I experience a child-like wonder when a brand reaches out to me. And when it’s a big monolithic brand, like Microsoft or Dell, I am in total awe. I don’t think that will ever change. It is the power of the social web that I will always appreciate.

Long ago in 2007 a developer from Microsoft commented on my blog post about LiveWriter. As team lead he asked for feedback. When I read his signature, I rubbed my eyes and asked myself, can this be real? Granted I came into the online world as a result of a company reaching out to me. So I asked my readers what their suggestions for MS LiveWriter (which was in beta at the time) and posted them. Imagine my surprise when I woke to a Facebook message from that same Microsoft developer suggesting that I check out the newest release because they had incorporated my ideas! It made me feel as if my ideas mattered and I felt ownership in the product. I still use LiveWriter, evangelize it & train my staff in it’s use.

So when Chris Byrd @ChrisBatDell invited me to Dell’s first annual Customer Advisory Panel #DellCAP I was both honored and thrilled. The date fit between a couple of corporate meetings and so I booked Austin in between Chicago & Rochester, NY.

I learned in May that 3 cities in one week isn’t advisable, but I was excited to see what Dell was up to. I have been watching them steadily grow their team of online community managers. Their invitation was transparent that there were no expectations and they were taking care of all expenses.

The talented Mack Collier moderated the day. Imagine starting out the morning with an audience of Dell’s CMO and other executives. The group of 15 of us were gathered around a board table at Dell’s Executive Briefing Center and members of various Dell teams were behind us in the room. Our conversation was focused and we were invited to share out thoughts and ideas.

The topics were:

Expectations with CMO Erin Nelson – we talked about Dell’s brand and the opportunities that Dell has. I firmly believe that the new marketing is education.

  1. Help consumers help themselves in the purchase process.
  2. Capture and utilize user generated content of knowledgeable users to create a knowledge base
  3. Use profiles in the Dell community to highlight the type of hardware that person uses to facilitate people connecting with others of similar computer needs.

We also talked about price points, customer service and expectations. I felt completely comfortable in expressing myself candidly.

Customer Support – This was a hot topic and surfaced in the earlier session. Dell is moving towards a new model of combining customer service and tech support. I expressed my experience with having support outsourced. I found Twitter to be much more effective. @ChrisBatDell resolved my issue a year ago. I was surprised to hear that they wanted to encourage social media channels for support. I am curious to hear how they communicate that to their customers?

Support centers rely heavily on scripts. We expressed our frustration with that. It made me realize the huge value in the reference interview that we used in the library world. Imagine if the support were to take a few minutes and ask 3 questions rather than asking, “Is your computer turned on?” Here they are:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What have you done to resolve it? (then make an educated decision on how to resolve
  3. Set expectations and agree on the goal of the call. In other words repeat and make sure that the customer is in agreement and that both sides understand the need.

Design Lab – This is where everyone geeked out over the new Streak. I enjoyed seeing the Adamo and Adamo XPS. It caused me to realize that my work issued Dell Latitude doesn’t fit my needs.

Technology Briefing Center – A senior product manager gave a product demonstration that hasn’t been shared with others outside of Dell. We signed an NDA and enjoyed being privy to secret information. :)

The last session of the day was on Sustainability and Recycling. Unfortunately I needed to go to the airport, so i missed it.

One of the highlights of my day was having lunch with Caroline Dietz. She created IdeaStorm. I loved how she described how it evolved. And it was nice to visit with Lionel Mencheca again. He shared that they are transitioning away from a centralized social media team and scaling it out to teams by business unit. I look forward to watching how that evolves!

Overall I have to give Dell total credit for bringing in their leadership to spend the day with us. They brought in a group with very diverse backgrounds. We had a variety of ideas and it was a great focus group. Earlier in the week they had brought in a group of 15 detractors. I had seen their tweets and they were negative. I hope that Dell was able to garner constructive feedback from both groups. Their process was excellent. We filled out a pre-survey. They created a community and now I need to fill out a post-survey. There is a lot of content in a variety of formats floating on the web. I see on Twitter that a couple of people have ordered Adamos so the products sold themselves.

Thank you Dell for your invitation to listen to us and your hospitality! I hope that as an organization you can continue leading the way in implementing ideas from consumers.

If you’d like to read more about #DellCAP, Mack Collier is gathering all the content. Sunni Brown captured the day (this was very cool!).


If you had the opportunity to talk directly with a company, which company would it be? and what would you tell them?