Interview with Lionel Menchaca of Direct2Dell

One of the most remarkable experiences that I was lucky enough to have at SXSWi was spending time with Lionel Menchaca, editor, moderator and chief blogger at Direct2Dell and his team who are focused on Dell’s new media outreach efforts. Because we get so many questions about large corporations opening their doors to transparent conversation, I asked if he’d share some thoughts with our readers here and he generously agreed.

1. What is the purpose of Direct2Dell? It’s primary purpose is to give our customers a place to share their thoughts, ask questions, and tell us what we can improve on. My hope is that customers think that Direct2Dell is a helpful source of information. We try to share details of our products and services in a more personal way.

2. Based on that purpose, how do you choose which topics are appropriate for the Direct2Dell blog? What items are considered not appropriate for the blog? We have over 20 core Dell bloggers on Direct2Dell and that gives us a wide range of expertise… a quick look at our category list gives a good idea of the scope. In terms of content: I look at three things to help shape topics at any given time: 1) Feedback from Direct2Dell readers 2) What’s happening in the blogosphere that may be of interest to our readers and 3) Ideas from the Dell bloggers themselves. About the only core topic area I avoid on Direct2Dell is financial performance. I can talk hardware, gadgets and OS details all day long… I’m just not an Investor Relations guy…

3. A recent post on Dell’s foray into Linux generated more than 500 comments. Linux is also the hottest item on Ideastorm. How is Dell balancing this overwhelming response through your new media tools with the actual size of the market opportunity? Any thoughts on why this audience is so over-represented in your forums? Linux users tend to be a well-connected group. The majority of them use mailing lists and community sites of their chosen Linux distribution, linux-dell-laptops group at Yahoo, or to utilize the expertise of the open source community. Dell has been supporting Linux on Dell servers since 1999, we started our first public mailing list in 2001 to help IT administrators run Linux on Dell servers. Now we now maintain multiple mailing lists today. On the client side, while Linux users represent a small portion of the overall user base, it’s still a sizable community. What we hope to do in the near future is to offer the Linux user base even more options and flexibility than we’ve offered before. More to come soon.

4. One of the most visible topics handled on Direct2Dell has been the challenges surrounding the XPS 700 (Dell’s high-performance gaming machine has faced delays and customer concerns about upgrade paths). How do you think that transparency of Direct2Dell has influenced Dell’s handling of these customer concerns? Transparency is an important aspect of blogs in general and it’s something that’s critically important to Direct2Dell. To me, transparency means addressing the pressing issues directly and honestly. In the case of the XPS 700, lots of us worked toward that goal. In the end, though some things took longer to address, there’s no question that transparency enhanced our credibility with XPS 700 users. [VM Note: humorous take on the PC vs. MAc tv ads substituting Dell XPS here]
5. Many of our readers are struggling with beginning new media projects due to concerns about negativity. How did you prepare your internal team to deal with negative comments on the blog? Basically, we did our research. We knew that our US Customer Service needed to improve. About four months before we launched Direct2Dell, we began monitoring the blogosphere to find customers who had blogged about customer service-related issues with their Dell hardware. We also created a team of Customer Advocates who help resolve these issues, and I still work pretty closely with that team today. That work helped us get a pretty good handle on the kinds of issues we could expect. We also knew that for the blog to have a chance, we had to be committed to publishing negative comments and to addressing negative topics head on (battery recall, overseas call centers, etc.). While it made some Dell folks uneasy at first, it’s clear that honesty is the best strategy.

6. On the heels of Direct2Dell’s success, Dell has recently launched 2 additional new media projects ” StudioDell and the highly popular IdeaStorm. How have you been staffing up internally (or externally) to handle all the listening and responding needed to continue an active conversation? For StudioDell we beefed up our broadcast media team to allow us to create a lot more video content. For IdeaStorm, we work with an extended team of folks, and also work closely with key team members of our Corporate Strategy team. They help us assess the popular ideas and are also instrumental in connecting our group with other departments that can help with execution side of things.

7. Most importantly, inquiring minds want to know, have you and Jeff Jarvis had a chance to hug it out in person? No, not yet. I have to say I do look forward to meeting Jeff in person in the future. This year, I hope to be on the road a bit more—something I hope gives me a chance to meet more customers. Connecting with customers is one of the things I really enjoy about running Direct2Dell. I work with lots of customers daily mainly through e-mail, and I get to know some of them pretty well. That said, there’s no substitute for meeting someone face to face.

If you have your own questions for Lionel, leave them in the comments here or visit him at Direct2Dell.

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