They bothered to reply to my complaints, including this post where I reviewed their Second Life presence and suggested some areas for improvement.
In Austin, I met the Dell Blog team! When I first read the Dell blog I pictured the people writing it were some smirky-looking guys in suits. So it was a pleasant surprise to meet Lionel, the Digital Media Manager, who is an amazingly humble and sincere guy. I also met Neil, the Dell Customer Advocate who has been taking my verbal abuse. He looked at my badge to check my name, and said that he emailed me before! It was an awkward moment. However, after having a couple of meals with them, I learnt they were sincerely interested in communicating with their customers.
I also noticed that a recent Dell Blog post garnered a slew of positive responses from customers who had experienced problem with a computer system. By keeping their promise and communicating their plans to customers, they gained back a whole lot of goodwill. Which proves that Robert Scoble and Shel Israel were right - blogging can improve your relationship with clients if you're willing to be sincere, stick with it through thick and thin (mostly wafer thin) and put in effort to address all their concerns.
You can't expect a blog to instantly turn public opinion - it took several months for Dell to start doing this, and you can imagine the journey wasn't easy. Other organisations may want to do the same thing but are afraid of the short-term reaction from readers, so they feel it's better not to blog at all and open themselves up to criticism.
Of course, as long as you have an open communication platform, you're going to get good and bad comments. You have to address them all - don't delete or play down the bad ones and hype up the good ones. The Blogosphere is intelligent and will know when you're trying to fool them. Then the backlash will be greater. Need I mention Wal-Mart and Edelman?
Let's just say that no amount of advertising that "Dell [or insert any company name here] is good", will actually make today's customers believe so. Talk must be followed up with sincere actions, preferably within a limited time span, so that people know you are acting quickly to make things better for them, and not just saying you're 'listening'. The former is much harder to do.
The employees who run the blog must also be empowered to respond to customers' comments. They should not have to go through multiple clearance levels which would delay the response time. Instead, customers' feedback should be channeled from the blog to the relevant departments to act upon. There is no point starting a blog if the rest of the company does not want to listen to their customers and change their ways.