Dude, We Don’t Want to Hear It

Leading PC maker Dell shut down many of its customer-service bulletin boards last week, directing users to "secure online tools" rather than the moderated online forums Dell had been operating for years. Users with non-technical questions about their orders, rebate status, and other post-purchase matters can still contact Dell via chat, email, and toll-free phone support, however, those queries may be handled by outsourced support personnel outside the United States rather than the U.S. based, long-time Dell employees who moderated the boards.

Dell says the public, moderated forums were never intended to be a vehicle for supporting individual customers or resolving issues with their accounts, since information the support personnel handle could often be considered private or confidential. Rather, the system had been intended to provide a peer-to-peer support system for Dell customers. Moving order and account queries to one-on-one, more-private systems, Dell says, increases the privacy and efficiency of their customer support efforts. Dell continues to maintain a large number of other moderated online technical support forums for its products, and the technology industry in general finds outsourcing support to overseas locations like India to be a sound cost-reduction measure, despite language and cultural differences which often frustrate customers.

Long-time forum users speculate Dell shut down the message boards because irate customers sometimes created angry or offensive postings which could show the company in a negative light. Other computer companies with online support offerings (including Apple Computer) have been known to mysteriously lose track of offensive or uncomplimentary postings in their message forums. However, only a small fraction of customers typically use or access any online discussion forums a company may offer, which could minimize any impact from negative discussions.

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