CAPturing the Moment


That doesn’t seem like such a hard thing to do – to listen. But have you really tried it lately? Listening, not just hearing, but full-on, completely committed, totally steppin’-in-what-a-person-is-layin’-down listening can be one of the hardest things you can ever do and love at the same time. Maybe that’s why so many companies (including ours from time to time) have such a hard time relating to those who matter most, their customers – they just aren’t listening.

This is not to say that they aren’t hearing what their customers are telling them. But, you see, hearing someone speak is easy for many of us. Noise goes into the ear and then gets processed in the brain for action, filing or deletion*. (*deletion is especially likely if the noise going into the ear involves comments around organizing a closet whilst the receiving party is watching and willing the Dallas Cowboys to victory.) It’s the actual listening to someone that is hard, because you don’t just listen with your ears. You also listen with your eyes; your emotions; your empathy; your energy; your ego; your entire self if you want to do it right. 

Yesterday, June 15, was Day 1 of Dell’s inaugural round of Customer Advisory Panel (CAP) Days conversations with customers from around the U.S. and did we (Dell) ever do some intense listening. For those of you out there who may not be familiar with CAP Days, here’s a real high-level overview of the program. We invited 30 individuals who are very active in social media to come to Dell HQ in Round Rock, Texas for a day of meetings to discuss whatever is top of mind for them. The groups were split into two groups of 15, with Day 1 being a day for folks who have had, ahem, not the most flattering things to say about us recently. Day 2, Thursday, June 17, brings in a group of 15 who have been recent vocal advocates and/or fans of the brand. For more on CAP Days or just to read some nice prose, see these fabulous posts from Mack Collier, Haley Quarles, Liz Strauss, David Gardner and Mike Brewer (to name a few;-) or view my friend and colleague Sarah Richardson‘s new favorite YouTube video from TommyTRC:

 The CAPgendas for each day were driven via comments from, conversations with and pre-event surveys of the CAPticipants. As such, it was no surprise to us that customer support and product issues were going to be a subjects brought up early and often. We heard loud and clear that

  • spending hours on the phone with support with no resolution has to stop. Time is valuable and something we can’t give back;

  • more training, autonomy to make an issue right and escalation paths are needed for support agents;

  • we need to make it easier for customers to find the right phone number to get connected with the right department;

  • there is a perception with customers and the public that Dell generally doesn’t care if people have a problem with their products or services;

  • and much, much more.

 Click on the image to see a larger version (to see more images check out the CAP Days set on Flickr.)

While these themes my not have been a surprise, what was a bit unexpected was how quickly the tenor of the conversation evolved from complaining about or reliving bad past experiences with Dell support and products to an actionable desire to engage in helpful and meaningful dialogue on how Dell can do better.  

The day wasn’t all about support and product issues though. After our spirited opening session focused on support and products, with a dash of questioning some of Dell’s marketing strategies added to the mix, the discussion moved to – the purchase process and the design of the site itself. After lunch the group traveled to the Dell Design lab to see some of Dell’s latest and greatest products and get an overview of how and why Dell does design in its products. The day wrapped up with another lively discussion around Dell support as well as Dell’s recycling and sustainability programs, with a focus on our partnership with Goodwill.

Click on the image to see a larger version

When I sat down to blog about yesterday’s CAP events, I had every intention of going into more detail about the different panels and discussions – and we still will in the coming days – but I just keep going back to the spirit of cooperation that emanated from each session. These were 15 people who we have, at a minimum, disappointed in the recent past – 15 people who were so disappointed that they went to their vast social networks and told everyone about it. As such, these fine women and men could have taken this opportunity to just let us have it for eight or so hours. But instead, they said what they came to say, shared what they and their social networks needed to share, and then they got right to work with the members of the Dell team in attendance on looking for ways to make our processes and company better. Many of the CAPtendees expressed during breaks and at dinner following the event how impressed they were by the passion and caring for the customers demonstrated by the panelists. Many also stated, and we agree, that the CAP Days are really about what happens after the customers leave. We are committed to delivering on our promise to execute ideas and key changes where possible and to stay accountable for taking their feedback seriously.

We could not have asked for a better outcome from Day 1 and I have every reason to believe that Thursday will bring an equal helping of goodness. Of course, our desire to listen does not stop with the 30 CAPtendees of these CAP Days. Tell us where you think we’re falling short/doing well. What are your ideas on how we can improve something that has been a source of irritation for you or yours in the past? Please share your story – we’re listening.

***UPDATE – Second Verse as Grand as the First***

As I’m sitting down to update our CAPtivities, I’ve been in the office for about 25 minutes and have already had three folks swing by my opulent cube to pass along some kudos about the buzz being heard regarding CAP Days. And I’ve received more than a handful of congratulatory e-mails for my role in our just completed CAP Day meetings. (Day 2 was yesterday, June 17 – more on that in a moment.) What I’ve found interesting are the comments that have followed the congrats. Comments like “I bet your glad to have CAP Days behind you,” or “I know that was a lot of work for you guys, I’m sure you are happy that it’s over.” While I understand their intention by such comments, I am quick to remind them that absolutely NOTHING is over – in fact, we are just beginning – and in all actuality, I am beyond eager to cultivate and continue the relationships formed this week. Our customers are amazing people who, even those not pleased with us at the moment, truly seem to want to see us succeed, get better and be around for a long, long time.


Day two of our inaugural CAP Days meetings (see, I told you there be more) were just as lively and eye-poppingly informative as the first round. And even though the June 17 CAPticipants came to the table as a group we identified as general advocates of the brand, we anticipated that there would still be plenty of tough questions and passionate idea exchanges. We were not disappointed.


Reminiscent of Tuesday’s event, many conversations centered on issues of products, and customer/technical support. Beyond the stories of where we have disappointed, what was eerily similar to the conversation on Day 1 was the groups eagerness to work with us to better understand our reasons for our current processes and then to offer up some actionable suggestions – both near- and long-term. Before getting to the topic of customer experience, the day began with discussions around what it means to be an evangelist for a brand, how you choose the companies to support, what a company can do to help its fans be even more effective ambassadors of the brand. Then the conversation flowed to the topic of social media and the group’s expectations of Dell’s activity and presence in the space in the coming year. Throughout all the discussions the group was completely engaged and the team members representing Dell were locked in and listening.


Liz Strauss and Dell's Caroline Conway chat about the new Dell Streak Mini 5 Android device during Dell CAP Days


Click on the image to see a larger version (to see more images check out the CAP Days set on Flickr.)

And that’s not just my opinion as the following tweet from CAPticipant Susan Payton (Twitter handle @eggmarketing) supports. “i’m totally buzzing off sharing our opinions w/ dell. i really feel like they’re listening. #dellcap


Our meetings this week were but the first days of long-term adventure with the CAPticipants and their networks, as well as others we meet along the way. So, we have a lot of work to do. The feedback received over these two days was absolutely amazing and the event was great, but as Dave Gardner so aptly calls out in his recent Fast Company post on Dell CAP Days, our success is going to be measured in the follow up. So please stay tuned. You won’t want to miss what can happen when customers talk to and share with a company that truly listens. 

About the Author: Vance Morton