Michael A. George, chief marketing officer and vice-president of U.S. Consumer Marketing and eBusiness at Dell Computer, sure has a high-pressure job. His boss, Michael Dell, sends him e-mail daily on how to improve the computer maker's site. Dell's corporate existence depends on its success online: Half of its sales -- about $50 million a day -- come from the Web.
If Dell is to double in size in the next four or five years and dominate the market for servers, computer storage, and professional services, it has to maintain its lead as the vendor offering the best customer experience online. Fortunately, George, 41, has a plan.
In the 18 months since leaving his position as a senior partner at management consultancy McKinsey & Co., he has put a plan in motion to adorn Dell's e-business machine with fancy features that will take customer service to the next level. The Austin (Tex.) company has begun to intertwine its order system with its largest customers' internal purchasing systems, so its corporate buyers have to enter each order only once. Already used by several hundred of its 113,000 business customers, the option should help increase overall sales, George believes.
CLICK TO TALK. Additionally, Dell will soon introduce a feature called shared cart. Here's how it works: Say a customer puts a laptop into a virtual shopping cart but, before paying, decides to call up customer service to inquire about the machine's reliability. When the customer reaches Dell, any rep will be able to open up the user's shopping cart -- at any stage of the transaction -- and complete the order over the phone. Alternatively, an order started on the phone could be completed online. Dell's aim is to completely integrate its users' online and offline shopping experiences.
Live chat, however, is George's most futuristic work-in-progress. Scheduled to debut in the next few months, it will allow the user to click a button on a Dell Web page and have a voice chat -- over the Internet -- with a rep online. This offers an alternative to the current process, in which the user must call or e-mail to get assistance.
In a recent trial, the system allowed Dell to service twice the number of customers with the same staff. George is also redesigning the Dell site for a relaunch next spring, when it will feature better navigation and richer content, such as 3-D images.
While Dell might never become 100% virtual, "the goal is to build capabilities to let the customer choose [which medium to use]," George says. In accordance with Dell's brand image, "we've got to be very fast and very easy to use." The heat is on. Fortunately for Dell, George thrives under pressure. By Olga Kharif in Portland, Ore.