Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The New Balance of Power

Here's something interesting about the new power than consumers have over marketers: some companies don't get it.

Consider Dell, for example. When the Consumerist blog ran a post called 22 Confessions of a Former Dell Sales Manager, the company's reaction was to demand that they remove it, in a rather heavy-handed way.

Still, Dell is smarter than most companies; they then admitted that this was a mistake in decidedly non-legalistic terms on their Direct2Dell blog - a place where many readers had probably not even heard of the initial flap.

Of course, as Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle's Techblog points out, the Dell response quickly morphs into a sales pitch - not a great idea while you're apologizing.

But even so, the response puts them ahead of a lot of companies, or perhaps entire industries, like the endlessly customer-hostile recording industry. Their latest bit of bullying? When a British professor criticized RIAA on his personal blog, a British record exec who sites on UK industry groups threatened to file a formal complaint with his university.

I expect to see more of these basic errors. I'm not one of proclaim revolution easily, but you'd have to be hiding under a rock not to understand that the ability of ordinary people to call attention to their complaints with companies has grown enormously in the last few years. The question for any business is how to respond.

Sometimes, it's reasonable to ask for a blog post to be removed (though reading the original Consumerist post, that clearly wasn't one of them). Usually, it's better to particpate, correct errors, talk about reasons for policies that are causing complaints, and generally engage with the public.

The recording industry will probably be the last one on earth figuring this out; viewing customers as hostages appears to be part of the industry DNA, and I expect they'll be firing off lawsuits at somebody's grandma even as their customers desert them in disgust. For most of the rest of the world, however, this is still all relatively new, and as people feel their way through it mistakes will be made, mea culpas will be issued... and it's our job to help clients sort it all out.

1 comment:

RichardatDELL said...

Hi John,
enjoyed your perspective on this and appreciate having had the chance to hear your views, as wll as lots of others, for sure. Just wanted to note that we first acted on this matter on Friday as it garnered attention on our Ideastorm, followed by the blog on Saturday.

Also, not to be defensive, but to let you know some thinking on our side, the 23 reasons were suppose to be a little fun....us poking some fun at ourselves and trying to lighten up.....sorry to hear some people thought it was just marketing