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A conversation about Twitter with Dell

Posted on: Tuesday 19th of October 2010

As part of our research into The Recipe for Successful Customer Engagement we talked to Dell about the apparent success of Dell Outlet on Twitter.

If you don’t know the background then Dell’s outlet store was set up by the company to provide a route to sell PCs that were cancelled orders, customer returns etc. Dell sells direct, of course, and makes the claim that all PCs are built to order. As such managing a system for selling returned goods probably isn’t as routine as for a true-blood retailer. What drew our attention to it was not Dell Outlet per se but the Twitter account that sits alongside it and promotes offers.

For example, the Twitter account may offer as much as 20% off Outlet prices (which, of course, are already discounted off the main site prices). The offers are typically both time and volume limited.

Key to the success of the Twitter site (which now turns over some US$6million) was how Dell went about the Twitter account. Dell’s wishes for its social media presence were to

– engage

– inform (eg offers via @Delloutlet)

– support (@Dellcare)

– share information

So, in some ways, the commercial success of the site is a pleasant surprise.

How does Dell do it. The most obvious point is that @DellOutlet is obviously a real person (now Elise@Dell and previously Stef@Dell). This encourages a human interaction and helps Dell position the account as the human face of Dell — and not a sales channel. Moreover, given that one of the aims was to engage with customers, it offers the company opportunities for “good deeds” that would never pass corporate measurements – such as offering a man a new laptop after he lost his (mobile) home in a tornado… he just happened to mention that the only thing that kept him in contact with the world was his Dell laptop!

The account is now so successful that Dell are having to find ways in which they can now manage the account more effectively (behind the scenes) but even so, the entire social media team is just 8 people (out of a global workforce of 100,000).

But beyond Twitter, Dell is also championing other social activity – a notable addition in June 2010 was their Customer Advisory Panels. As the moderator of this event said

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

But #DellCAP was more than creating an online buzz – it is clear that from post event feedback that the aim of the day was to get Dell advocates (and non-advocates!) to help Dell improve its business. Note that — improve its business — it wasn’t set on improving “customer service” or “sales” or “products”. It asked the community what it wanted. And it gave feedback.

So when I attended DellCAP a few months ago, I said I believed they were listening to what we told them. One of my contacts from the event sent us an update today, which shows that they are indeed listening and working toward change. I wanted to share it with you. Here’s what they sent:

Support

We heard: Offended by up sell while trying to get support.

Dell: We’re increasing audits of support agents and call monitoring to ensure agents are following guidelines for initiative.

We heard: I would consider paying a premium for better built in support.

Dell: Your Tech Team (YTT) is a support option available.  YTT plans increased marketing to make support option advantages more widely known to customers.

[[and much much more…]]

It seems very strange that a company that built its reputation on selling direct is now making major efforts to engage with its customers. How does it measure its ROI? In short, it doesn’t. Yes it has the usual metrics (it uses Radian6 as its dashboard) and is largely focused on NPS (Net Promoter Score) but Dell realises that the metrics aren’t yet well enough defined.  There is a danger of failing early because you seek to measure the outcome before you know the effect. In reality, Dell appears to treat social media as a branch of R&D – not in the true sense that the company does this but in the sense that they need to explore.

Oh and as a final note, what would Dell do differently? Not much, except to say that they should have done it sooner and faster. After all it’s taken then five years to get this far. It’s all about Test and Learn and about offering something to your customers (in Dell’s case a mix of support, offers and feedback).