Posts about Dell

Wikipedia and brands

Steve Rubel takes a list of the top 100 advertisers and then sees where Wikipedia articles about them come up in Google search results. Not surprisingly — once you think about it — these open articles come up high, in many cases in the first page of Google results. That is to say that these advertisers, who spend billions on their brands, are subject to the open judgments of the public. Of course, they have always been subject to the views of their customers — what is a brand but that? — only the internet and Wikipedia allow them to come together and share those views without commercial filters.

Steve cautions companies to be aware of what these articles say but not to try to manipulate them. Amen.

Someone just told me about a company that was planning to write a Wikipedia article about its ad slogan. I won’t say which company in hopes that they listened to the friendly and firm advice I gave to the person who told me about this: It is evil and stupid.

Life is spam.

: By the way, I note that my tag page for Dell comes up 11th on the Google search, on the second page. I’m glad it’s the tag page, versus just one post, for it includes the more positive things I have said about Dell lately; it is a fuller and more balanced view. This is a benefit of tag pages ending up as permalinks for topics. More tag magic.

The flaming battery story: People powered

Steve Hamm at Business Week has a good chronicle of the blog pressure that led to Dell, Apple, and Sony’s recall of their batteries.

The cybermedia didn’t merely expose the dangers of computers catching fire. They kept the heat on the manufacturers to do something about it and helped the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conduct an investigation into the burning batteries.

Note well that the now-blogwise Dell thanked bloggers:

Dell credits the blogosphere for helping it get through the crisis. “Information travels around quickly,” says spokeswoman Gretchen Miller. “Also, it’s another channel to get the message to our customers so they can be safe.”

This, too, is networked journalism: customers able to gather together as an effective watchdog.

Dell’s human

Here‘s a MySpace tale of a Dell customer who’d had it and was contacted by one of the customer-service people now assigned to respond to bloggers, John Blain. When she was dealing with Blain, life was good; when she got back to the outsourced machinery of alleged customer service, it was not. But then Blain fixed it. At the happy ending, she writes:

And he wrote to me as if I was a person, not going by a script or any of that other bullshit.

There it is, there’s the essence of good customer service: to people as people. Chug-chug on the Cluetrain.

Calling Mr. Dell

BL Ochman has‘ the tip of the day for Dell on the occasion of its plummeting stock:

Wake up Michael Dell! Your company is sick and you’re the guy who can restore confidence in it. Not a marketing guy, not a PR person, not any spokesman … you. No platitudes. No philosophy. No corporate speak. You! What the hell are you waiting for?

Amanda exposed

Andrew Krucoff snaps a picture of Amanda.

There, now, that didn’t hurt, did it?

Dell obviously now has a troop of service people reaching out to find customers’ problems on blogs. They pleasantly surprised B.L. Ochman (even if she wasn’t similarly welcomed at the Dell blog).

They even wrote to me — yes, grouchy old me. I got an email last week, while on vacation, noting that in an 11-month-old post I’d complained that my remaining working Dell, my son’s was overheating. I was on vacation when I got the email and not online much, so I figured I’d respond when I got home. The rep, John Blain, then left a comment on the blog pointing my attention to his email. I responded via email yesterday, saying that I very much appreciated his offer. But in the 11 months since that post, we’d given up on the Dell and my son switched to a Mac. Blain won’t give up. With a dogged diligence that would make Columbo proudn, he emailed back insisting he wanted to dig into the case: “If you or any member of your family was indeed treated unfairly, it needs to at least be looked at, and if possible, corrected.”

Bravo, Mr. Blain! And good for you, Dell.

Sometime ago, I suggested that this strategy will pay off in a few ways:

First, you will spend money on customer-service time with these customers anyway; why not reach out to them directly? I’ll bet this will end up being more efficient.

Second, you will get good PR on the web. See B.L.’s post above and this one right here.

Third, you’ll keep customers you might otherwise lose — if you get to them before it’s too late. I’m a lost cause. But others aren’t.

I know there were lots of fears about doing this: How can we handle all these problems? (Well, you’d better find a way to do it anyway?) What will people say about us? (They’ll say much nicer things if you try to help them than if you ignore them.) What if they’re just asses who can’t be pleased? (Well, you’re getting nice words out of even me now, aren’t you?)

Soon after I posted my first complaint about my Dell and my utter failure at getting service through regular channels, I said this was a test to see whether Dell was listening, whether they would respond to customers on blogs. They weren’t.

But now they are listening. This outreach to your customers — not bloggers, customers — is far more important in my view than starting your own blog. This will yield the real dividends: happier customers, better reputation, stronger brand, more learning.

So thanks for your offer, Mr. Blain. It may be too late for me. But it’s never too late to listen to your customers. You can’t solve every problem Dell has. But you can solve some. Give yourself and your boss a pat on the back.

By the way, when I went searching in my messy email for Mr. Blain’s email, I found another, similar email from Dell a big earlier. I didn’t even see it, frankly, because I get so many emails about Dell I can’t read them all. But I want to note that they started this outreach before they started the blog. And that’s good.

Whither Dell

A very good story by Simon Avery on the state of Dell.

The age of customerism and producerism

Forget consumerism. We’re not just consumers anymore, as Doc Searls has taught me well. We are customers with our money in our fists, spending it wisely and joining together to spend it more wisely. And we are producers who can compete with the companies that thought of us as mere consumers.

So nevermind caveat emptor. This is the age of caveat venditor — let the vendor beware — and caveat creator.

But too many of the the venditors and the creators don’t realize it. Witness this open letter to me from Amanda Chapel, a PR person calling herself the Strumpette, who is desperately trying to fend off the ratty masses now known as empowered customers at her clients’ gates. She is emblematic of old one-way companies and of the PR people who tried to protect these companies from their customers with a shield of spin.

Chapel is disgusted by the whole Dell Hell affair and because of it she calls what I write the Communist Blogifesto and calls me “some malignant corporate subversive” (which, I suppose, beats “worm“).

Listen to yourself: “behind me a mob with pitch forks and torches storming castle Dell;” “we are the bosses now;” “companies have the opportunity to hand over control to customers.” That’s not inspiring a “conversation” comrade; you’re yelling “fire” in a crowded peasant theatre. And that’s it! This is all really about audience and venue. The “revolution” you promote is about a mob and leveraging its disappointments, hopes and fears. . . . What “Wake up Corporate America, You’re Being Watched” is all about, is inciting a riot and boldly trying to hold the theatre owner hostage. The message is clear: “Surrender your property, or else!”

No, we’re just leveraging our money, our property, our collective buying power, our wise crowd, and our voice. If we get good products and value for our money, we’ll buy more and can now tell others to do so; we can market your products, if they’re any good. But if we get bad products and service and value for our money, then we have every right to be mad and to warn others — our friends.

That’s not a mob, ma’am. That’s a market.

Chapel insists that companies should not care about their customers, only their stockholders (whom she mistakenly lumps together as “the bank”).

As it relates to Dell, you think Michael Dell gives a shit about you. He doesn’t. He reports to the bank. He cares about Wall Street. I, the stockholder, am his main concern.

I respond in her comments:

Michael Dell may very well not give a shit about me or his customers. Seems so. But if that is the case, then he won’t have much of a company anymore and he will ill serve his stockholders (not bankers).

No, you’re wrong, the customer is ultimately in charge. It’s my money. I won’t give it to Dell because I don’t trust Dell. I know more people who won’t either. He doesn’t run a monopoly; he’s not in charge of the cable company, phone company, or even newspaper. We have choices. That is the ultimate power.

And she responds, in turn:

No. That’s a fallacy. He should care about a good product and an identified market. That does NOT necessarily mean individual customers. . . .

You have one vote. I suggest then that you don’t buy Dell. Period.

Anything more than that is an attempt to hold Dell and its shareholder hostage. We don’t owe you anything!

You — since you to speak for Dell — owe me a product that works. You owe me service that serves. You owe me reliability and value. You are the ones holding me hostage; you have my thousands of dollars and I have your bad products. I not only have the right but the responsibility to tell others about my experiences with Dell.

But I’ll say again that I didn’t organize that mob. The mob organized itself; I merely provided the convenient town square on which to light those torches. This is how the internet works: It brings us together and we learn from each other.

You see, in the old days, you could screw one customer with one bad product or you could insult one customer with bad service. But no more. Now, when you deal with one customer, you deal with all customers.

That, ma’am, is the real public relations. That is dealing with your public as your customers.

And that is the real branding. Your brand is your reputation, your trust, your value. You don’t own your brand; your customers do.

But Chapel hates such talk. She says:

In business, “control” is a fiduciary responsibility. Stock is property. Management is paid to increase the value of shareholder property AND to act as custodians. It is a “duty.” Simple as this: this whole “ceding control” and “open borders” mentality, at the very least, threatens shareholder property. Hype aside, the downsides of your revolution are fairly predictable and surely greater than the yet-to-be-measured upsides. Imagine shareholder activist(s) sharing the podium fully with the CEO. That’s just plain silly. It will happen the same day the CEO decides to blog the annual meeting. NEVER!

Here she is mixing the roles of customer and stockholder. But nevermind. Let’s keep going:

Here, this is the linchpin to your whole argument. You grossly overestimate the value of the customer relationship. Excuse me, businesses don’t really want “relationships” with their customers. It’s too expensive, it’s too messy and the return is nominal at best. Not even the most prolific hooker wants a personal relationship. Our job is to anticipate needs/wants/desires and then present clients with something special. If I did my homework, I will be rewarded; if not, I will be punished. The money is on the dresser. End of transaction.

No. Business Week reported recently that the stocks of companies that have a reputation for building strong relationships with customers outperform those of the rest of the market. Your customers are your business, damnit. And businesses that don’t understand that — monopolies aside — will die miserable deaths.

But what you are proposing is actually more than an added burden of a personal relationship… it’s a platform that actually servers to organize the wackos. It gives them (you) a big microphone to express social retribution. You expect me to let you and your mud-booted-torch-bearing mob into my house?! If I run out of shotgun shells maybe.

What’s that empty clicking sound I hear? We may be wackos or worms but we have the money you want. Nya-nya-nya.

It’s amusing that Chapel calls all this communism. It’s the ultimate in capitalism. Capitalism is all about choice and we can choose not to give our money to companies that give us bad products or treat us badly or even that do not listen to what we want.

Chapel concludes:

Which brings me to how I, the stockholder and Michael Dell’s boss, would have responded to you, Edelman and friends, and your reaction to Dell’s new blog. I’d have ordered the thing shut down immediately. I’d fire the idiot who launched it in the first place. As you noted in your letter to Mr. Dell, he closed down one of his consumer forums and has a corporate policy of not talking to your customers on blogs. Michael’s smart. And he’s doing exactly what we pay him to do.

What we see here is not only the death of the old f-you company but also of their court jesters, the old-style flacks. Painful to watch, isn’t it?

: LATER: Scott Karp does an excellent job cutting through the crap and clouds to get to the point:

eff Jarvis and Amanda Chapel (aka Strumpette) are going at it over the Dell issue and in the process are stirring up such a heavy cloud of ideology that it’s hard to get your bearings. I thought it was worth trying to boil it down to some simpler, less ideologically-colored observations and lessons:

– Companies used to be able to get away with making crappy products and offering crappy services because they were able to mass market people into submission and because consumers didn’t have a way to make their unhappiness widely known.

– Thanks to the proliferation of content (both “professional” and “consumer-generated”) and content channels, mass media and thus mass marketing are now dead, so there is no longer an effective way to sell crappy products and services.

– Through blogs, video sharing, and other platforms for cheap content creation and distribution, individual consumers now have a powerful way to spread the word on crappy products and services on a large scale.

The lessons for companies:

1. Make better products and offer better services, or your business will likely suffer.
2. If you make mistakes, listen to your customers and fix the mistakes.

There it is a nutshell, without a single “ism.”

I think his second bullet, about teh lost of an effective way to sell crappy products and services, is important and new to this discussion.