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Will Dell Come Face-to-Face with Customers Over Google+ Hangouts?

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

In the 1990’s, Dell enjoyed huge popularity and was among the top ranked consumer computer corporations. In the past decade it has floundered, falling in business rankings and unfavorable press spotlighting its allegedly poor customer service.

Blogs and bulletin boards have been filled with irate customers and their stories of being transferred numerous times, ignored and lied to, hangups, long waits and unresolved issues. Customers complained about difficulty understanding representatives from overseas, and the most common complaint was that once Dell made the sale, they no longer cared about the customer. News outlets like Business Week and CNET lamented Dell's fall from grace.

Recently, Michael Dell tossed out a question on Google+ asking if customers would like to connect with the Dell sales and service team using the video capabilities of Google+ Hangouts and received an overwhelming “YES!” No solid confirmation if the company is actually planning to go this route, but it would be an interesting experiment. Dell has said that they are waiting to see what features Google+ business pages have before committing. 

If Google+ Hangouts pans out, would putting customers and service representatives face-to-face improve interaction? How far would it go toward repairing the customer relationship? Which customers would get to use the service and how would it work?

As early as 2004, Dell acknowledged its customer service issues and maintained that was working to fix them, but once customer trust has been lost, it’s hard to win back – a lesson that Dell has been learning the hard way. In the University of Michigan's annual survey, Dell, who once enjoyed a score of 80 (in 2000), fell to 74 in 2005, but managed to climb back to 77 in 2010 (Apple holds the top spot at 84).

During its early years of falling satisfaction, customers felt Dell was aloof and unresponsive. Frustration escalated when customers felt that there was no way to reach anyone at the company to complain about service or resolve their issues. However, in 2006 the company increased its accessibility by embracing social media and spent more than $100 million to address its customer service problems.

To its credit, Dell has continued to strive toward satisfying its customers and regaining their loyalty. In 2010, Dell created its Dell Customer Advisory Panel (DellCAP) soliciting both positive and negative feedback from about 30 customers flown to Austin for a conference. Similar panels were convened in other countries, as different challenges surfaced in different markets. Fast Company blogger David Gardner is on the DellCAP committee and has been impressed with Dell’s efforts and commitment to fix its problems and change its processes.

Despite its stumbles in the past decade, Dell continues to work to rebuild customer trust. Google+ Hangouts is just one of several options Dell is considering as it continues to expand its communication channels with customers. Perhaps face-to-face discussion is the logical next step for business and stakeholder interaction.

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Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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