Case Study: Another Dell misfire demonstrates why Web 2.0 and customer service must be linked

October 28, 2008 by chu 

I have been an IBM ThinkPad customer since 1991, about the year they starting making them, but the extremely poor customer service I experienced from Lenovo regarding my X61 Tablet forced me to look at other manufacturers. Although I have never been a fan of Dell laptops, I was attracted to the ads for the new latitude E6400 model and decided to give one a trial.

I first called Dell a few weeks ago and was pleased to be able to talk to Bernard, a sales rep. Three pluses for Bernard:

  1. He speaks flawless English and is  located in a US service center.
  2. He was very knowledgeable about configurations, listened to my needs and helped me understand why I needed a 7400 RPM hard drive.
  3. He never tried to oversell. I know this because I would have paid more for options I asked about, but he didn’t believe I needed them.
  4. He gave me a direct phone number where I could call him back.

All good. I also learned that he was on commission and told him I would call him back soon. Last week, I was ready to call Bernard back and close the deal. But before I did, I wanted to do a final check for user reviews of the E6400 (It is a new model and although CNET had a positive editors review/video, there were no customer reviews the first time I checked).

Fortunately, there were 5 reviews on the Dell site for the E6400. Unfortunately for Dell, 2 of the 5 were very negative:

In all fairness, the other 3 reviews were glowing, but these 2 did cause me to re-think my decision. I was also very surprised to learn that Dell did nothing at all to respond to these negative reviews on their own site. Back to our 6 Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses. Dell gets the imperative to support customers by enabling and encouraging users to talk about their products and services on the web. But this alone is necessary and – as this case shows – terribly insufficient. You must (a) listen to what they are saying and (b) authentically interact. Where is the E6400’s product manager’s response????

But wait, there’s more…

No problem, I thought. I’ll just call Bernard and he will be able to address these customer concerns quickly and move on to close the sale and earn his commission.

So I called Bernard, who answered the call himself. (More bonus points for Dell, or a sign of the slowing economy?) I told him I was ready to buy, but had read the negative reviews on the Dell web site and was concerned about making the purchase, especially given the comments about speed – a huge issue for me as I often work with 20MB+ presentations. To my incredulity, this is what happened next:

  • Bernard had no idea that there were negative comments about the laptop on the Dell site.
  • Obviously, he had not been made aware of these concerns as he had no credible answer, saying “What’s fast for some users may be very slow for others” or something to that effect.
  • He could not pull up the Dell Web site to read the review. I had to email it to him.

So here you have a Dell employee (or an employee of a Dell contractor) who had no idea that customers were complaining about the product he sold and no ability to even see the complaints. What’s happening from a 3C 5 Sphere perspective:

  • Bernard feels less than thrilled about not being aware of or able to respond to these Dell enabled complaints. Poor/no technical capability = decreased employee commitment.
  • I am less confident about buying the product. Failure to respond to customer reviews and equip sales agents to address them decreases the probability of a Dell purchase that could result in a long term $20-30,000 customer.
  • The call took longer than it should have and most customers would have thought more about it before purchasing, if at all. Increased costs.
  • I am writing this blog post and sharing a negative customer experience with everyone I know.

Some of you may be thinking, “If Dell isn’t going to address these types of customer complaints, they shouldn’t provide a forum for them on their site.”

This would be the exact wrong response. The more ubiquitous and easy blogging and other forms of customer generated feedback become, the more the probability that negative customer reviews about defective products will reach your potential customers will approach 100%. If Dell didn’t enable customer feedback, I would have found them on CNET or other sites.

Listen, ask, and authentically respond and act. It is not enough to stop at the second step.

Better yet, fix your quality problems.

Full disclosure note: despite Bernard’s inability to answer these customers concerns, I still ordered the laptop after being assured that Dell has a 30 day money back guarantee with no restocking fee (unlike Apple). No waiting for delivery. Stay tuned.