Delling with Bloggers: Listening, Engaging and Delighting the Users

Not a typo; pun intended.

In August 2006 Jeff Jarvis wrote a post criticizing Dell and their treatment of customers, including the ignoring of bloggers. This post was a trigger for several hundred comments and other blog posts that did not do any enhancement of Dell’s image to say the least. By June 2006, Dell senior management realized they had a problem and attempted to soft launch Direct2Dell. They quickly learned that, on the Internet, for a subject with a series of red hot issues, a soft launch is not possible. The rest, as they say, is history as Dell has become very proactive in the blogosphere with two major components:

  • Direct2Dell to cover issues related to Dell products and
  • Idea Storm.out of which arise product line changes such as the launch of a Linux-based offerings and reduction or elimination of bloatware shipped with most PC’s.

This past Tuesday evening I had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A event in Toronto where Dells’ Richard Binhammer, whose primary responsibility comprises monitoring and acting on blogger activity covering Dell, provided both some history and interesting information about how his coverage and timely responses on complaints, suggestions and other issues that arise in the course of selling and supporting Dell products have turned around Dell’s image. Probably, at a minimum, these activities have also helped put the brakes to Dell’s declining market share. In particular he stated that, as a result of his and his colleague’s activities, they have seen a reduction in negative posts from 49% in the summer of 2006 (when he started participating) to 22%. Blogger Dave Fleet attended the session and gave a very detailed post here.

Richard’s Key Take-Aways (according to Dave, and I concur):

  • "People are going to say bad things. You just have to get over it"
  • "If you don’t respond within 24 hours, forget responding"
  • Dell has a strict customer privacy policy, so tries to take technical problems off-line
  • If you’re doing things on behalf of the company, you have to be up-front about it
  • You don’t lose control by joining the conversation – you gain it. Not engaging online is when you lose control.

And, in his own reflection on the event, Richard posts his comments and thoughts; in the course of this post he talks about "listening companies":

Listening companies

Listening companies, I think, enter a continuous learning process….and like I said in a presentation, you stumble, everyone gets to laugh at you (thank you "gaping void" for that cartoon) and my response is, "get up, keep moving, try again…and GET OVER IT"

To err is human and humanizing big companies = occasional errors.

But listening is never an error.

A listening company is a significant and bold evolution of the original Dell direct model — moving from direct model and mass customization and price differentials to connections and listening with customers that nurture and build relationships — on the web, one at a time, and revolutionizing business and the web, just as happened in the web 1.0 e-commerce era. It is also a big differentiation too. A solid and good one.

Finally, not mentioned in these posts is Richard’s discussion of how Dell had to stop a "drive out costs" culture and replace it with a "delight the user" culture. Seems like Dell’s accountants drove the ship until it squeaked so badly it leaked customers and reputation. The lesson is that cost cutting may appear to be a good short term solution but, taken too far, will drive your customers away in droves. Dell found they went too far with a cost cutting approach. This culture change was significantly reinforced by a CEO change when Michael Dell returned to the Dell CEO position earlier this year. Several times throughout the evening Richard mentioned how he has been given, by Michael, fairly full latitude to address issues reasonably in the customer’s best interest.

There is also one key tool I noticed. He has a Blackberry on his belt and even keeps tabs on blogs while traveling and speaking; shortly after the Q&A he had to excuse himself momentarily to address an issue. I never got around to asking if his was a 24/7 job but it’s obviously a 24/7 responsibility. (He does have a peer colleague at Dell who works with him on this activity.)

Ryan Anderson reports on Richard’s comments the previous evening in Ottawa:

I think the comment that resonated with me the most was when Richard said that the main effect of blogging and interacting with the blogosphere was that Dell “started worrying less about transactional relationships and more about relationship relationships.”

At the last eBay quarterly analyst conference eBay CEO Meg Whitman talked about Skype’s need to "Delight the User". Yet there continue to be stories about lack of customer service responsiveness and only partially listening. She also talked about how Skype had taken too much to the bottom line, thereby letting cost issues drive the ship rather than customer experiences and satisfaction.

Let’s hope the new Skype CEO shares Meg’s views and looks at Dell as a case study for both listening and delighting not only those Skype users who also blog but also those who participate in the forums. May Skype regain some control of their agenda by proactively joining and engaging in the user conversations.

Two caveats:

I cannot complain about my own user experiences; my single user Skype operations tend to run fairly smoothly, but, having run a tech support operation, can appreciate the user frustration when it takes four days to get a response. On the other hand, basic Skype is free so maybe they need a service plan or two for servicing the free product on an ongoing basis; certainly a concept that has worked for companies built around Linux such as Red Hat and Digium.

Skype has listened to a few issues recently, such as the "config.xml" issue when Skype 3.6 was released but it’s often "on the rebound". Good listening requires acting on the first promptings from the field, especially if one is hearing them from more than one independent source. That requires a cultural change with direction and support from the top in terms of overall company policy and enabling those employees closest to the users to take action on their own initiative.

In closing I should mention that Richard is the second Dell employee whom I have met with "blogosphere" responsibilities. I have also had, on a couple of occasions the pleasure of meeting Lionel Menchaca who is responsible for Direct2Dell. Both have impressed me with their frankness and genuine enthusiasm for engaging Dell in "naked conversations".

Tags: Dell, Direct2Dell, IdeaStorm, Richard Binhammer, Skype, Meg Whitman, Lionel Menchaca, Jeff Jarvis, Dave Fleet

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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