Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Corporate Blogging--The Good and The Ugly

Many of us remember Dell and its customer service problems. One customer’s issues were highlighted on Jeff Jarvis’s popular blog and spread like wildfire across the web during the summer of 2005. His original post had 253 comments and some of his later posts had even more.

This is a “listening (not) to the voice of the customer” problem. My sense is that Dell was very good at it when their customers were large B2B enterprises. When the Internet allowed them to profitably sell to individuals, they took advantage of it. However, they didn’t recast their customer service operation to deal with consumers. Worse, they ignored the 2005 firestorm on the web for several months. When they did respond, it seemed a bit tentative.

But they were learning. When laptop batteries began to spontaneously erupt in flames in the summer of 2006, they were paying attention. They posted news of the recall on their blog, as well as on the Dell website, although critics argued they should have acted more quickly.

The Direct2Dell blog remains active and generates quite a bit of customer response. But Dell is looking for more. Their IdeaStorm minisite actively solicits ideas from customers, responds to them, and creates a community environment. Can this approach work in, say, a consumer packaged-goods environment? How can companies deal with the legal liability “you stole my idea” issue?

That’s the good, when we can learn from our mistakes and oversights. On to the ugly. Many of you know that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, was ‘outed’ for posting negative comments about competitor Wild Oats on a Yahoo! bulletin board under an assumed name. The problem came to light when Whole Foods made an offer to acquire Wild Oats. It looks as if the fall-out for Mr. Mackey personally and perhaps for the Whole Foods brand reputation may not be over. The case was made a poster child for bad corporate behavior at a recent NARC conference, with a representative from the FTC giving useful guidelines for staying out of trouble. Corporate bloggers should read (Media Post, free registration required) and heed.

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