May 8, 2008, 12:00 AM

Dell improves its image online after addressing negative comments

74% of consumers say they consider what others say in online ratings, forums or blogs when choosing brands, says the Society for New Communications Research. By addressing negative online comments, Dell says it has cut them to 21% from 46% of postings.

Consumers pay attention to what others say through online blogs, forums and reviews about their customer service experiences with companies, according to a survey by the Society for New Communications Research, a nonprofit organization focused on emerging forms of communications.

74% agree-including 14% who strongly agree-that they choose companies and brands based on what others say online about their customer service experiences, the survey shows. And 84% say they consider the quality of customer care at least sometimes before making a purchase decision.

The respondents ranked search engines as the most value source of information about a company’s customer service, with a 3.79 score on a 5-point scale. Online ratings systems were next at 3.69, followed by discussion forums at 3.52 and blogs at 3.24. Rated far lower were social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace at 2.50, video site YouTube at 2.14 and micro-blogging sites like Twitter and Pownce at 2.09.

Among the 320 active Internet users surveyed in February and March by TWI Surveys Inc., 35% called themselves frequent users of online social media like ratings and blogs, and another 40% say they read or view social media but do not post content.

The survey shows there is a growing group of desirable consumers who will not support companies that provide poor customer service and will share their views online, writes Nora Ganim Barnes, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who was the lead researcher on the study. “This research should serve as a wake-up call to companies: listen, respond and improve,” Barnes writes.

The report noted that computer maker Dell Inc., No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and No. 1 online retailer Amazon.com Inc. were cited by consumers surveyed as doing the best job in using social media to respond to customer care issues.

Through a concerted effort to address consumers’ comments about Dell online the percentage of negative comments in blogs and online forums has dropped from 46% in March 2006 to 21% today, Richard Binhammer, a member of the Dell digital media team, commented last month in a session at the Society for New Communications Research’s annual conference. He said Dell focuses on customers, not influential bloggers. The company notes when several customers raise the same problem and tries to solve it, he says.

To more actively engage with customers online Dell has created its own blog Direct2Dell, an online suggestion board called IdeaStorm and consumer forums on such topics as laptops, TV & home theater, small business and digital music. Binhammer noted that there are Direct2Dell blogs in Spanish, Mandarin and Norwegian aimed at addressing the issues consumers face in those countries, and that the computer maker is experimenting with blogs in other countries and languages.

Sean McDonald, director of Global Online at Dell, will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 9-12 in Chicago, in a session entitled New frontiers: Marketing and merchandising on social sites. Matt Williams, general manager, Webstore by Amazon, also will be speaking at IRCE in a session entitled Amazon: Leveraging the expertise of the most successful e-retailer.

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