Online Buzz is PR Hell for Dell

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As I mentioned the other day, things can move quickly in China – and Dell have found this out the hard way after it delivered computers with the wrong specifications to customers, and fast became the focus of anger on internet forums. It now faces a lawsuit for false advertising, and huge damage to its reputation. Not only that, Bingfeng Teahouse reports that a Dell salesman was found telling a client not to buy from (their Chinese competitor) Lenovo on the basis that it would amount to “directly supporting/funding the Chinese government”. Oh dear, another PR crisis!

I have been working on other things, but the case has had a lot of coverage on the China blogs, and is a useful case study, so I will point to some of the relevant posts here.

China Herald refers to “superblogger” Jeff Jarvis, who coined the term “Dell Hell”, and another blogger and internet expert, Sam Flemming, who called it “Processor Gate”. Everyone but Dell (and some of their customers) is having fun with the story.

Image Thief, the China PR man, reminds us in his post that Chinese consumers who feel they are getting second-class treatment from a foreign company can become very angry in a scary, nationalistic sort of a way. He notes:

    “The situation has also highlighted how multinational companies in China are balanced at all times upon a precarious razor’s edge of public sentiment”.

For its part, having originally taken a harder line, Dell has now responded (thanks to BNET), and blames the affair on incorrect marketing materials. It has also apologized:

    “We did not update marketing materials in China prior to making the change to the T2300E processor. In response, here are the steps we have taken:

    • We have acknowledged the issue, and we have corrected the error in all materials.

    • We have directly apologized to Dell China customers who were affected, and also informed them of the difference between the two processors.

    • For customers who were not satisfied with these actions, we offered full refunds for returned T2300E-based systems.

    Many customers have accepted our apology, some have accepted our refund offer. We are still working it out with others.”

Too little too late? Time will tell. But surely it would be better to integrate a serious public relations programme into the business from the start – especially when it comes to the big-buzz world of Chinese bulletin boards.

Dan Harris at China Law Blog concludes with some good advice – that other companies should learn from experiences like this, take customer relations seriously (or go home), understand their consumers (and listen to what they are saying online), and make use of the professional PR and internet monitoring services that are available.

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4 Responses to “Online Buzz is PR Hell for Dell”

  1. Jeremy Gordon Says:

    Reuters reports that Dell China’s president (David MNiller) has left the company. A response to current problems?

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