we paid our hard earned money for. All potential Dell customers should remember that. Dell management including Lionel Menchaca, Digital Media Manager is just a bunch of thieves in suits. Digital Media Manager = Minister of Propaganda
    PS I doubt that fat pig Michael Dell ever considers anything that doesn’t make him a profit. And before you talk about all the millions he donates to charity…THAT’S A TAX WRITE OFF.
    I’m not a very good writer, but I hope people can see my point of view

  • Mohamad

    Thats what I put up on that crappy direct2dell blog

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  • Doug

    Dell’s learning. Change is slow and painful. Gota give them points for listening & improving.

    Major points to Dell for not imposing the “Windows Tax” on everyone. U.S. customers who opt for Ubuntu Linux (3 models) or FreeDOS (a few more models) don’t have to pay for Microsoft Windows that they won’t use. Choice; what a concept!

  • http://blogworks.in Namita Arora

    I have been using a Dell Latitude c600 for three years now. This is a second hand laptop, meaning it had already been through the wear and tear cycle before..Despite all this, it has never caused me any grief.

    The problem may not even be product centric but may have more to do with the brands perception in the consumers mind..Having been in the eye of the storm one too many times, Dell is susceptible to attacks even for the minutest errors and not to forget, negative news makes good headlines.

    In this era of social media, the consumer is unforgiving and brands have to work that extra bit to build and maintain traction. While Dell has, to its credit already adopted a slew of consumer centric properties, it may still need to realise that adoption of social media implies a paradigm shift in a company’s communication policies. Ability to chew the bitter sweet pill with grace is a part of the parcel. Dell would have built more credit for itself if it had chosen to positively participate or steer clear from the conversation, rather than seek removal of the post. In this networked era, word gets out rapidly and there is no real delete button. It seems they probably hit the panic button before understanding the impact of its actions.

    On the other hand, this case raises another concern. If ex-employees, having been in positions of power and knowledge begin to openly provide insider information in public domain, how are companies going to manage in the future? While in the case of Dell, the info may not have been sensitive, in other cases, such a thing could amount to holding a company at ransom. Possibly, growing adoption and dependance on social media could also give rise to a set of users whose only agenda is to malign and degrade brands..

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  • TFM

    Dell may be trying to improve, but what about the people that need reliable computers NOW? What about us “loyal customers” who need fast working and relaible laptops, but we can’t get the proper service or technology from the precious “Dell” company? I think you are giving Dell way to much credit. If they can’t promise reliability and they can’t promise what they offer, they should go down in flames. Company’s like Toshiba, Gateway, and HP are alot better all around.

  • Sum Yung Gai

    Folks, there are alternatives to Dell. I offer two:

    ZaReason (http://www.zareason.com)
    System76 (http://www.system76.com)

    Both of these companies offer and support preinstalled Ubuntu systems and make this their business. If you don’t like or trust Dell (or HP), then check these two out. I learned about them from the Blog of Helios (http://www.lobby4linux.com).

    Another alternative is to simply head to your local computer store and have them build you one. Yes, such shops continue to exist and even thrive. The benefit is that, if you wish, you actually get to choose your specific hardware components (motherboard, NIC, etc.). You can also choose your OS; you can have them install it, or you can do so yourself.

    –SYG

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