Dell has been the whipping boy of bloggers for years. From battery recall snafus to shoddy customer support to the infamous Dell Hell experience of Jeff Jarvis. The personal computer maker has been a case study on how not to engage with consumers.
The company took steps in mid-2006 to use the web as a tool to converse with customers through the creation of its direct2dell blog. This approach allowed for quick alerting of problems to Dell customers, but still comes from Dell corporate PR with a spin. This isn't the conversation customers want.
As I was reading through my feeds today I came across this post on FutureLab by Stefan Kolle pointing to a new Dell system called Dell IdeaStorm. This is a big step forward by Dell to engage in true conversations, make customers feel important and make up for years of relative silence. The site asks users for ideas, helps them share ideas and rank them through a Digg-like voting system. Each article and idea has the ability for comments to be shared to help shape them further.
I think Dell has finally found the right vehicle to communicate with consumers. Dell's problem in the past has been the delivery of the message. By involving the customer to deliver the message they've come upon the best of both worlds, more empowered customers and a quality communications vehicle to reach and support them.
Going forward Dell should promote the heck out of this thing. They need to feed on the community architecture, implement the suggestions and reply personally to anyone with an issue or opposing voice.
How many other companies should tap their collective customer base to co-develop ideas? The technology to make something like this succeed is here folks, it has been for years. The trick to making this work is to a) see the value your customers offer you, b) learn how to best interact and engage with them and c) learn how to turn these ideas into products. Once there is a product, the marketing launch can use the same customers to help reach markets quicker than ever before. Imagine the possibilities!
Update: Just read further though my feeds and see that Jermiah Owyang of PodTech has similar feelings.