The headline was clear:
“Dell found guilty in New York of misleading, harassing customers”
Someone had messed up. I’m not not making a legal judgment here because I don’t have to. The court that decided this case might be right or they might be wrong. But no matter which, someone messed up. Because you don’t get to this situation without a major league foul-up.
This court case is about what Dell apparently promised and then failed to deliver. The Attorney General of New York believes Dell made promises to a lot of people and did not intend to keep them. They claim Dell pulled the old bait and switch routine on their customers. Specifically, Dell ran some ads that promised a very good deal and then told most of the people who responded to those ads they didn’t qualify. The evidence in this case suggests as few as 7% of the people who received the ads actually qualified for the offer the ads promoted.
You could say they made an honest mistake. Their marketing was too aggressive. They sent the wrong ads to the wrong people. And maybe that’s what happened.
But when you make an offer and you disqualify 93% of the people who respond, and then offer them a less attractive deal, that looks very bad. It looks like something that could easily have been avoided. It doesn’t look like a marketing campaign that simply went awry. It looks more like a planned effort to fool and manipulate people.
In case the Dell marketing people missed the memo, fooling your customers does not qualify as serving them.
This is a bad time for Dell to do something like this. They are working hard to repair their brand. Over the last few years, they’ve made a lot of missteps in how they treat their customers and it’s bitten them hard. Even though the product quality part of their brand is strong, people are wondering about the willingness of the company to treat them well.
Recently I bought several computers from Dell. I also ordered a wrong part. Their customer service made it very easy for me to return the part with no hassle. In fact, it was probably the easiest return I have ever encountered from technology products company. Clearly they are trying to do a better job.
So it’ too bad we hear about things like this marketing debacle. And unfortunately, it sounds entirely plausible. It sounds exactly like something a big, profit-minded, aggressive company would do. That’s how bad our perception of big companies has gotten. Something like this does not even surprise us.
To fix this situation, here’s my advice to Dell. Stop with the lawyer talk. Stop talking about how you will “vigorously defend your position.” That sends the wrong message to your customers. It says you care more about being right than about doing the right thing.
Instead, make amends. Reach out to the people who have been affected and take care of them. Pretend these people are your neighbors, your friends, your family members. Pretend they’re your church choir if that’s what it takes. My point is, rather than spend your resources fighting with your customers, spend your resources working with them. Repair these relationships and do it in a big way. Do it so well the news media can’t help cover it.