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Dell Raises the Bar on Customer Engagement

Dell has been featured prominently within the press lately, mostly regarding ongoing changes in their executive leadership, as the company continues its quest to regain lost momentum. Meanwhile, there's another more thought-provoking story that's unfolding.

While many high-tech corporations talk of their passion to engage their customers in an open dialog -- to better understand their collective needs -- few have been as bold or adventurous as Dell in its exploration of raising the bar for superior customer care.

Dell's direct-marketing and sales model made them a pioneer of building world-class call centers. They created the Dell Community Forums platform to enable customer interaction, and ultimately knowledge transfer. Then they introduced Dell on Call to provide additional fee-based technical support, and eventually launched the Direct2Dell corporate blog.

Following the announcement of their Dell 2.0 initiative last year, they recently ventured into the world of broadband video presentation with their new StudioDell microsite. However, I believe that their boldest move to date is the launch of Dell Idea Storm.

I was invited to participate on the beta site, shortly before it was publicly announced last week. Given the observations that I made last year, taking lessons-learned from broadband services providers, I decided to apply my appreciation for segmenting the customer experience on e-commerce websites.

More specifically, I had a vision that went beyond the typical cost-cutting perspective that drove the early deployment of e-support tools. It's about taking customer engagement to the next logical level of market development. I've called it the Dell Customer Corps program.

My idea is deeply rooted in my empathy for all the disenfranchised people who have embraced the concept of "plug-and-play" only to find that they have been humbled by their own inability to use and apply these complex products that were narrowly designed for the tech-savvy.

I know from prior research and consulting project work that the addressable market for application support crosses over many traditional demographic segments in the marketplace, so I've purposely been broad with my description -- in an attempt to be all inclusive.

However, after sharing my idea with business associates, the best suggestion for a focal point actually came from my wife. She reminded me of the aging population, how elderly people are intimidated by computer and consumer electronic gadgets, and the reasons why serving this segment is a huge opportunity.

Her upbeat depiction of a proof-positive example was characterized by a reference to the "Grey Panthers" phenomenon, where older folk embrace the Harley-Davidson brand and culture -- "it's more than a motorcycle, it's a state of mind."

Can Dell create the cult appeal around cool new products, simplicity by design, and ultimately become the symbol that "Grey Geeks" adorn?

Perhaps the Dell Customer Corps can start by targeting the hip senior citizen demographic. If baby boomers can still embrace the image of wrinkled and lively Rolling Stones on stage, then perhaps they'll relate to this notion.

Before the naysayers jump at the opportunity to list all the reasons why this vision could never come to pass, may I remind you of a story about a young entrepreneur who started a business in a UT dorm-room with little more than an idea, and a fearless will to pursue the unthinkable.

Maybe the first iteration of Dell 2.0 was a little light on substance. But, that was then -- what I'll call the pre-Idea Storm era. I believe that the Dell Dude is so 90s, it's time for something more current. Could the Grey Geek become Dell's next spokesperson? Can you imagine that?

Update: Dell has started to respond, on the Ideas in Action section.

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