October 15, 2007, 12:00 AM

If a negative comment is true, let it through, Dell says

A recent panel on user-generated content on web sites focused on how to deal with negative comments. “The first thing I ask is, ‘Is it true?`" says a Dell executive. “If it’s true it goes up.”

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

A panel discussion on user-generated content last week in Chicago focused on how to deal with negative comments. “The first thing I ask is, ‘Is it true?’” said Sean McDonald, director, global online, at computer maker Dell Inc. “If it’s true it goes up.”

Not everyone at Dell is always happy with that approach, McDonald said during a session at the Consumer Forum 2007 hosted by Forrester Research. “I ask would you rather they talk about it somewhere else? Let’s do something about it. Let’s have customers feel this is a place where they can communicate.” Dell is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

QVC, whose web site sells merchandise highlighted on home shopping television shows, has recently become more aggressive in addressing customer feedback, creating a community forum in which customers can ask questions, said Alex Miller, director, Internet content, community and multi-channel at QVC. Questions are monitored, and company executives have a chance to respond to them. QVC is No. 14 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Both Dell and QVC use Bazaarvoice Inc. to host and monitor the reviews posted by customers, preventing postings that are obscene or that include personal attacks. QVC has had 300,000 postings and Miller said he only had questions about one or two that were allowed through.

80% of customer reviews are positive, and 87% for apparel sites, said panelist Sam Decker, chief marketing officer at Bazaarvoice, which handles user-generated content for some 130 web sites.

Besides adding customer reviews to its site, Dell launched in February a new online community called IdeaStorm where customers can raise questions and make suggestions. McDonald says Dell was taken by surprise by the amount of interest in consumer-oriented computers with the Linux operating system and decided to launch more such products in part as a result of the postings on IdeaStorm. And he says Dell continually reviews those postings for feedback on its products.

Both McDonald and Miller offered advice for companies considering adding user-generated content to their web sites.

“You don’t control the message, even on your site,” McDonald said. “Once it goes out, people talk about it. Once you get past the illusion of control you’re not so concerned about negative comments.”

Miller said that it’s hard to go back once you let customers express their opinions on a site. “Think of the worst case scenario, and ask are you wiling to stomach that?” he said. “Customers don’t like anything taken away. Tread slowly, not too slowly, but be careful, because it’s hard to take anything away from customers.”

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