Dell Launches Community Feedback Sites

Dell Computer , anxious to repair its battered image with the consumer public, launched a pair of Web sites designed to build bridges with its customer base and solicit user feedback.

Founder Michael Dell, back in the saddle as the CEO, IdeaStorm and StudioDell at a Texas education reform conference.

The news, designed to restore customers’ trust in the company after some shaky accounting and mismanagement, was overshadowed when Apple  CEO Steve Jobs blasted the teacher’s unions.

IdeaStorm, a social engineering site akin to Digg, is written entirely in AppExchange by . Users are encouraged to submit suggestions for what they want out of the company and vote up or down on the different suggestions.

In the five days since the launch, there have been more than 1,200 submissions, although there is a lot of overlap and redundancy.

For example, the top page features “No extra software option” with 26,726 votes, while just below it is “Build computers not loaded with extra software” with 16,413 votes. Likewise, there are two separate options objecting to the Indian call centers that have brought incredible criticism in recent years.

The request for a choice of Linux preloaded, either Fedora, Ubuntu or OpenSUSE, is the runaway winner with more than 65,000 votes. Other requests are for no operating system to be preloaded and alternatives to Microsoft products, such as Firefox and OpenOffice.

The clear pattern in the top 20 choices is that customers want more options when making a purchase. Mark Margevicius, a vice president with Gartner, thinks Dell will listen.

“One of the things Michael Dell has always prided himself on is that he has established customer intimacy because of the direct sales model. The fact they are getting kicked in the teeth over customer support is hard for them” he told

Bob Pearson, a spokesperson for Dell, said Michael wanted to hear customer ideas, but said not every idea can be adopted.

“Not all will be considered, but then again, not a lot of companies would do this, either,” he said. “What we need to let the community know we’re listening.”

While Dell needs to work on expanding into the new, emerging markets, it also has to fix its problems at home, said Margevicius.

“Think about where the majority of their market share comes from,” he said. “It doesn’t solve other problems but it does help you to grow your existing customers. It keeps the momentum going forward where they have been successful.”

Pearson said there will be an expansion of the site on Friday, called Ideas in Action, where the company will focus on the top ideas and respond to the major demands from customers that have been piling up.

StudioDell, which Pearson described as Dell’s version of YouTube, is an educational site that uses a combination of user-submitted video clips as well as podcasts for home, small business and IT users. It features individual customer testimonials, tech tips and case studies.

Up to 25 videos per week are posted, along with user-created video clips, which Dell checks before posting.

Margevicius also thinks this is a smart move.

“Getting a connection with the customer is something he needed in a commodity market. Both of these sites will help Dell do that,” he said.

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