Thirteen months ago, Dell formed a Customer Advisory Panel (DellCAP) to gain customer insights as part of a business transformation effort that had been underway for over a year at that point. This month, Dell brought in 13 of the 30 people from the original group plus 3 new faces for 2 days (paying everyone's travel and accommodation) to review progress and seek additional feedback. [Note: I am a member of DellCAP.]
To recap where Dell was a year ago, Dell acknowledged that the customer experience from pre-sales through post-sale technical support was undermining relationships with some customers, that it had been slow to respond to customer concerns, was a bit behind the curve in terms of providing resolution to the issues that irritate customers most, but, told us they were committed to building a world-class company. Let's take a look at a few things that have transpired over the past year.
In addition to the U.S. DellCAP events, DellCAP meetings were held in Germany and China. There was also a DellCAP sustainability event to review what Dell is doing in terms of being environmentally friendly or green. In November 2010, Dell was named the #1 green company in America by Newsweek magazine.
In December, I attended the grand opening of the Dell Social Media Listening Command Center at Dell's Round Rock, Texas, headquarters. Dell is setting the standard for how to use social media to understand customer experiences and resolve customer issues reported via social media. It is no small task—there are presently about 25,000 Dell mentions in social media each day.
Dell has become a showcase for other companies to understand how to integrate social media into their organizations—there is tremendous customer interest in this area when customers come to Dell's Executive Briefing Center. Michelle Brigman, Director of Dell's Social Media Command Center and the lead for Dell's Customer Advisory Panel, provides insights about the vision for social media at Dell in the video below.
Here are some customer-visible changes over the past year:
• Social media support is available in 11 languages via Twitter (@DellCares), Facebook (click the "Support" widget on left hand side of the page) and via Dell's website by clicking "Support" on each Dell.com web page.
• The Social Outreach Services (SOS) team has grown from 10 to 70 people over the past year. Jason Duty, Manager of SOS, says, "This growth was more to meet existing demand rather than the increasing demand. We literally had no support resources in social for languages beyond English, so the growth was really about starting listening and engagement activities for non-English customers."
• In recognizing that the driver/download section of Dell.com is daunting, the team is improving the self-service capability for downloads and drivers. Soon, customers will be able to download directly to smart phones and later migrate the drivers to a computer of their choice via a USB connection.
• As a result of my Fast Company articles about Dell, I've been contacted by Dell customers to get assistance resolving thorny issues. It has been great to watch the team resolve issues quickly and efficiently. I've had very positive feedback from the customers who have reached out to me.
Dell has just launched a new global branding campaign called "The Power to Do More." This shifts the focus from Dell being a commodity supplier of PCs to being a solution provider, a more accurate depiction of Dell today. Here's one ad:
I've attended a few media events since December 2010. Here are a few of my observations:
• The Dell "Take Your Own Path" (TYOP) media event showcased some of Dell's best small and medium business customers and allowed them to share their success stories. "Take Your Own Path" is an expression attributed to Michael Dell with respect to his entrepreneurial desire to take his own path in his business life. At the TYOP event, Dell did not focus on its role in each customer's success; Dell simply allowed the customer stories to be front and center. I don't know how Dell was able to show such restraint.
I vividly recall the response of one entrepreneur who was asked, "How did Dell do help you do that?" He responded he didn't really know and really only cared that the solution worked well. Isn't that the way it should be?
Steve Felice, President of Consumer, Small and Medium Business business unit, pointed out they had learned that customers wanted more than just a well-functioning laptop—customers wanted something that was stylish as well. When we returned from lunch, each participant was given a Dell Vostro V130 laptop as Dell's gift. While I've loved my Dell Latitude, I certainly like the fact that the V130 is about half the weight, performs very well and looks great. I've just recommended that a colleague consider a V130.
• In February 2011, I attended a Dell Enterprise product launch in San Francisco. The enterprise products had undergone a significant design refresh based on feedback from some 9,000 customers, a clear indication of Dell's desire to listen, engage and act. For example, I learned that a keyboard has some 50 design attributes that give each keyboard its unique feel and ergonomic qualities.
• In April 2011, I attended a media event at the San Francisco Press Club showcasing some of Dell's recent acquisitions. I was particularly interested in Dell KACE, Dell Boomi and Dell Compellent. I had heard wonderful comments about how Dell KACE and Dell Boomi were making it easier for customers to focus on running their businesses during the TYOP event. I was struck by the great utility and pragmatism of the solutions. The anecdotal feedback is that Dell has acquired terrific technology companies over the course of the last year that make it easier for organizations to meet their essential missions using Dell products.
To make critical changes in any organization requires support and commitment from the senior leadership. We have evidence of that support in many forms. While we were at the Round Rock headquarters, Michael Dell joined us for a 30-minute unscripted question and answer session.
Michael revealed that he is a geek and demonstrated that through his deep understanding of Dell's technology and offerings. He believes that Dell's role is to enable each Dell customer's mission through technology. Michael is as excited and engaged in the business today as you would expect during his earlier entrepreneurial days.
So, what's my take after one year? I've seen some impressive changes. I like what I am seeing and hearing. Dell is listening, acting and engaging. Dell is not the company it was a few years ago—there is a spring in Dell's step that is very noticeable.
The one area that I remain concerned about is the customer experience using Dell.com to determine what to buy and how a product should be configured. A year ago, the Dell Customer Advisory Panel advised that Dell needs to do more to:
1. Help a customer figure out what they should buy, and,
2. Teach people who are less familiar with computers how to buy one that best meets their needs.
Dell needs to accelerate improvements in this area.
Companies can't succeed without carefully listening to customer problems, quickly root-causing the problems and providing corrective action. Dell's leadership and Michael Dell understand this and are walking the talk.
Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. Dave is a member of Dell's Customer Advisory Panel. He can be reached through his website at www.gardnerandassoc.com or on Twitter @Gardner_Dave.