|Dell, previously slow to respond to consumers, has quickly mobilized a massive effort to address its customer's computer battery problems.|
Eating all costs
"The fact that they're eating all the costs and getting Sony [the maker of the battery] to ramp up production of a battery that's not even made anymore, delivering to customers as quickly as possible, and offering apologies and mea culpas, those are exactly the right moves to be making," said Jeff Swystun, global director at Interbrand.
In the short term, the bad news is the impression of poor quality will create a rather strong negative impression of Dell, and, to a lesser extent, Sony. The good news is that Dell is addressing the problems fast and transparently, using its month-old blog to communicate with consumers.
Company executives have posted several long blog reports, including one from Alex Gruzen, who heads the company's mobility group, in which he apologized to "all affected customers" and invited comments. (There were 18 as of press time.) Other posts from the digital-media manager even dispute news reports, in particular one in which a former Dell technician said the overheating problem began years ago.
Dell is also tracking customer calls, website hits, and batteries shipped so far on direct2dell.com. Since the announcement, Dell has been handling 500 calls every 30 minutes, with more than 15.4 million people accessing the recall website (Dellbatteryprogram.com). More than 84,000 orders for new batteries have been taken.
"It's a customer-service nightmare any way you look at it," said Jupiter Research analyst Emily Riley. "But as quickly as they can address it and as completely as possible, the better."
Dell, already beset by customer-service problems that grew out of unaddressed complaints by well-known blogger Jeff Jarvis, could ill afford another public debacle, especially as the company gets set to release less-than-stellar third-quarter figures Aug. 17.
However, there is also an opportunity to turn the recall into a positive, analysts agreed. If Dell can truly make the recall experience as painless and friendly as possible, consumers could walk away with a better impression of the company.
"The possibility here is that customers are so thrilled by the process and how they are treated, that they actually think more of Dell when it's all done," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "They're really trying to take this opportunity to not only touch customers, but to be apologetic, transparent, open about the process, and let customers know that working with Dell is a pleasure. Particularly if you walk away with the idea that Dell isn't the only one having battery problems -- and they're not."