Listening to the customer and taking action: Dell

What does success look like? Why do you put your customer front and center? Those were the questions Andy Lark of Dell opened with when presenting in front of more than 500 customer experience advocates at this year’s Net Promoter conference. The Dell team has institutionalized listening in their organization and has some good advice for others.

The discussion started with a look back at days when listening wasn’t top priority. In days long past, the business plan was easy. Ensure that a new computer got a great review in PC Magazine. As soon as PC Magazine said it was the best computer, sales would go through the roof. It wasn’t important what the customer said. Now recommendations via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are the comments that move computer sales.

Andy related a personal experience to illustrate this point. “I can be walking through my local Whole Foods and find a great looking new cheese that has a price tag of six dollars. I can take out my iPhone or whatever your favorite smart phone of choice is, take a picture of the cheese and immediately get reviews and links to Facebook to see what my friends think of this cheese”

It’s no secret that these online communities have a strong voice, but Lark suggested the magic happens when companies learn to take action based on what they hear. Before he could give some best practices, he had to ensure everyone understood one obstacle. He took the stand that all the management principles developed over the past 100 years make it hard to take action. Everything has changed around us except our management notions. Realities such as a fixed workday and needing extensive approvals to act don’t align with accelerated speed and transparency of information we manage today.

Andy pointed out that he can travel business class when traveling overseas but the people that work for him have to travel coach. He joked “does this mean they are lesser people?” But these are the rules in an expense policy that most companies use. Netflix took a more modern approach. Their policy, just five words: “act in Netflix’s best interest.” They want associates when traveling to be rested and ready to work, so they choose the class of service. The caveat, expense reports are posted for everyone in the company to see. That makes a traveler think twice about an extra bottle of wine with dinner.

“Companies historically hyped a value proposition, sales people then oversold the capabilities and expectations could not be met.” Andy further explained, “The social experience closes the gap and brings truth to the customers.” Ratings and reviews have changed everything. If we have multiple choices on Amazon, it’s the 4- and 5-star ratings that get our attention and likely our purchases.

So how is Dell breaking the molds of the past and taking action on what their customers are saying? Andy presented many examples, but the Idea Storm site encapsulates the most forward thinking. They understand by the end of 2011, e-mail will be the fifth most popular form of electronic communication. They are not ignoring sites like Twitter. They have a team focused on listening and responding to over 20,000 electronic comments that happen every day. They realized some great ideas were hatching in these online communities and developed a portal for those that wanted to make suggestions to Dell on how to improve products and services. The site is called Idea Storm and those using the site not only get to submit ideas, but they collaborate with others to refine ideas, and everyone gets to vote and rank the priority of implementing these ideas. It is known as the place “where your ideas reign.”

Andy closed by saying, “we are going to make mistakes, we are going to do it in public, we will listen, and we will change course when needed.”

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picture by Katrina Snaps

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One thought on “Listening to the customer and taking action: Dell

  1. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great data in Listening to the customer and taking action: Dell | Fast Track Tools by Ken Revenaugh, both of that we tend to all need!

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