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Just a Thought - Is Dell Dissing Its Customers?

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- February 25th, 2005

Here's a riddle for you: Why would a company known for selling cheap PCs, making a tidy profit at it to boot, stoop to such plaid sports jacket practices as bait-and-switch, or misleading advertising?

I'm not talking about Apple, though the company is being sued for 'deceitful' practices in France; no, I'm referring to Apple competitor and PC vendor extraordinaire, Dell. It seems that a group of folks in California feel that Dell has been less than honest in its ads for some of its less expensive products and is suing Dell for false advertising. Some of the complaints include bait-and-switch charges, or switching an advertised product for a lesser product, and charging nearly three times more than the advertised price for another product.

What strikes me as being odd about this particular lawsuit is the notion that Dell would bother to do something so silly as to jeopardize its hard won reputation for being a reasonably decent company to buy from. While I know that some businesses engage in less than honest sales tactics, Dell really doesn't have to resort to such things to keep its stock holders happy. PCs are like potato chips to Dell, and if a person isn't happy with what he or she has, it would cost the company more to troubleshoot the problem than to just replace the computer.

This is a lesson Apple has learned with its iPods; instead of frustrating customers with technical mumbo-jumbo and dropping them into some arcane repair loop where their iPod may be missing in action for weeks or even months at a time, Apple simply verifies the problem and, if verified, replaces the iPod. The customer is happy, and walks away with a positive experience, and Apple is happy because it now has a potential customer for other Apple products. This is not rocket science, just good business.

This is a lesson I cannot believe is lost on Dell, as its entire business is based on giving a positive customer experience. Again, PCs are like potato chips, you can get them anywhere from a variety of vendors, and, beyond the minor differences in how they are made, they all pretty much taste the same.

What value Dell adds is in its support for its products. If people are unhappy with how Dell resolves problems they will simply go somewhere else, and perhaps sue as they walk away.

Of course, none of this means that Dell didn't do the things it is getting sued for; it's a well know fact that Dell keeps squeaky tight margins on its products, depending on volume selling for its profits. If things aren't going well for the company it might pull some nefarious sales stunts to meet some quota.

Why should I, or any Apple fan, care about what Dell does to its customers? Well, I don't think of Dell customers as Dell customers; I think of them as potential Apple customers who just haven't realized it yet. People unhappy with Dell products and practices go elsewhere for better products and better practices, and we know that Apple is aces in the eyes of its customers; the French notwithstanding.

So, I will be watching how this lawsuit unfolds. If others join in, or if similar lawsuits pop up in other states, it could mean that something's fishy in Dell. If so, Apple might want to think about pumping up its production just a tad.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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