Inside Dell's Customer Experience Road Map

Erin Walline, Dell's new executive director of global customer experience, talks about revamping the customer experience.
Customer Experience

The past few years have been rough for Dell. Struggling to maintain its position in the evolving computing ecosystem, the PC giant was taken private in a deal financed by founder Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partnerships in 2013. As Dell recoups, it has become clear that the company must shift from being product focused to customer centric.

1to1 Media caught up with Dell's new Executive Director of Global Customer Experience, Erin Walline, to discuss her vision for the company's customer experience and Dell's approach to the Internet of Things. The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed.To listen to the full-length podcast version of this interview, click here.

1to1 Media: You're also the director of engineering, user experience, and design at Dell. How does your engineering background influence your role as customer experience director?

Erin Walline: To give you a sense of how my role morphed into a broader customer experience role, I'll give you some background on what usability engineering is and how that plays into a bigger role. A usability engineer at Dell can come from a few different backgrounds. Me personally, I have a human factors engineering background and that is typically a subset of industrial engineering. Industrial engineering is a field where you look at things like efficiency, operations, and manufacturing.

What's important is we have to think about designing processes with a user in mind. That's the origin of human factors engineering and I'll expand on that. The other portion of the organization that I ran had people who are cognitive psychologists, behavioral scientists, and human computer interaction engineers so it's an interesting mix of people who essentially study users in their environments as they interact with our products and determine what pain points exist.

That team was established because Dell recognized the need to not just think of the design of a product but also the form and function. That came together in what we call the experience design group. The way that relates to my new role is basically, as I was running that team and working on solving some of these more complicated product design and experience problems, the leadership at Dell said we're making some incredible strides on the products and streamlining the experience for our users and we want you to look at that more holistically across Dell.

How do you centralize the data and map all those touchpoints?

As you know, large companies have no shortage of data and at Dell we have a lot of data. The best way to describe this from a strategy perspective is on one end of the spectrum you have important quant data. That includes high-level customer satisfaction or loyalty metrics that help us understand what's going on.

That type of data, while it can give you a lot of great information, it can't give you everything. And so, on the other end of the spectrum, you need to start looking at things from a qualitative perspective. The tools that we use there are varied, but one of them involves what we call customer journey research and mapping.

So we partner with people who are trying to purchase our products, whether it's a large commercial customer, small business, or consumer, and we study their experiences and interactions with Dell across the customer journey. Not just what it's like to use a product or set it up, but literally what is it like if they have to call our tech support?

We want to see where things may or may not break down. What can we improve? And so when you think about those two ends of the spectrum, it's important for our customer experience strategy to have both. You need a corporate barometer for how well you're doing and whether people would recommend you. And on the other end, you have to look through the eyes of the user. When we start seeing trends in both the quant and qualitative data, it's very easy to see if something is a problem versus just noise.

Given that PC sales have been declining, can you elaborate on where Dell sees an opportunity to improve the customer experience and drive the most revenue when it comes to consumer products?

A PC is still the device that people use to do work. There are a lot of different devices out there and all of them have purposeful roles in the ecosystem whether you're a consumer or business. People use devices in different ways but ultimately when you think of the personal computer user experience, we have to come at it from a very strategic perspective. So I'm going to back up and talk about some of the things we've done on the project side and I'll bridge to some broader customer experience perspectives.

One of the things we noticed is Dell has a lot of great products that are designed for very specific users. We know commercial users for example are going to need an excellent typing experience and long battery life. On the consumer side, those things matter too but it might be that you want a certain screen because it's for consuming media. So we started looking at how our users use the device and make decisions about our products in a way that allowed us to design very specifically for those use cases.

And as we were looking at that, we realized that there are a set of core human machine interface requirements. From a user's perspective, when you approach a Dell product, you want it to be a familiar thing. You don't want to have to figure out where's my power button, where does the cord go? So we took these core human machine interfaces, or first level touchpoints with the system, and asked ourselves, how do we define these in such a way that these things can be more consistent across the portfolio?

And so when you think about the PC space, we want everything that we develop and design to be easy to use. We want our users to be efficient, and most importantly, we want them to be satisfied with the experience. You can get there if you drive certain user behaviors and experience tenets into the product. Starting from a few years ago, there has been a lot more consistency in our professional and consumer products.

Dell is known for its IdeaStorm site where customers can share ideas. What else has Dell done to incorporate customer input?

I'll give you a few examples. Social media is of course still important to us. Twice a year, the team I'm running does a corporate Net Promoter Score survey that goes to a sampling of our commercial customers and consumer customers. The reason we do that twice a year is so we can have this longitudinal perspective of how Dell was doing over time at the highest level.

There are different kinds of customer satisfaction surveys and Dell happened to select NPS a few years ago. It asks, how likely are you to recommend Dell as a company to do business with? Would you recommend these products? That's fundamentally the question we need to ask ourselves. The consumer or business isn't going to answer that question positively if they had a bad or consistently bad experience in any of these different functional areas. So the product has to be good and the support experience has to be good.

We are looking at increasing the cadence of the survey for our consumer customers because those tend be situations where sampling the experience twice a year is not enough for our consumer customers. We have a longer relationship with our commercial customers and we have methods of getting feedback from our commercial clients through sales and our partners.

Another thing that we do is we will often recruit people who are the target users, and may not necessarily be existing customers, because it's important to look outside our customers so we can understand competitively what's happening. We need to know what's going on in and outside of the tech industry because a lot of experiential lessons can come from anyplace.

Another example is we host customer advisory councils. We have several of what we call our customer solution centers all over the world. The idea behind the solution centers is that when we want to acquire new business or make sure we keep our existing customers up to date on what's going on from a product road map perspective, we can bring them to these centers and talk about what's going on and have physical hands-on examples.

Dell also recently opened an IoT lab. What type of work is being done there?

That is a fascinating business for Dell. An important thing to note is that we're looking at it not just from the things or device perspective, but also from a more strategic perspective in that we're looking at the infrastructure side of things. Dell's Internet of Things strategy is very much about making sure that not only do we have gateways and devices on the edge of the network to interact with whatever environment we're in, but also how can we bring in the predictive analytics side of things to help our customer make better decisions for their business.

I'll use building automation as an example. Companies are looking for the right investments for their customers and everyone wants to save money. So building automation actually plays a big role in that because if we can develop a product that can sit on the network and help that company regulate what decisions are being made from a facilities and energy usage perspective, that's a very good thing. We're also making products that live within say, an ATM machine.

The key message with the IoT is we're not just looking at the devices themselves that might live in the hands of the user, but also how do you aggregate [the data] and analyze that to make better business decisions. Really exciting things happening there. Our traditional Dell customers are large companies and institutions and consumers, but the IoT space opens a whole new swath of customers for us because it's not a space we've played in in the past.

To listen to the full-length podcast version of this interview, click here.