Emerging from Dell Hell: A Cautionary Tale of Customer Experience Management


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Dell had a very rude awakening when the “Dell Hell” Blog that was heard around the world. One customer, Jeff Jarvis wrote in his Buzzmachine blog about what his experience was as a customer.

June 21, 2005 The Buzz Machine – Jeff Jarvis

“I just got a new Dell laptop and paid a fortune for the four-year, in-home service. The machine is a lemon and the service is a lie.
I’m having all kinds of trouble with the hardware: overheats, network doesn’t work, maxes out on CPU usage. It’s a lemon. “

Jeff Jarvis’ blog was picked up by mainstream media: NY Times, Business week in 2 days – to their horror, when Dell investigated, they found that 50% of blogs on Dell were negative at this time.

Yet in spite of this, in the most part, customers are incredibly patient with a business.

They will try their best to adapt to working with a business, especially one that they have been in a relationship with for a few years.

I had a personal checking account with a national bank…. ok, it was Wells Fargo – but it was several CEO’s ago…

And I wanted to expand my business with the bank, I wanted to set up a business checking account.

When I walked into the local branch, I was told, make an appointment.
I made the appointment. And brought back the documents etc they told me they needed.

At the appointed time, not only was there no one to talk with me, but they treated me so rudely that I have never done business with them again and have told this story to hundreds of people. At every step of the way, each person was “doing their job”.

I’m sure that Wells Fargo at that same time was doing an outreach program to encourage businesses to set up checking accounts with them. Yet I was a decades long customer who was unable to do so. Talk about being out of tune: Branch staff and marketing and sales were in different silos with one repulsing the very customers the other was reaching out to.

So how does a business orchestrate the customer experience across silos? You need to see things from the point of view of the customer.

But, mapping the series of customer interactions from the customer point of view is only one piece of the puzzle.

This is like writing out the musical score for the instruments of an orchestra.

Each person responsible for specific interactions: face to face, web, phone, retail environment has their own “process” to follow.

But is this enough? No, because the customer experiences the teamwork or lack of teamwork that results from these defined processes.

A human interaction is complex, you cannot anticipate all the possible contexts within which it occurs. The employee might be in a bad mood, the customer might have a strong sense of urgency, the company policies might not have anticipated a certain type of service requirement.

We need to have ways to find out what is the effect for the customer – what does the customer actually experience.

Going back to the orchestra metaphor: someone must be listening to the entire orchestra, the tempo, the sense of each player listening to the others around them and adjusting to create an overall effect.

Who is listening to what the customer hears when we design Customer Experience?

Who is playing the role of the conductor in your Customer Experience Management Initiative?

Can you afford to ignore these questions? If Dell’s experience is anything to go by, the answer is No. They did not and they are emerging from Dell Hell, but there is still a ways to go….

April 3, 2007 The Buzz Machine – Jeff Jarvis

“what fascinates me so much about Dell is that it can rise from worst to first.

Precisely because it got hammered by customers now empowered to talk back to the wall, it had to get smarter faster.

Whether Dell can fix the rest of its problems, I don’t know.

But if it keeps on the road it’s now on, it could well end up being the smartest company in the age of customer control. ”

Negative Blogs on Dell are now down to 20% – October 2007 – Source – Lionel Menchaca, Dell’s chief blogger in presentation at Microsoft Global Summit, San Jose, California

Dell is still working on it, but they are starting to listen to what the customer experiences. And its changing the way they do business.

Customer Think is a great place for us to start to gather the tools and techniques for CEM:

What metrics are you using to guide your Customer Experience Management program?

What metrics should you be using?

What’s stopping us from using the metrics we need to guide us to successful CEM?

Mei Lin Fung
Institute of Service Organization Excellence, Inc.
Mei Lin Fung, www.isoe.com blogs on ebCEM – evidence-based Customer Experience Management. The Service Leadership Transformation Program developed in an innovative public private partnership with Avaya and Oklahoma State University received the Phillip Crosby Golden Medallion in 27. Her curriculum has been implemented by Microsoft Telesales in China, and Johnson and Johnson in Asia. She designed the first US Department of Labor approved Contact Center Apprenticeship Program in Oklahoma. Blog: Learning to Earn Customer Trust by Mei Lin Fung


  1. Nice post Mei.I would like to add to the same by pointing out some interesting ways Dell used social media as part of it’s larger business strategy to bounce back.
    Direct2Dell, Dellcommunity, IdeaStorm, and StudioDell are cases in point of Dell’s effective usage of social media to leverage the community.

    When the Jeff Jarvis controversy erupted, Dell woke up to 2 issues Jarvis highlighted-
    1.The need to find out what Dell’s customers thought.
    2.The need to participate in the conversations which thousands of Dell consumers were having without Dell.

    As Dell evolved strategies to become a more customer centric company, it also decided to use Social Media as a part of it’s bigger endeavours to bond with the consumers.
    The company immediately started analysing the content generated by hosts of it’s consumers online and responding to consumer complaints.It even started interacting with consumers on Jarvis’s blog. As several bloggers found solutions to their problems, they responded by generating positive content.
    Dell started the Direct2Dellcorporate blog for one-to-one communications with Dell where it shares information and also responds to information floating in the environment about Dell.It is also a channel used to inform consumers of any product related aberrations and Dell’s endeavours to resolve those issues.

    Following this came the Dell community– a forum to learn, share and explore, which is a forum to discuss technical issues, share best practices, etc….primarily a medium to engage the consumers through an online community.
    and Dell started the Idea storm where consumers can post their ideas for a new Dell product or service. Users can ‘post’, ‘promote’, ‘discuss’ and ‘see’ what Dell plans to do about them-the solution to ‘find out what their customers wanted.’

    Social media as a tool for customer engagement, as a tool for listening to the customer and as a tool for engaging in conversation with the customer is an obvious conclusion. Studies have indicated that a large no. of consumers defect from a company/product because of the perceived indifference of the company…Social media is a not-so-expensive medium to reduce this perceived indifference.Companies just need to give it a try.

  2. Vardana

    You are so knowledgeable on social media – what corporate, not for profit or government examples do you see out there that are worth drawing attention to?

  3. Social media is fast emerging as a tool with tremendous potential..I can site one or two examples you may be interested in.

    You may like to take a look at Corporate Blogs being used for
    showcasing ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ endeavours of companies.
    Mc Donald’s ‘Open for Discussion’Corporate Responsibility Blog and Hewlett Packard’s Blog, showcasing CSR in Asia Pacific and Japan are being used by these organisations to throw light on their efforts with respect to their global philanthropy, social enterprise, and community investment projects.

    Blogs as symbols of Corporate “ Cultures of Transparency” are another case in point. You may like to take a look at the Sun employee Blogs which provide insights into Sun from numerous sources – CEO, executives, engineers,marketers, and many more.

  4. Vandan

    A series of articles about responding to global environmental issues in a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review points out that much of the window-dressing that passes for CSR is no longer enough. It’s not that CSR isn’t a good thing, just that environmental issues, whether raw-materials shortages, impending pollutants legislation, or carbon-trading opportunities, are fast becoming a part of business survival. Financial markets expect much more action than just carbon audits, triple bottom-line accounting or a flashy blog site.

    In this new environment, one has to ask if the examples set by McDonalds and Hewlett Packard are a bit like Don Quixote, tilting at environmental windmills.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  5. Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and even harder to get back.

    A few years ago we (CRMGuru.com) gave Dell an award for CRM excellence. Dell got very high rating in our member survey on customer-centric businesses (Amazon.com was another winner). That was back in the day when Michael Dell graced the cover of major magazines.

    But then, something happened. Consultants (to Dell) I’ve spoken with over the years have told me the story of a hard-driving sales culture that had a difficult time changing. It’s one thing to post up a sign: “Customer Experience: Own It” — as I’ve heard Dell did a few years ago, but it’s another to make sure all the piece parts of an organization (including outsourced parts) work together to deliver the experience that customers want. Especially when a competitor like HP has spent a few years building up some experience in that regard.

    Getting to my point, I think that “Dell Hell” and losing market share has spurred founder Dell to make real changes. And, I fearlessly predict that Dell will makes its way back to a position of respect.

    But it’s amazing what a “long tail” a bad reputation has. A recent post in InformationWeek, How Dell Is (Far Too Much) Like Starbucks stirred up another flurry of mostly negative Dell comments. (And, gee, do ya think Shultz appreciates the association with Dell?)

    It’s great that Dell is finally listening, and nice to see examples like Dell adding an XP option because customers wanted to buy it instead of Vista. That fits with the selling culture. But is Dell really serious about improving the quality of its products and service? Plenty of bloggers are willing to say “no,” and that may be all that it takes to keep Dell in Hell.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom


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