Posts about customerism

Jobs is Dell as warp speed

Steve Jobs is famously not transparent or flexible; he violates every principle we ClueTrainy advocates of customerism hold dear and he can get away with it because we hold his products dear. He’s good, that good. So I find it interesting that when he dissed his most loyal customers, the fools who stood in line for that beautiful iPhone, by lowering his price for the masses (a good move, by the way), he wasted no time apologizing and giving them a $100 store-credit rebate ($200 would have been the purer gesture). I wonder whether Jobs would have done this five years ago. I wonder, too, how long it would have taken for Apple to realize that there was a problem, all the while their customers’ anger would have been festering.

But now the process is instantaneous. Apple could see the reaction in not only the emails Jobs refers to in his apology but also, obviously, in blog posts and forum discussions (not to mention the stock price). All you have to do is listen. And act quickly.

It’s the same lesson that Dell learned about the customer in control. Only now add the element of speed. (Amplified by the fanaticism of the Apple customer cult.) I think we are seeing a permanent change in customer relations and our empowerment: If enough customers think you made the wrong move and you hear them quickly enough, the cusotmers will win. If you’re smart.

But then, of course, Apple people are different. Get a load of this post from Lisa on the proverbial knitting blog — really, a knitting blog! — telling Jobs that she doesn’t regret paying the higher price for the iPhone and asking that he give his $100 to a charity. That’s the Apple cult for you — that’s a brand cult: ‘Please charge me more.’ But the cult won’t make the iPhone into the life-changing device Jobs believes — and I’m coming to believe — it will be. So that’s why he had to move past the cult — while not losing any cultists along the way.

Happy birthday – to Dell

Dell’s blog is a year old. Man, time flies when they’re having fun. I’ve written before about how Dell is changing (and I hope I’ll be writing about it again soon when I get to do a magazine piece). So now I’ll just congratulate Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca et al for an impressive job of diving into the fire and coming out cool. True to form, Lionel openly shares some self-critical lessons other companies would be wise to heed:

* Customers really are in control–and it’s okay. I think more companies are starting to acknowledge this, but it’s a concept that scares the heck out of them. I’m willing to bet that this is still a key reason less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies maintain a blog.

* Ignoring negative issues is not a viable strategy in the blogosphere. If you aren’t prepared to discuss negative issues head on and actually fix what’s causing the negative conversations, be ready to fail publicly. . . .

* Probably the best time to launch a blog is when things aren’t going so well. We started monitoring the blogosphere last year. At our worst point, almost 50% of the commentary was negative. That made it easy for us to decide to jump in. These negative conversations were happening with or without us, and it was pretty clear we had a better chance if we entered those negative discussions. Today, we’re seeing about 23% negative. While that’s moving in the right direction, there’s plenty of progress to be made.

* Sincere apologies are welcome if you learn from (and correct) your mistakes. Without both, you lose credibility fast. . . .

A market for everything

I was just wondering this morning about the thousands of iPhone lusters who were probably stopped from meeting their hunger because they’re imprisoned in an existing mobile contract. Voila: Here‘s a marketplace for people to offload their old contracts and phones.

Dell’s angels

After the small kerfuffle about Dell trying to get Consumerist to take down a post with 22 tips on buying machines from a former Dell kiosk salesman (see my post below), Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca throws himself on his sword and says in front of blogs and everybody, the company made a mistake.

Now’s not the time to mince words, so let me just say it… we blew it.

I’m referring to a recent blog post from an ex-Dell kiosk employee that received more attention after the Consumerist blogged about it, and even more still after we asked them to remove it.

In this case, I agree with what Jeff Jarvis had to say: instead of trying to control information that was made public, we should have simply corrected anything that was inaccurate. We didn’t do that, and now we’re paying for it.

I believe in the customer voice–that’s why I signed up for this job in the first place. There’s simply no cheating the system. When we’re on the right track, folks tend to say some good things about us (or at least give us a second chance). When we mess up, they let us know quickly and vocally. Then everyone watches our reaction like a hawk.

Lionel proceeds to make 23 more confessions — more tips, really, about how to find bargains and more. It’s a good list.

What’s apparent here is that the message Lionel and company have learned and preach hasn’t reached every quarter and corner of the company. And that only shows how hard it is to change a company’s culture. In the old days, about a year ago, people saw it as their jobs to protect the company from criticism and leaks and complaints. Now Lionel and Michael Dell are trying to change that, to open up. It’s not easy. But I think they’re making progress.

: LATER: Consumerist closes the loop, with a bow on top.

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.