Teaching a Brontosaurus to run; My review of #DellCAP

by Mack Collier

Last Monday, as the driver approached Round Rock and Dell’s HQs, he informed me that “I’ll be taking you to Building #1.  That’s where Michael Dell is!”  Unfortunately, Michael was out of the country last week, so I didn’t get a chance to meet him.

However, when we arrived at ‘Dell’s campus’, the driver explained that there were 37 buildings.  That when it hit me; whatever good works Dell is hoping to accomplish via social media will have to permeate and take hold in all 37 buildings.  And that’s just in the world HQs, Dell has offices in several other cities around the world.  That just drove home the enormity of a company as large as Dell trying to introduce a ‘new’ way of communicating with customers, and via a new set of channels.

Yet Dell has been using social media to communicate with its customers for at least 4 years now.  That effort took a very brave step forward last week, when Dell hosted its first CAP Days.  CAP stands for Customer Advisory Panel, and you can get more background on the event here, which was spread out over 2 days, involving Dell interacting directly with 30 of its most passionate customers.  I was hired by Dell to help them plan the event, and moderate it both days.  I wanted to share some of what I learned from being involved in the project.

Prior to the event, Dell sent out surveys to all 30 participants to try to get a better feel for what issues were most important to them.  These results would then play a large role in determining the structure of the topics to be covered for both days.  On the first day, Dell met with 15 customers that had had a negative experience with Dell’s products or service (or both), and had used social media to voice their displeasure.  Since customer service had been a problem area for several of the participants, it dominated discussion during the day.  At first, many of the participants were able to share their negative experiences, or ‘vent’ about what had happened to them.  Then later in the day, the discussion turned toward companies that provided exceptional customer service, and ideas were given for how Dell could improve their own efforts.

I noticed two things that surprised me a bit, from both the customers, and Dell employees, during the first day of CAP.

Several times I heard the customers explain that even though they had been involved in a negative experience with Dell, that they wanted to see Dell succeed, and they were happy to be involved with #DellCAP.  One participant even asked me at one point ‘So did Dell think we were going to be the antagonists?’  I’m not sure Dell knew what to expect, but I think they were thrilled with the honest and helpful information they got from the participants.

And on the Dell side, I was surprised a bit that there was very little ‘PR speak’ (almost none, actually), and that the employees present at each session, were honestly listening and processing what the customers were telling them.  I lost count how many times I heard a Dell employee say “Ok so based on what you’ve told us so far, what if we tried to do this? Would that work for you?”  It showed the customers that Dell was listening, and taking their problems seriously.

The second day featured 15 or so Dell evangelists, and 3 hours of the most enjoyable conversations I have ever had in the last 5 years of being involved in social media.  Picture this: I got to lead a discussion on branding, marketing, customer evangelism, and social media with Dell’s Chief Marketing Officer Erin Nelson, Michelle Brigman; Senior Manager of Customer Experience for Dell, social media geniuses like Liz Strauss, Susan Beebe and Connie Bensen, and a dozen or so Dell evangelists.  It was an amazing experience, and possibly the highlight of the week for me.

Also, the morning sessions perfectly illustrated the value that such an event can hold for companies.  A portion of the morning session on Day Two focused on customer service (This had been a VERY hot topic during Day One’s chats as well).  The general sentiment being expressed by the #dellCAP participants was that they loved Dell’s products, but the customer service, especially when it was outsourced to another country, was letting them down.  Dell’s participants explained that the company purposely outsourced a good deal of customer support overseas for consumer products, in order to keep the price of the laptops and desktops lower.  Dell seemed to be telling the participants that this was a conscious choice because they believed that most customers weren’t willing to pay higher prices just to get better service.

But the participants mostly agreed that they WOULD be willing to pay more for a desktop or laptop, if they knew they would receive exceptional customer service if they had a problem with it.  This seemed to be a marketing disconnect for Dell, and the feedback from #DellCAP participants was no doubt invaluable to the company.

And in the end, I think the true value for Dell came from them getting a chance to interact directly with their customers.  Honestly, I was a bit worried that Dell might be using this as a one-off event to simply ‘build some buzz’ online.  But I noticed as soon as the sessions started on the first day that Dell’s participants were listening, and then probing the #DellCAP participants with follow-up questions, based on the feedback they were getting from them.  And of course, when Dell’s CMO Erin Nelson kicked off the second day, that removed any doubts as to whether or not the C-Suite was taking this initiative seriously.

I’ve always said that perhaps the smartest thing a big company can do is connect directly with its most passionate online customers, and Dell did exactly that with #DellCAP.  I was beyond excited to be a part of it, and cannot wait to see what the next steps are.

BTW, this event has generated a ton of feedback on blogs, etc.  I wanted to close by listing some of these posts and videos, so you can see for yourself what everyone thought.  And if you were at #DellCAP, what did you think?  What did you like, what did you dislike?  What would you like to see Dell do moving forward?

Dave’s review of #DellCAP Day One for Fast Company

Allen’s review of #DellCAP Day One

Lauren’s video review of #DellCAP Day One

Vance Morton’s review of #DellCAP on Direct2Dell

Sarah’s #DellCAP Day Two review

Liz Strauss’ #DellCAP Day Two review

Susan’s #DellCAP Day Two review

Dell’s Flickr sets of #DellCap Day One, and Day Two

BTW, each #DellCAP session was ‘visually recorded’ by the fantabulous Sunni Brown.  Dell will be sending us digital copies of the work she created during #DellCAP, but this shot from Susan gives you an idea of her work

Dave Gardner June 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

Mack…excellent review of the events. Sunni’s recording of the events are just incredible. Thanks for moderating the event. Great to meet you! Dave Gardner

Mack Collier June 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Thank you Dave! I think Dell got invaluable feedback from all the #DellCAP participants, and were especially excited about the conversations they had with you. Great to meet you, and I hope our paths cross again!

Heather Villa June 22, 2010 at 5:03 am

Thanks Mack for sharing all that happened at this momentous event. I know a number of people who have been disillusioned with Dell and I plan on sharing your post with them. It’s really great to see a large corporation taking the time and initiative improve their customer service.
.-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..These People Will Destroy Your Business =-.

Mack Collier June 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Hey Heather! The first day featured several current/past customers that were upset with Dell, but I think they realized that Dell was actually listening to their issues and taking their ideas seriously. I think it made a positive impression on most of the participants, and maybe even helped move a few of them from detractors back to evangelists?

Very excited to see what Dell does next to extend this movement AND to see which companies follow their lead!

Claire Celsi June 23, 2010 at 6:45 am

It would take a lot for me to become an evangelist again, Mack. I’m with Dave Gardner on this one. As he said in his blog post: the proof’s the in doing. A lot of my opinion about Dell will ride on what happens in the next year. And frankly, if they don’t hire more support people in the US, I would never buy another Dell.

Mack Collier June 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Claire I can understand that, and if I were in your shoes I might very well feel the same way. And I agree that Dell needs to take what they learned last week and apply it moving forward. I *think* that will happen, I noticed that Ron Rose, who is the Sr VP of Dell.com was in attendance during Day One, and Erin Nelson, who is Dell’s CMO, participated in the morning of Day Two. So the C-Suite WAS paying attention to #DellCAP, and I think that had to happen in order for Dell to move forward with this effort.

And I really hope this works for Dell, not just for them, but to be an example for OTHER companies on the value of listening to their customers.

Carly Tatum June 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

Great summary, Mack! What a week it was for all. And the conversation continues! Attendees continue to brianstorm and share feedback on Twitter #DellCAP, and here at Dell we’re wrapping our heads around all the feedback we’ve received! Thanks for a great week!

Mack Collier June 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Thank you Carly! It was so good to meet you and Vance and Chris and Sarah, and everyone else at Dell! I think you guys drove home the point that you ARE listening and considering the feedback you got from #DellCap participants. That’s half the battle right there!

Judy Helfand June 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Hi Mack,
I enjoyed reading this recap today. I was sort of following you on Twitter last week while you were participating in #DellCAP. I have a couple of questions/observations. But first I want you and your other readers to know a little about my Dell user experience.
First of all, you should know that our small company has been a Dell customer since July 2001. In the past nine years we have spent $12000+ with Dell. We are obviously not their largest customer or their smallest, but maybe we are one of their smaller consistent customers.
Second, when we first started buying from Dell their customer service was excellent and it was provided from staff located in the United States. When it became obvious that Dell had begun to outsource their customer service, we made a conscious decision to purchase Dell ProSup port. We have found if you time your calls just so…you might actually speak to someone in the United States!
Here are my questions/observations:
1. How did Dell define/select its most passionate customers? What were the parameters used to invite these “passionate customers”? Individuals, businesses (large and small), multiple purchases, social media flare, clever complaint letters, clever complimentary letters, etc. It seems that one pre-requisite for being invited as a customer who had had a negative experience was that they “had used social media to voice their displeasure.” If that is the case, what about the customer that writes a letter, sends an email, etc, as opposed to blogging, tweeting or facebooking about their negative experience? Does old fashion passion not matter?
2. I am not surprised that #DellCAP participants wanted to see Dell succeed. I think it is human nature that we want our purchase choices to be validated and we want to know there is a viable company to turn to should we experience problems.
3. Has Dell pushed a pencil to determine the “cost” of their decision to outsource customer service? By this I mean, Dell believed or assumed that most customers weren’t willing to pay higher prices just to get better service; however, how many customers did they lose as a result of this decision which was based on an assumption?
As a Dell customer, here are few things that Dell might like to know about my user experience:
• Once an order is placed, make sure the sales person is reachable, post sale – prior to delivery.
• The itemized receipt/invoice should have a unit price and amount for each item, as opposed to just listing each item with Unit Price 0.00 and amount 0.00, with the exception of the Tower.
• If a customer has paid by personal check or business credit card in the past, don’t make the sales call so confusing that your customer ends up with a Dell Financial Services Credit Card with an interest rate of 17.99%. To add insult to injury, they spelled our business name incorrectly on the account! Don’t worry we paid it in full.
• In days long ago, the new PC came with a wall map size glossy Start Here Set-Up Guide. But our latest purchase came with a flimsy 10 page Setup and Features Information booklet, with a font size of maybe 6.
Well, Mack, I will enjoy following the impact of #DellCAP. I can tell you this; it seems your GUYNamedNathan is enjoying his new Dell notebook: “#DellCAP attendees, if you kept the box to the notebook Dell gave us. It makes a great mousepad for BlueTrack mice.”

I know this is a long comment, I am hoping you will not mind if I use it on my http://judysoped.blogspot.com/ Let me know if that would be ok with you.

Mack Collier June 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Judy thanks for the comment, and it’s yours, you can use it anyway you want 😉

I think with this first meeting, Dell was trying to be ‘all things to all people’. I think they wanted to bring in some business customers, and some personal customers. I do think they placed a premium on selecting customers that had either voiced their displeasure or excitement, via social media. My guess is they chose social media because it would be easy to collect a pool of potential participants quickly and easily.

My feeling was that the #DellCAP meetings were extremely beneficial to Dell when it comes to how their customers view customer support, especially outsourced customer support. I don’t think Dell realized how important this was to customers, OR that so many of the participants seemed to be willing to pay more for the computer, if exceptional customer service would be included as part of the purchase.

This was obviously the ‘first step’ for Dell, and I am sure that they have a ton of tweaks/changes in mind if they continue this effort in a similar form. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Shawn Collins June 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm

It was a pleasure to meet you on Day 2 – my only gripe with the Dell CAP Day I participated in was that the morning conversations were cut off due to time constraints.

I would have loved to keep the talks on evangelism and customer service going for hours more.

Also, I really enjoyed the chance to check out products and handle them in the Design Lab. Prior to that, I’d seen photos of the Adamo, but never saw one in the wild.

Well, today I ordered an Adamo XPS, and I likely will purchase a Streak and Inspiron Zino in the future.

That made me think it could be cool to have Dell storefronts in some big cities – I probably wouldn’t have purchased the Adamo XPS without seeing it and touching it.

But after experiencing it, the deal was closed.
.-= Shawn Collins´s last blog ..Affiliate Marketer Networking in NYC =-.

Mack Collier June 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Hey Shawn, if we could have expanded the morning sessions into the entire day, I would have been a happy camper. I told Caroline a couple of times that I wanted to spend some time talking about Ideastorm and Dell’s community forums, but we never had a chance to get there.

But this just means we need to have another #DellCAP to cover the topics we missed with this one!

And congrats on the Adamo XPS, man it looked sleek!

Radu Spineanu June 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Events like #dellcap is why Dell is so great with Social Media. They were the amongst the first to embrace Twitter, which turned out to be a great decision on their part.

I’ve been following Shawn’s #dellcap updates. The event gave me the idea to try to see how Dell could use it’s Social Power to help affiliates generate more conversions on their part.

The result is here, based on the startup we are working on:

Bruno Sarda June 25, 2010 at 12:20 am

Mack, thanks for leading the event and for this great summary. I’m sorry I was unable to attend Day 2 due to prior travel commitments, but I certainly got a ton of value out of Day 1 and enjoyed all the new connections I made with the participants. Thanks again,
– Bruno

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