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How Companies Can Avoid "Blog Hell"

Business Week ran an interesting story recently that spotlights once again how dramatically the business world must change now that companies, for the first time in history, have direct personal contact with their customers.

Under the headline "Dell Finds Itself in Blog Hell," the magazine reported on BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis' long struggle to get his Dell PC fixed -- a struggle that was going nowhere until he posted a series of comments on his blog (including an open letter to Dell CEO Michael Dell) about Dell's abysmal customer service.

According to Business Week, "Jarvis' rants struck a chord with other Dell customers," who apparently flocked to Jarvis' site to tell their own sordid tales of Dell's customer disservice practices. It was this blog-fueled public relations storm that finally caused Dell to cave and send Jarvis a refund.

And according to a report by Shankar Gupta in MediaPost, it also forced Dell to adopt a new policy for dealing with the blogosphere. Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Davis announced that henceforth the company's public relations department will monitor blogs and forward complaints to the customer service department "so that representatives can contact dissatisfied consumers directly."

The lesson here is simple yet profound. Throughout the history of corporate America, companies have always existed as faceless monoliths, shielded in a variety of ways deliberate and not from direct contact with their customers. The only means that customers have had, in fact, to influence the quality of the products and services they buy -- and to ensure that their manufacturer is responsive to their needs -- has been either to send a letter to the corporate complaint department (a generally useless exercise) or else to rely on litigation or the investigative diligence of the mainstream media to force the company to redress their complaints. Unfortunately, these methods have historically proven to be less than satisfactory.

In today's blog-enabled world, however, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to get away with ignoring customer complaints. That's because blogging breaks down barriers between customers and the makers of the products they buy, encourages transparency, and forces greater responsiveness from once-indifferent corporations. It puts a face on "organization man," and gives a voice to the formerly-anonymous mass we call "consumers," transforming them into flesh-and-blood human beings whose needs can be ignored only at the company's peril.

In short, blogging is the revolt of the voiceless against the heedless. And woe be to any firm that tries to ignore the roar of today's blog-enabled citizenry.

[P.S. to readers: Any other examples of blogs forcing companies to be more responsive to their customers?]


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The business world still does not get it. The days are over when a business could market a crappy product or treat their customers like marks and assume that the worst that would happen is that they get a few... [Read More]


I think the next step will be to take PR out of it and make outreach like that part of being a customer service rep.

I guess the question is, Given entrenched interests, how likely is that to happen?

At the least, I suspect that the PR function will increasingly be redefined to encompass "letting go" of message control in certain situations and actually listening to and learning from customer interaction.

Maybe this is the idea behind Sprint's blog. They would rather you bitch on their blog than somewhere else.


I think it's pretty brilliant.

While poking around on the Sprint blog I ran across this:


It was posted as a comment in the spirit of "I posted my complaint about your customer service on this blog. Read it if you dare." kind of thing.

I agree, Sprint's blog is pretty savvy. The real test, of course, will be whether the company sees the blog as a place to let customers vent a little bit while using the opportunity to market new services to them, or will instead actually try to learn something about their market and customer base and the sufficiency of their product and service offerings.

What's your guess?

Oh and thanks also for the link to the complaintboxblog. There's some amazing stuff there.

Now if I could only get Deutsche Telekom to read my blog...

Great above on the consumer side - what about short-sellers who use blogs or write their own blogs to bad-mouth a company's products or management, with the goal of driving down the share price?

That's a good point, Jeff. Of course, wouldn't it have to be a pretty influential blog -- and therefore a blog that offers genuinely useful or relevant info to people rather than just a "screw Acme Corp" blog -- to be able to drive down a firm's share price?

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