Dell is getting an earful this week. My hat is off to them. All Dell participants showed up eager to hear first-hand what real customers are experiencing—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Why did Dell establish a Customer Advisory Panel, invest in flying in 30 people (a mix of raving fans and those with less-than-favorable experiences) and put us up for 2 nights with great food and accommodations? This initiative is part of a business transformation effort that has been underway for over a year.
Dell recognized some time ago that the customer experience, from pre-sales through post-sale technical support, was undermining relationships with some customers. Dell has acknowledged that it was slow to respond to customer concerns, is a bit behind the curve in terms of providing resolution to the issues that irritate customers most, but, is committed to building a world-class company.
Dell, for 2009, ranked 33 in the Fortune 1000 with annual revenues of $61 billion. This is a formidable, global company. It’s not a speed boat; it’s not even an aircraft carrier—implementing changes to processes and growing capabilities is not trivial.
Traditionally, when humans have experienced a less-than-satisfying experience, they often believed that there was no point in complaining—no one cares. Today, complaining about customer experiences is easier than ever thanks to forums, blogs, and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).
If you aren’t happy, you no longer have to suffer in silence—you can broadcast your disdain to the entire world using social media. Delighted or satisfied customers tend not to broadcast their feelings with the same frequency and passion—a sad fact of life.
Dell has a social media team mining the Internet looking to understand customer experiences. They are really good at this and take their mission very seriously. They seem to know within minutes of anything that I write and post on the Internet. I jokingly say it feels like I’m being stalked but the reality is they are using the Internet powerfully to help drive customer and process corrective action. Great job!
Dell traditionally focused on the metrics of how they were doing. While numbers show trends, they don’t reflect the true measure of the customer experience. Important lesson: Quantitative measures alone don’t reflect the health of a company or an initiative.
Dell executives have had actual experiences trying to place orders or get support so they could learn what it is like to "do business with Dell." To say that this has been eye-opening would be an understatement. [Note: Every executive should find out what it’s like to do business with their company first-hand.]
Companies can’t succeed without carefully listening to customer problems, quickly root-causing the problems and providing corrective action. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mega-company like Dell or a mom-and-pop restaurant in Boston.
While Dell plays in a highly-commoditized space, the clear differentiator is the customer touch points. If customers feel they are treated with indifference or worse, they aren’t likely to come back. If they buy a product that doesn’t work as it should and can’t get timely, appropriate resolution to problems, they aren’t likely to come back.
Some customers on the Customer Advisory Panel have really suffered personally and business-wise due to Dell products and technical support. Some of the suffering was unnecessary and can be attributed to improperly executed escalation processes—some from Dell agree that processes were not followed. Had I been running technical support, Dell would have replaced the products that could have been deemed "lemons."
Post-sale technical support was the biggest point of customer dissatisfaction, particularly outsource support provided from India. We heard over and over of the inability of customers to quickly and effectively get technical problems resolved and the customer frustration that causes.
We heard reports of people being on the phone for up to 6 hours trying to resolve issues. The time/value balance is off and does not favor customers. We heard that communication and language issues were often problematic and getting timely resolution was often exacerbated by technical support agents don’t seem to be empowered or able to go off script.
Henry J. Kaiser, the great American industrialist, defined problems as "opportunities in work clothes." The Dell team we met with is clearly committed to listening and leading the charge on behalf of creating a much better customer experience. Their passion and concern was palpable.
The real issues Dell faces at this point are:
- can the company learn fast enough,
- initiate the appropriate corrective actions into the organization,
- ensure that the changes take hold with the urgency needed, and,
- will Michael Dell give the people we met the support (people, budget, resources) to ensure that they are successful in way that confirms the exigency of the need?
If all these things happen, Dell is well on its way. If Dell can’t do all these things and the issues that confound customers persist, that would be troubling. Time is of the essence.
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.