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The Future of Digital Media: Tips for the Fortune 500

Posted by Bill Lee on September 24, 2008 at 02:08 PM

I recently had the chance to have a conversation with Bob Pearson, Vice President, Communities and Conversations, about how Dell is preparing for the future of digital media.

Bob will be speaking at the 2008 Communities Exchange Summit on October 15.

Q. Bob, Dell's impressive recovery from "Dell Hell" to regaining the top spot in customer sat scores through its online community programs has been well documented http://money.cnn.com/2008/09/03/technology/fortt_dell.fortune/. Rather than rest on your laurels, I thought I'd give you a chance to frighten us (and yourself!) and inspire us. Let's get the first one over with. What is it about digital media and the online community revolution that keeps you up at night?

A. Well, our goal is to ensure our customers are enjoying their technology experience and we're learning from each other in real time. So, with an average of 500,000 people going online for the first time in their lives every day and the fact that Dell is mentioned in 5-10,000 conversations per day, I would say it's fair to say we go to sleep every night with a full day of work ahead of us.

Q. Dell has a large Customer Community budget - for example, you've got 42 employees spending their days engaging with Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites. How do you justify the budget to senior management? Are your increasing customer sat scores, along with your decreasing customer "negatives" scores, enough for them?

A. It's not about budget. It is about having conversations with our customers and becoming relevant members of their communities online. Dell has been direct since the first computer was sold by Michael in '84. We think of this new connected era as providing us with new ways to speak directly with customers, share ideas and, in many cases, empower our customers to help each other out. It's an approach that is part of our culture, which goes well beyond a single group at Dell.

Q. Using IdeaStorm to manage feature requests by your online communities led to creation of the new Latitude laptop. Exciting stuff. But how do you know that input from the "vocal few" accurately reflects the average buyer? How do you plan to address this issue?

A. I would look at it a different way. Since when has a focus group been the right place to make major decisions? Is it better to watch ten people behind smoked glass, feed them sandwiches and ask them leading questions? Or is it best to let the community tell you what they want, customers vote on their own ideas, they discuss their ideas with each other and then we get to ask questions and watch the debate of tens of thousands of people over a period of months? In the case of Latitude, our product team was able to look at over 130 ideas, which led to six features being higher priorities in our launch. The community should be our development partner. Their insights are, ultimately, the ones that truly matter.

Q. You're hiring specialty tracking firms like Radian6 to help you make sense of the volumes of information customers generate about Dell online. What do you see as the greatest potential for such information?

A. We can see a tag cloud showing what is important for a product or a topic, as we speak. We can hear what is being said around the world, so we are more aware of trends, pro or con, in real time. We can also outreach to anyone not having a good experience with their technology to help them far quicker than it was possible in the past. Eventually, it will be important for companies to understand conversations in the ten languages that reach 95% of the online world in real time. We're on our way to doing this.

Q. Rank the following for their business potential: using customer communities to improve innovation and grow revenues, engaging with communities to improve Dell's brand, or using them to supplant cost centers such as customer support?

A. None of the above, since they are all results of doing one thing really well. We want to be a trusted partner of our customers, whether it's to help them with a technology issue, allow them to teach us how to improve via an idea, or to unlock their value to each other by empowering them to share their knowledge with each other. If we do this well, it improves innovation, revenue, our Brand and our costs.

Q. Going forward, what are the top 3 most exciting and potentially rewarding opportunities for firms like Dell in the digital media space?

A. The opportunities for us to learn from our customers via IdeaStorm are endless. So, idea management is key. The second area is to continue empowering our customers to share their expertise with each other. We're really just getting started here. The third is the innovation waiting to explode out of countries, like China, India, Brazil, Russia and more. We like to think of where we are today as finishing chapter one. There is a long way to go in exploring the potential of digital media.

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