Dell, Reddit and Customer Focus

Reddit is a site for what’s new and popular on the web (votes by the user community rate web links). That user community is highly skewed toward software engineers who are a bit irreverent (as some of the language in this post shows).

Today Reddit linked to: Introducing the Dell De-Crapifier… [the broken link was removed] which is essentially a tool to help you get rid of all the extra software you get with the Dell computer. Dell gets paid by software companies to pre-install software on the computer (Google may pay $1 billion over 3 years).

It’s a very dissatifiying experience to pull a brand new computer out of the box and be spammed with a bunch of trial software. After removing all of the crap, ([which] took a significant amount of time) it booted much faster and performed like it should. I kept thinking it would be nice to have an automated way to remove all this stuff. Thus was born the Dell De-Crapifier script.

Now, to be fair, I know most all of the major PC manufacturers have similar practices of installing trialware. I would suspect they don’t make any profit on the hardware (or even a loss) and they make their money on the kickbacks from the software companies. I don’t know.

The comments to the post are full of gems like:

Why not demand a better product from OEMs rather than cleanin up their crap for them and letting them continue to give customers what they don’t want?

It’s the OS that sucks.

Try a Linux machine that doesn’t need this crap.

Reddit is full of software people who don’t like Windows (Linux is their OS of choice). They take every opportunity to disparage Windows.

How do you use this? I just bought an Inspiron 6000 and want to murder it but then I came across this program.

Yeah the tool is not something most can really use easily.

Anything similar available for a Hewlett Packard. I’ve got tonnes of pre-installed stuff on it and boot time is paaaaaaaaainful.

I thought this was an amusing post and it points to a real customer focus problem. Dell is complicating customers lives and is likely very influenced by the money they are paid to do so. I am sure they would claim the extra software is a feature that adds value to customers (and some is I am sure for some customers).

One of the things Dell is doing with this practice is a form of price discrimination (in this case a knowledge and time wasting discrimination). Dell allows users who are knowledgeable to get rid of the extra stuff (similar to allowing users to get a lower price under certain conditions). This solution is not a lean solution which factors in the time of the customer.

I think most of Dell’s users do not notice what Dell is doing, exactly. Reddit readers, however, by and large, do, which is one thing that makes reading Reddit fun. I find Reddit’s users can point out, not just problems, but the systemic causes of those problems (so they vote up the links that do exactly this).

Most customers might not see the chain leading to their frustration but they do know they don’t like that the computer is slow and they have to wade through all sorts of software (much of which they don’t need or want). I think the author was exactly right that the source of the problem is Dell’s monetary incentive is to get paid to add more and more stuff not to give the users what they need.

Reddit has very large number of software engineers and similar people, so the highest rated links have strong biases favored by such people (who tend to have high expectation and enjoy pointing out emperors without cloths). And even that is too general as the site is very biased toward Ruby on Rails, Paul Graham and Lisp. The most popular [the broken link was removed] link of all time is Paul Graham on web 2.0.

Reddit pointed to another fun post yesterday. How the techno-geeks kicked my ass for my own good [the broken link was removed]:

“Excuse me, but do you know that the percentages don’t add up correctly on the graph on page 27 of the workbook?”

I must have mumbled something like “Oh – ok, thanks for telling me” while inside I was thinking “Who the hell cares, and why are you skipping so far ahead in the workbook before we even begin?”

After that I must have tried some lame icebreaker exercise that I thought was creative and fun. They ridiculed it and refused to participate. I felt like I had stepped into a bad dream.

All day I endured challenge, tough questions, attacks to my credibility and tough stares.

That is exactly what the Reddit readers will do to anything they see. Great fun to read (for me anyway) I don’t think speaking in front of them would be as enjoyable.

Mainly I think these critical looks at practices are fun reading, but there is also a management issue to understand. There are many smart people who know how to voice their opinion (and the internet can connect that voice to large numbers of people). In this day and age, if you think your imperial halo with protect you from the masses you had better hope none of these people get a look at what you offer. If you are figuratively naked, they will see, and they will shout that fact from the mountain top.

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