Wonderful thing, the Internet. It brings companies and their customers closer together, creating communities where once the only option was the lone consumer dealing with a monolithic entity. There's little more precious to a company than a sense of community — it's a sales channel with a receptive audience, a safeguard against competitors and a valuable source of feedback from people who have already made an investment.
Dell was among the first to realise the potential the Web had for encouraging this. Way back in 1997, it started customer support bulletin boards — not a new idea, as such things already existed on paid-for services like CompuServe, but much more accessible to all. Good things happened: users helped each other, shared information and suggested solutions. What could be better than having your paying customers solving their own problems for free?
Apparently, almost anything. Dell is closing its Customer Care board having ascertained that it's not so useful after all. This is a perverse move in a world where people are more comfortable finding information and interacting online than ever before, and where a company's online presence defines how people think of it. The customers aren't happy at the closure, which has happened with little warning and no consultation, and are not pleased with having to rely on the FAQs and online chat that the company proposes they use instead.
It is hard to understand the company's actions. One suggestion is that Dell has outsourced support and the new management is unwilling to deal with too many customers. Another is that increasing unhappiness over poor support has led to too many embarrassing anti-Dell posts for comfort, especially as it shifts focus to SMEs and pure consumer electronics. Or perhaps it's just a matter of money, although Dell is by far the most profitable PC maker and not noticeably struggling to shave a few dollars off at any price.
Dell itself says that the issues discussed were inappropriate for a public forum, with personal customer details and authorised representatives needed to properly address the issues raised. That might be a decision better left to the customers.
We'd like to hear from anyone affected by Dell's decision, or who has customer support experiences that might be relevant. There are, after all, always other ways to get your voice heard, so use the Talk Back facility below, or email us at email@example.com. Wonderful thing, the Internet.