It is like any other information technology company’s development centre in Bengaluru, or for that matter anywhere else on the planet. Clean, functional, temperature- controlled and filled with casually-dressed techies walking around, ruminating mostly about the weekend that went by and perhaps about work the week ahead.
But on Monday, when the sky over the city was getting menacingly dark, readying for a downpour that would immobilise a large part of the city until late evening, an invitation to visit Dell International’s office in the heart of the city was a welcome gift in the form of a temporary shelter.
A few minutes and barely 200 metres into the building it still remained a gift, but not just as a rain shelter. It was also a chance to see what NASA’s mission control room might look like, which most get to see only in Hollywood sets, made famous by movies like the 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks.
But neither is this NASA, nor are we in Houston. This is Dell’s new 24/7 Social Media Listening Center in Bengaluru. A four-foot high traditional Indian lamp, dressed in marigold and an assortment of flowers sits bang in the middle of the 5500-sq ft room. Surrounded by nearly 100 work stations, the lamp stands like an out-of-place decoration in a room that was built to listen. The main wall is overlaid with a 40 feet by 12 feet flat television screen comprising 30-odd flat panels. From this room, 75 Dell engineers address an assortment of queries coming in about Dell products from 60 countries.
This is not just another call centre set up to address the myriad Dell customers screaming for help in almost every language spoken in the world. It is a listening centre and chatter is happening on Dell’s pages on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, three of the most used social media platforms in the world. On the big screen, colourful graphs and “speedometers” come alive with action, summarising the collective temperament of Dell customers from around the world – all real-time.
The visiting master of ceremonies for the day is Douglas Schmitt, vice-president, Global Support and Deployment at Dell. He is here to tell Hindustan Times that nearly half of all the queries Dell customers pose on social media is answered by these 75 engineers in Bengaluru. Dell on an average receives 11,000 such queries/feedback every single week, making Bengaluru the Texas-based $60-billion technology company’s biggest listening centre.
Schmitt says the challenge for Dell is twofold. First and foremost, addressing the immediate technical glitches faced by 110 million pieces of Dell hardware strewn across the world and covered by the company’s service support. Second, and perhaps more important for Dell, is to accurately catch patterns in problems reported and send them to the company’s product developers and sales teams across the world.
On both counts, the engineers in Bengaluru are delivering, according to Schmitt. The first response to any query or problem reported by any Dell customer sitting in any time zone is responded to in less than an hour. “It’s more like 20 minutes, but no more than an hour,” he adds.
On the product improvement front he offers a more tangential example that is not directly related to something Dell developed. Windows 10, the latest operating system from Microsoft, has absorbed at least 10 changes to its original release on the basis of feedback received from Dell customers who use the company’s hardware, but it comes pre-loaded with the Microsoft product.
While this is a first in India, similar centres operate out of the US and China and two more are planned: one in Slovakia and another in China. Despite being the youngest in this growing maze, the Bengaluru facility has been made the nerve centre that controls the entire network.
Schmitt says the reason for fast-tracking Bengaluru’s promotion is not about cost arbitrage that most outside Dell would be quick to assume, but the team. The Bengaluru team that runs this listening centre are engineers handpicked for their experience in the Dell family and who understand the essential DNA of Dell – to listen.
As the man who heads the $4.6-billion service vertical for Dell, Schmitt says the investment in Bengaluru has already started paying off. Nearly 85% of customers who had something “bad” to say about Dell products have been moved to a more “positive” zone over the last quarter.
That must be music to the ears of any manager who loses sleep over his brand’s image and a good reason why Dell now wants to patent the algorithm that was written in Bengaluru to listen to its customers from around the world.