When Brands Don’t Listen

Customer Underground - Logo Dell Hell by Tim Hughes
Image Source: Tim Hughes

The Story of Dell Hell

Dishonest? Clueless? Rude? Deaf to your customers’ needs?

Crowds love to assemble on platforms like Facebook and Twitter and tear your brand down in real-time. Users now have tools to give them a voice and assemble a movement. They seem to relish in rising up against the perceived tyranny of a large company.

The power started to shift to customers with the rise of blogging in the late 1990s. As technology made it easy to publish web content (and Moore’s Law made it free with services like Blogger), people flocked to platforms to get their thoughts out into the ether.

Dell Computers initially did not understand this shift. A journalist named Jeff Jarvis started a blog called Dell Hell. In it, he painstakingly documented his ongoing customer service troubles with a lemon laptop he had purchased from the company.

It turns out at the time that Dell had serious customer support issues. But being a global business, it simply was not tuned into customer needs or rather have the processes in place to truly empathize and act on what it was putting its customers through.

Jarvis, using his blog, did not just attract a few angry fans. Instead, he ignited a movement in June 2005 with its cross-hairs squarely on Dell. Tired of being ignored, brushed off, or feeling helpless in the cycle of overseas customer support call centers, embittered Dell customers cheered for Jarvis.

And the New York Times picked up the story. Then Business Week. Dell suddenly did not just have an angry customer on their hands. They almost overnight had a huge public relations firestorm to put out.

For good or bad, nothing tears down or builds up a brand than a press story. (To learn more about “Dell Hell”, this case study outlines the entire scenario.)

Dell eventually caught on. They put a 14 year veteran, Lionel Menchaca of the company in charge of their blog. They started a dialogue.

In blogs, Jarvis related, Menchaca “admitted the company’s problems. But he also answered back … . He immediately earned the respect of me and many other bloggers. According to Jarvis, Manchaca gave the company “a human voice.” In return, Jarvis said, Manchaca gave customer respect and “got respect in return. It works.” [Source].

Dell’s story is not unique. Witness the video below called “United Breaks Guitars” from 2008 – how many negative brand impressions did this garner?