Rory Cellan-Jones

Dell - looks matter...

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 14 Apr 08, 15:14 GMT

Does Dell care about looks? Not just about the look and feel of its products - once derided as beige boxes by Steve Jobs - but about how it projects itself as a brand?

I ask because I've just returned from a slightly frustrating trip to meet Michael Dell. Now here is a man with a fascinating tale to tell about building a business from his college room that became a management school case-study for its production and direct sales skills. A man who then realised a year or so back that Dell was losing its way, and returned as chief executive to put things back on track.

So when Dell offered us an interview with their founder and second-time CEO, we jumped at the offer. The catch was that he was in Venice, glad-handing European customers, and we could only have 15 minutes.

Now whatever you might have heard about the extravagant budgets at the Beeb, it wasn't a no-brainer that my bosses would give the go-ahead for this trip. But they reckoned this was a great interview to get so we bought a couple of budget airline tickets and a one-day travelcard on the vaporetto and headed across the lagoon to the hotel where Dell was holding its shindig.

Then things began to go wrong. If you're interviewing the man in Venice you want it to look like Venice, right? No. We were shown to a conference room inside the Hilton where Mr Dell was staying. It was a perfectly nice room in a perfectly nice hotel, but it could just as well have been in Virginia, Vauxhall or Valencia as Venice. Looks certainly matter in television, and most companies understand that.

Okay - so maybe the schedule could be squeezed so that we could just pop outside before or after the interview for one shot of Mr D looking out at the glories of Venice? Not a chance, said the PR person,nor could we move to a room with a view over the lagoon.

Desperate to make things look more interesting, I suggested that Mr Dell could have with him an innovative product which would tell a story about where his company was heading - you may remember that Paul Otellini brought a jar of Intel's Atom chips into our recent interview, and Bill Gates was keen to show off his surface computer when we met in Las Vegas.

Good idea, said the PR woman, and a few minutes later came back with a tablet notebook computer. Fine, though the tablet is one innovation which seems to have proved about as popular as the wristwatch computer.

Maybe Michael Dell thinks the same, because five minutes later the PR returned with the message that "Michael thinks it would be a distraction." So no visual aids. Then there was the issue of time.

Now although we had been told it was just a 15 minute slot in Mr Dell's timetable, I have never known that not to stretch to half an hour once you've had time to put a microphone on the interviewee and then get a couple of editing shots afterwards.

What is more, Michael Dell had arrived 10 minutes head of his meticulously planned schedule. But just eight minutes into the interview the PR woman called out "three minutes left" and after 11 minutes I was obliged to stop.

In the short time we had, Mr Dell started with a list of numbers showing how brilliantly his business was performing and how well the new strategy was coming together - but it was only when we moved onto the subject of design that I felt we were getting to the heart of the issue.

Historically, most of Dell's revenue has come from supplying computers to companies, not consumers. The trouble is businesses - which used to lead consumers in adopting new technology - are now the laggards. How many of you now have a better computer with a more advanced operating system at home than at work? I know I do.

And, as Mr Dell conceded, businesses care more about security and reliability than looks. So had he woken up late to the importance of design?

I quoted a story I'd read about an executive who had suggested a few years back that Dell should offer a computer in a range of colours and been batted back by the boss. He was not amused by a tale he said was untrue: "It's a good story... however ill-informed or incorrect it may be." Anyway, nowadays, he insisted you could have his products in any colour you fancied, and they were winning design awards left, right and centre.

But when I asked what new products we could expect next from Dell, the answer was vague in the extreme.

Now it is true that Dell is spending more money and time thinking about the look and feel of its products, and winning some praise for the results. But if Dell really does believe that looks matter, shouldn't its PR department know a bit about making the boss look good on television?


If Mr Dell would care to get in touch, we'll gladly give him a hand!

  • 2.
  • At 08:06 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • glad1959 wrote:

That's your problem the interview sounded like it was trying hard to be all style no substance. Do I the viewer really care whether I see a shot of the venice lagoon, No. Am I interested in what Mr Dell has to say, YES. You could have asked him about the Apple share price and would he still sell the company and give money back to the Apple shareholders. Also I'd love to know what awards for design his company have won.

  • 3.
  • At 09:45 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

Dell have no hope of regaining a lead whilst their support is so utterly useless.

This was their downfall in the consumer arena, whilst their hardware has generally been good quality and well priced, if you are unfortunate enough to have a fault develop in a machine it could take months to get it resolved.

This is also why we have turned away from Dell on a corporate level, we simply cannot justify sitting for 45minutes to log a fault with a laptop and then be told they can only log one fault at a time and so have to wait another 45minutes to log another faulty laptop out of a fresh batch of brand new laptops which is one of the many scenarios we've encountered.

Until Dell realise that outsourcing their support operations to India took them from being one of the best companies in the world for support to one of the worst then they have no hope of gaining consumer or corporate confidence in their products.

  • 4.
  • At 10:15 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Tim Ensor wrote:

Dell really need to work on build quality. I've had a few Dell laptops over the years and been quite happy with them, but my most recent machine is a HP.

I was struck immediatley by how solid it felt, and how good the keyboard was. It also came out substantially cheaper than an equivalent Dell, which to me seems a real reversal.

Dell had a reputation for quality at a low price, but that no longer seems deserved.

  • 5.
  • At 10:29 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Alastair McAulay wrote:

From once caring obsessively about all the details of how they executed their business, Dell have gotten sloppy. And your account of this PR interview just underlines the point. As a consumer I have bought Dell computers since 1992; mainly because they are well engineered machines for a good price (none of mine has ever failed). In the past sales service, and advice on after sales issues (i.e. memory expansion) has been excellent.
Last month I attempted to buy another Dell to replace the previous 7 year old incumbent. It wasn't a good customer experience. Without wishing to turn this comment into a blog, the yarn does reinforce the point of the article; Dell will continue to lose their way if they don't get the details right.

Firstly I couldn't find the details of the machine on their website that was featured in the latest flyer that came through the letter box. Admittedly this was a new Quadcore box; but if you can't keep your website upto date with your product line that isn't a good sign.

No matter I called up the order line and place the order. A week later one box arrived via courier containing a monitor but no computer. After too many e-mails and phone calls to Dell and their sub contractor couriers I got the actual computer a couple of weeks later. Another not so good sign - if you subcontract your services make sure there are no gaps in your process and don't leave it to the customer to plug the gaps

This time the order came without a keyboard or mouse. I had a spare, so it didn't stop me getting the machine running. I e-mailed Dell to let them know. After a few days of Dell not replying, I relented and called the order line. After being passed to three seperate teams I finally got them to send the missing keyboard and mouse.

All of which suggests that Dell may think that they have a slick order fulfillment system, but not giving their operators sufficient discretion to take their own decisions the whole customer experience grinds to a halt.

Mr Dell is unlikely to be reading this, but if one of his minions is they might pause to reflect (before rushing on to arrange another tick in the box PR appointment for Mr Dell) that the company that "wrote the book" on perfect execution of details in a business, has got complacent and the foundations that he laid are in need of repair.

  • 6.
  • At 10:49 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Al T wrote:

If that's a typical example of how tv people think, god help us. With that arrogant atitude who can blame the bloke for cutting short the interview. If you'd just met on his terms, instead of wasting time with ridiculous requests, perhaps he'd have been more forthcoming and also given you more time. Next time just do your job and don't be media prima donnas.

  • 7.
  • At 10:50 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • amyatdell wrote:

glad1959 - you can see the full list of awards across Dell's product lines at

  • 8.
  • At 11:38 AM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • AB wrote:

I think their new XPS 1330 and 1530 laptops are very stylish, great value too

  • 9.
  • At 12:39 PM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • HereBeMonsters wrote:

I completely disagree with the negative comments about Dell's support. Far from moving to India, they have moved corporate support to a very helpful office up in Glasgow.
The company I work for are currently changing their hardware from Dell to HP, and HP's Indian call centre is totally abysmal. How I wish we could have stayed with Dell.
Why didn't we? They couldn't offer the server side solutions we required.

  • 10.
  • At 12:59 PM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Tristan wrote:

In Response to Tim Ensor's comment:

I have just purchased a Dell M1730 and i have found a build quality exceptional. As well as my laptop feeling solid, its stylish with the lid, touchpad and front lighting. The performance is exceptional as well.

I think Dell is really starting to work away from some of the opinions people had of them.

  • 11.
  • At 01:40 PM on 15 Apr 2008,
  • Jules wrote:

Agree with previous post, so what you had to conduct an interview in a dull conference room. This is the problem with the BBC and reporting in general, they seem to focus more on having the reporter visible at said location. Focus on the content not the presentation.

Rory, I think maybe you should try to write your articles objectively and not let personal issues get in the way.

That's how this sounds anyway.

Is the business based in Venice? Does Michael Dell come from Venice? Is Venice of any importance whatsoever, apart from you've got to go there to interview him?

I don't understand, at all, what your problem is with interviewing him in that hotel conf. room.

And as for the 'oh, let me see some tech. so I can show it off', get over it. As he was travelling, do you think he might have packed his equivalent of the Microsoft touch desk? What where you thinking?!?

Do you drink much when writing?

As for Dell, they have issues. And like most, if not all mainstream desktop PC builders, design has been an after thought for years.

This article could have been about HP, Acer or Packard Bell, to name just a few.

It just reads like you have a grudge against Dell. Have you got an outstanding support ticket with Dell? Is your laptop broke and they won't fix it?

Maybe they have a call centre in Venice you can send it to?

Al T - TV is a visual medium. If you wanted to hear about stuff you'd normally go to a newspaper or podcast/radio interview.
Let's be honest, how many people watch Bill Gates interviews to hear what he says (instead of waiting for some juicy shots of his latest gadget)?

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