Dell's latest push: Help at home

With the new DataSafe storage service and other offerings, Dell says it can make some gains in customer service.

LAS VEGAS--Dell will be knocking on your door.

That's because the Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker has decided to put an increased emphasis on services for consumers. At the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, for example, Dell unveiled a service called Dell DataSafe. When consumers buy a new computer, they can upload the data from their old computer to the DataSafe site. Dell will then load the data on your new computer or you can do it at home.

"We have to make sure we address the post-sales experience issues and the presales issues," Ro Parra, senior vice president of the home and small-business group, said in an interview here at CES.

The company is also considering coming out with a service in which Dell would automatically and remotely tune up your PC, sources said.

In his keynote speech, Chairman Michael Dell said that Dell will have tutorials online to teach people how to drive traffic to their Web sites or improve their home networks.

The push into storage services plays to Dell's strengths. Gadgets have just not been its thing. The company has dabbled in things like music players, but then exited. Parra, for instance, downplayed Dell's interest in getting back into MP3 players. Consumer service, however, represents about 15 percent of Dell's overall business. Other companies, such as BestBuy with its Geek Squad group, have also been moving into consumer services.

For Dell, many of these services, such as DataSafe, are actually derivatives of services that it already offers corporations.

Parra said the market opportunity for consumer services could be strong. Recently, he bought three new PCs and had to hire someone to take the data off the old ones and put it on the new machines.

Pricing has not been set for DataSafe. It may be bundled with computer purchases.

The company has also worked in the past year to eliminate many of the customer service problems that have dogged it. Consumers often complained of long call times and too many transfers from one technician to another.

"We made some mistakes. We went for efficiency, not effectiveness," Parra said.

To help rectify the situation, Dell has put its phone support staff through more training and consolidated its product line. The number of individual products--also known as stock-keeping units, or SKUs--has been reduced by 32 percent. Consolidating support units has also helped retain staff. With larger call centers, employees have a more promising career track, which in turn helps maintain expertise.

The efforts are paying off, Parra said. Call transfers are down 83 percent.

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