Dell Takes Command of Social Media Listening

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"Listening is the infrastructure behind customer centricity," Maribel Sierra said during her keynote at Social Customer 2011. "It can inform and drive every aspect of a business."

"Listening is the infrastructure behind customer centricity," Maribel Sierra said during her keynote at Social Customer 2011. "It can inform and drive every aspect of a business."

Sierra, Dell's director of global social media and communities, is a passionate advocate of customer listening and the benefits it provides. "Listening works," she said, adding that even if you can't resolve every issue, customers appreciate that you listen to their ideas and concerns. Listening positively impacts NPS, brand, and more.
For Dell, social media is an especially important listening post and customer interaction channel. In fact, CEO Michael Dell uses Twitter and Chatter, for example. So, with the support of CMO Karen Quintos, the company decided to build on its social media strategy by adding a command center. The command center isn't there to triage customer service, Sierra said. It's a way to coordinate the social media interactions and strategies of decentralized teams from other departments. "Social is a 'radio' for all employees to listen directly to customers instead of through an internal filter," Sierra said.

Dell's social media command center tracks trends and sentiment, handles the containment of viral issues, coordinates social media training, maintains standards for social media interactions, and shares best practices across the organization. It started with five people; it's now staffed by about 15 people who interact with customers in 11 languages. On average, customers post 25,000 comments per day; the goal is for the company to respond to inquiries within four hours. The bulk of customers' conversations are ideas and suggestions, as well as service requests.

According to Sierra, Dell's NPS team saw so much value from the initial test of the five-person command center that it provided the budget for five additional people. Sierra recommends that social media leaders "start small, make a big case for growth, and then get loud about your success."

Sierra shared other advice, as well:

  • Visual matters: The physical space of the command center helps build buy-in and convert non-believers.
  • Get it in writing: Companies need to have a social media policy and training. Sierra and her team built a whole curriculum that includes principles, policies, and governance.
  • Offer support: The command center team conducts listening training for other employees who use social media to interact with customers.
  • Balance push/pull mechanisms: Empower subject matter experts to interact directly with customers. Influencers and staff make for powerful advocates.
  • Reinvent every day: Don't get complacent or stay static. Keep pace with trends and changing customer needs, expectations, and preferences.

"Why listen?" Sierra asked. "To make change."

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