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.