Computer vendors who fail to embrace online forums are shooting themselves in the foot.

This article appears in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor , onsale now in all good newsagents.

One day, quite by chance, I picked up a copy of PC Advisor and noticed an item about a relaunched website where you could get free help and advice for PC problems. I took a look at the site, did the same the following day and the day after that. Within a week I was hooked. That was six years ago.

I'm still hooked and for the past five years, I've been the forum editor.

PC Advisor had around 1,500 registered members when I first logged on and, from those modest beginnings, the forum grew steadily. It wasn't long before we were having unofficial competitions to see who could guess when our membership would hit 10,000, then 20,000 and so on.

So, despite us now having over 200,000 registered members, why do I get the feeling that something's missing?

Missed opportunity

Our ConsumerWatch forum is home to those who have problems with suppliers. And it's increasingly clear that some companies feature more than others in the complaints list. A while ago, we decided to ask them to join us in the forum and engage directly with their dissatisfied customers.

Some companies responded positively – some didn't respond at all – and although two or three suppliers stood the test of time, we've been generally disappointed by their lack of support. With more than 200,000 IT users regularly visiting our online forums, our website is the ultimate tool for vendors to provide feedback to customers. But it's clearly a missed opportunity for some.

Any business worth its salt ignores customer service at its peril, but PC Advisor forum members repeatedly tell us about online retailers who seem to do just that. Time after time we hear of missed deliveries, PCs arriving with the wrong components fitted, or staff who do anything but help.

By joining us in the forums a supplier has a chance to explain why something happened, or why it didn't. They may be able to resolve a problem there and then – we've seen it happen with the companies which took the plunge. The goodwill created during these exchanges can have a direct and profitable effect on a company's sales statistics. People make purchasing decisions based, at least in part, on what they've read.

The results of a recent forum poll underlined the advantages to be gained by suppliers joining us in the forum. Of those who responded, 45.6 percent said a company's forum presence "might tip the scales if I was debating who to buy from".

A further 26.2 percent "would feel more confident buying from such a company". This is encouraging. We have plans for making PCAdvisor.co.uk an even better place to seek advice and help in 2007.

I can't think of a better way to begin than by improving that vital link between consumer and supplier. To this end, I am issuing a public invitation for companies to get involved.

So, to Microsoft, Dell, eBuyer, PC World and every other company in the business of supplying our readers, I say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining us at www.pcadvisor.co.uk/forums. There'll be no witch-hunts and no vendettas, just a warm welcome, plain talking and fair play.