Dell's image rehabilitation efforts

Dell is in image rehabilitation mode. In part, Dell is dealing with the aftermath of one of its laptops bursting into flames last month in Osaka, Japan, and the impact of widely publicized photos travelling across the Net.

Dell is in image rehabilitation mode. In part, Dell is dealing with the aftermath of one of its laptops bursting into flames last month in Osaka, Japan, and the impact of widely publicized photos travelling across the Net. The image makeover is also part of the company's reaction to customer service snafus, throwing a $100 million at the problem, and public floggings in the blogs, particularly from Jeff Jarvis.  

Now Dell finally has a blog and the blogosphere's elite are all over it. Jarvis calls it "blog in content management system name only." It's a mulitperson, corporate blog--no equivalent Robert Scoble, the former premier Microsoft blogger in residence. Scoble advises Dell to " Link to your enemies. It takes away their karmic power," and to listen to what's being said about Dell in the blogosphere. Constructive advice.



Nick Carr weighs in with his usual bite, chastizing Jarvis and Steve Rubel for dismissing Dell's blog, calling them representatives of the "self-styled guardians of blog orthodoxy."  Rubel writes:

Dell could still turn it around if they hurry, but I fear this lack of candor will really set them back. When I read the one2one doctrine, their heart seems like it's in the right place. Their actions don't speak that way. Perhaps it might have been better for them to have stayed silent. Cmon Dell. We know you're bigger than this. Join us. Be real. Walk the talk.

Rubel makes a good point--the candor, or perhaps looser style, isn't there yet in Dell's corporate blog, but they are heading in a good direction. But then Rubel says it might have been better for Dell not blog--it's not up to blogerati standards. I wonder if this is how Rubel deals with his PR clients. Do you let them go step-by-step and feel their way, listen, take in the criticisms, or just beat them up for lack of candor, which sounds more like lack of personality, since in a corporate blog you can't have totally naked conversations. Some topics are not legal or prudent and most companies don't want to use blogs just to beat up competitors and toot their own horn. It's about the dialog, civil if possible, and showing how the dialog can turn into action, products or features that benefit customers, employees, partners.

Dell also wants to be perceived as an innovator beyond it business model and supply chain expertise. I met with John Medica, senior vice president & general manager Dell’s Product Group,  and Steve Gluskoter, director of industrial design and usability at Dell, yesterday. 



  Dell SVP John Medica and the new XPS M2010 system

Medica cited examples of innovative features, including control panels ink jet printers, the new Dell desktop software shorn of unwanted bloatware that comes with systems, the XPS 700 gaming system, notebooks (legacy compatibility with docks, batteries, etc.), the XPS M2010 media center transportable and servers. Dell certainly has the money and talent to make some innovations on the product side, as a differentiator at the edges, beyond price and brand.

He noted that Dell has more than 50 people dedicated to usability and industrial design, including 8 PhDs on staff, as well as several outside firms. Dell has won its share of awards for design, but it's not Apple and doesn't control the total software and hardware experience. "We see our role in product develop as  understanding how customers use products, and where there are voids or holes, and how to take advantage with our technology partners to fill voids," Medica said.

He mentioned that DellConnect, the new online support service has been well received, with 400,000 sessions per day, 80 percent resolution rate, 93 percent customer satisfaction, and 10,400 technician supporting customers (Dell's data). And, Medica touted Dell's patent portfolio as a sign that Dell is innovative. Dell has been issued more patents than EMC or Apple from 2002 through 2005, he said. I'm not sure the number of patents is indicative of real innovation as much as defensive moves and hoping for some breakthrough that will yield substantial differentiation.

In practical terms, Medica said his goal is to "take the customer experience to another level," and in three years drive reduction in support and repair by 50 percent. It's part of Dell's "Do it Right" initiative to make the customer experience best in class. He should blog about those goals, or find strong, passionate, open voices in the company to connect with the world outside of Round Rock, Texas...