Success is what organizations strive for. But the most forward-thinking companies don't sit back and enjoy their well-earned triumphs when they do achieve success. Instead, they search for new ventures, sometimes bringing a complete transformation to their businesses.
For Dell, this transformation happened in June, when the technology giant did the opposite of what many other companies are currently in the process of doing-it embarked on a $25 billion endeavor to buy back its shares and take the company private. Shareholders approved the plan in September.
In the words of Founder Michael Dell, this strategic shift will allow Dell to "focus 100 percent on customers and take a long view of investments." In other words, Dell doesn't have to answer to its shareholders, making sure it lives up to their financial expectations. It can, instead, shift this focus on its customers.
At last week's Dell World 2013, Dell spoke excitedly about the new venture, which was completed in October. "Privatization has created a renewed sense of excitement about Dell," he said. "I feel like I'm part of the world's largest startup."
Of course, with revenue of almost $57 billion in 2012, the company is far from the startup Dell created in 1984. But there is a definite similarity. Back then, as an 18-year-old college student, Dell was taking apart computers in his dorm room when he realized that components were made by different companies, pushing the cost up. "I thought there had to be a simpler and more effective way to get these computers in the hands of people," he said.
A company that listens
Three decades on, that vision of change is still a hallmark of Dell-both at the company and of its founder. Dell is committed to retain the success his namesake company has achieved by making the necessary changes. And it starts with listening to customers and understanding their needs. "We're a company with big ears," he notes.
Listening to customers is not solely a high-level concept for Dell. Apart from IdeaStorm, which gives customers the opportunity to share their ideas with the company and allows the brand to take the pulse of its customers in a public forum, Dell listens in a very granular fashion, in each of its divisions, and then finds solutions to improve its business. For example, customers voiced their desire for faster delivery. And, as Bobbi Dangerfield, Dell's vice president for commercial sales operations, noted, the company introduced Smart Selection to be able to ship pre-configured, business-ready systems as early as the following day.
Dell also redesigned its website following the analysis of customer insight. Dangerfield explained that the site had been built from an internal perspective and segmented customers in different categories. But customers themselves were not always sure which category they fell under, leading to confusion and increased call volume to the contact center-something every organization wants to avoid. So the site was simplified, giving customers clear options that improve velocity.
Taking a proactive approach
Customers seek ease of doing business with companies that seem to understand what their customers need even before the client himself realizes. Dell wants to be one of those brands and is taking steps to make sure it preempts customers' needs and prevents problems. This is one reason why Dell puts an extraordinary amount of effort into testing. Sam Burd, vice president and general manager of Dell's PC product group, said the company really studies how customers will be using different products to make sure they're resistant to damage. Seemingly small things, like working hinges on a laptop, can be large determinants of the customer experience, and are therefore tested rigorously to make sure they don't break. Dell also focuses on keyboards to make sure the keys are resistant to use and looks deeply at what glass should be used for monitors and tablets to improve durability. "We test items beyond reasonable usage," he said.
And since customers' use of devices is in constant flux, Dell needs to keep its ear to the ground to make sure it's adapting to these continuous shifts. For example, notebooks are normally carried by customers in their bags and therefore need to be sturdy and able to withstand damage. As Erin Walline, director of user experience, said, the company studies how customers interact with devices and then incorporates these insights into its engineering specifications.
Similarly, when a customer raises an issue with a product, Dell not only resolves that individual problem, but it also makes changes to the actual product to avoid similar mishaps in the future.
Another initiative is Dell's ProSupport Plus, a service that uses environmental intelligence, including remote monitoring, data analysis, and automated support, to identify problems before they actually impact the customer, avoiding downtime for Dell's enterprise clients, to whom the service is targeted. According to Doug Schmitt, vice president for Dell Services Global Support and Deployment, this initiative also stemmed from customer insights and is helping Dell be proactive in its support.
Being proactive is part of the four customer imperatives that Dell has been focusing on throughout the process to privatize:
- Transform: Unencumbered by shareholder expectations, Dell will be able to focus on the transformative solutions that its customers need and expect of the brand. "The focus is getting customers to the next generation," Dell noted. "We will help transition them to the future. One transformation that Dell is investing in is robust servers that help clients be more agile and in turn improve their customers' experience, for example allowing for web pages to load quickly.
- Connect: Not only are today's customers increasingly mobile, but as Dell noted, we are living in a multi-device environment. While newer devices like smartphones and tablets have taken the world by storm, Dell is not forgetting the PC market, which is where most companies start from. "We are investing and innovating in this space," he said. Further, the company is recognizing the growth in virtual clients which are being adopted at an accelerated pace. One client featured at Dell World, AIG, realized just how important virtualization was after Hurricane Sandy when many of its staff members weren't able to travel to the office. Instead, using virtual networks, they were able to work remotely.
- Inform: Big Data is on everyone's minds. "The amount of data is growing exponentially and its power needs to be unleashed," Dell said. Robust insights will help companies make the right decisions. Dell is leveraging power capabilities to develop solutions for data analytics, helping its clients be more agile at analyzing and extracting actionable insights from Big Data.
- Protect: Technology has brought a number of challenges, among them security, which remains a top concern for many organizations. This is another area that Dell is focusing on, using data to proactively identify threats, stopping them before they happen. One bank that uses Dell's managed security services was able to thwart an attack after Dell spotted the malicious activity, identified the vulnerability, and made changes to avoid a massive theft of customer data.
Dell underscored the reason for the transformation both during his keynote address at Dell World and during a press conference, in which he reiterated how one thing at the company will remain the unchanged: "Technology changes but our commitment to customers remains the same," Dell said.