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Innovation: How DELL is Using Social Media to Regain its Mojo

It’s 2004 you are Dell computers and you’re king of the world. But to be frank, you were also a bit boring. A year ago, Dells had the reputation as the cheap, utilitarian PC that you buy when price is everything. Dell was the ultimate commodity brand – serviceable, cost-effective, and a little dull. Along comes HP. In the course of a couple of years, HP using superior retail channels muscled past Dell to capture the number one position in the consumer PC marketplace. So how does Dell react?

It’s 2004 you are Dell computers and you’re king of the world. But to be frank, you were also a bit boring. A year ago, Dells had the reputation as the cheap, utilitarian PC that you buy when price is everything. Dell was the ultimate commodity brand – serviceable, cost-effective, and a little dull. Along comes HP. In the course of a couple of years, HP using superior retail channels muscled past Dell to capture the number one position in the consumer PC marketplace.

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So how does Dell react?

With a change in leadership – Michael Dell taking the rains of the company again and he is talking about taking a long term view of the business he helped launch. One response was to begin selling Dell through traditional retail channels. Another was to start listening to what customers are really saying about their products.

That’s when Dell turned to social media.

My conversation with Dell began after the publication of the Top Ten Reasons why your customer service fails in early July. Richard Binhammer in the corporate communications group at Dell sent me an email to volunteer his experience in using social media.

If you recall, one of my points, #7 to be exact, was that your product needs help. And I know that many have felt Dell computers and support have not lived up to their promises. That is certainly a great place to start – build something that customers want and need.

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A bit of background —

With the creation of Direct2Dell a year ago Richard and colleague John Pope also embarked on an “outreach” initiative to have conversations with bloggers.

a) On one side, the conversations were about Dell the company, products, business model, and corporate reputation – often drawing assistance from “subject matter experts”
b) They used a “swat” team of “the best and brightest” tech support folks to solve technical and customer service issues as they learned about them on the other.

Here’s an example of one of the very complicated consumer conversations which Richard entered on behalf of Dell. It has since ended in a direct exchange between the unhappy customer and Dell. This is an example of a company using social media in its purest sense.

In an interview with The Buzz Bin writer Geoff Livingston, chief Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca talked about what’s next. In it he stated:

Much of the content [in Direct2Dell] is Dell-centric because many people in the community want to know what Dell is doing on certain fronts. They sometimes relate to larger industry issues, but from a Dell perspective. It really depends how the community and conversations evolve.

My experience with Richard has given me reason to believe that at least on the social media side, Dell is quite serious about its efforts. The last exchange we had was on a Sunday as I was writing this post. How many work emails do you reply to on a weekend? As for the company’s future plans, we’re starting to see Michael Dell making good on his promise to rethink the way the company does business.

Where there is conversation, there is an opportunity for meeting of the minds and forward movement on action. Dell is embracing social media in all its messiness. It’s a brave experiment, which may pay off in significant improvements to their product and thus their market position in the future.

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Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • www.conversationagent.com

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