Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Dell Begins Blog To Communicate With Customers

Dell computer, the World’s largest computer maker (and most successful mass customizer) have set up a blog called ‘One2One – Direct Conversations with Dell‘ as a way of improving communication between the company and its customers.The new blog is being used by key staff to discuss new product developments, customer service issues and product design philosophy.

One very significant post was made by Manish Mehta, Director of Global e-Commerce.  Titled ‘Un-concreting the cow path‘, the post describes how the website started out easy to use but became less so over time:

We tested the laws of e-commerce in those days by challenging conventional wisdom that complex configurable products could never be sold and supported online. We innovated, we broke glass within Dell, we made a science out of the purchase path.

The unfortunate truth is that we ended up concreting the cow path.  We measured everything. We began designing and orienting the site around those measurements.  Over the last couple of years, we watched as our site became larger, more complex, harder to use, and downright fatiguing.  We ended up making easy very hard.

He goes on to say that they are re-designing their site to make it easier to use again, and that they want to ‘blend the science with the art with a focus on our users’.

Mr. Metha is correct is his assessment that the site had become too complex.  Late last year, I ordered a laptop on the site for someone.  The process of selecting and de-selecting choices was, in my opinion, somewhat overwhelming, especially for a consumer making a once-in-five-years purchase.  There was certainly no ‘customer experience’ to be enjoyed.

Many of the academic studies that have been carried out on the topic of purchasing mass customized products find that it is extremely important not to present the customer with an overload of information regarding choices.  No doubt Dell have studied this as well and we can expect a more user-friendly experience on in the future.

That Dell have started a blog at all is a recognition of the growing importance of this means of communication between enterprises and their customers.  Blogging evangelists like Robert Scoble have for a few years promoted the idea of business blogs, and while the idea is popular in software/technology companies, it is slower to take off in major manufacturers.  It could be the case that the Dell example will act as a tipping point for mainstream manufacturing companies to enter the blogosphere.

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