Blog Backlash Can Sting -- Ask Dell

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We hate to kick a company when it's down -- even Dell.


Following the return of prodigal CEO Michael Dell, the company continues to struggle with financial problems -- ones so bad that it plans to rejigger its famed direct sales model .


While the economic factors converging to make its sales model less appealing are largely out of Dell's control, the same cannot be said for its customer service. Though Dell was once held up as an example of outstanding customer service, those memories flamed out faster than laptops with defective batteries.


New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently slapped Dell with a lawsuit, accusing it of illegal bait-and-switch tactics. Among Cuomo's contentions: Dell advertised zero-interest and no-payment plans for its PCs, but then mostly didn't honor the offers; Dell failed to meet terms of pricey service contracts; and it sold folks used parts after promising new ones.


After caving in to customer requests for PCs with Linux operating systems, Dell is dragging its feet on delivering the machines. The Linux PCs are the most obvious result of IdeaStorm, a customer feedback site it rolled out in an effort to mend customer relations.


IdeaStorm notwithstanding -- and despite Michael Dell christening the company's efforts to reorganize "Dell 2.0" -- the company appears to be struggling with the concept of social networking.


It responded to a blog post from a former Dell sales manager on Consumerist.com with a letter from an attorney ordering the site to delete the post. After the letter was Dugg, Slashdotted and widely slammed in the blogosphere, Dell was forced to recant with an embarrassing public apology.


If you push folks on the Internet, they don't hesitate to push back -- and in ways guaranteed to earn maximum public exposure. Web 2.0 empowers customers who feel mistreated to take their dissatisfaction far beyond their immediate circle of family and friends. While not all companies will stumble as badly as Dell in learning this lesson, there will doubtless be plenty of missteps.