Michael Dell ponders Google+ for sales, service

The computer maker's CEO considers the video abilities of Google's social network for connecting with customers and gets a generally favorable response.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science Credentials
  • I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Google+ promo graphic

Chief Executive Michael Dell, who has been spending a lot of time in the Google+ video chat rooms called "hangouts," has raised the possibility that Google+ might be useful for customer service.

"I am thinking about hangouts for business," Dell said on Google+. "Would you like to be able to connect with your Dell service and sale teams via video directly from Dell.com?"

It's hardly the first time somebody has considered the idea of using technology to improve sales and support, with phone support now augmented by text chat windows and remote support tools such as Citrix's GoToAssist. But the video chat idea does seem a good fit in general with Dell, which prefers a direct relationship with customers over one in which intermediaries connect to the customer.

Dell's question triggered hundreds of replies, most of them favorable. Among them:

• "Sure, but does your Dell service and sale teams want to be on video while angry customers shout at them because something's not working?" asked Matthias Gutfeldt.

• "Only if it makes it a lot faster. I could care less to hang out with someone trying to sell/fix anything," said Chadwick Popillion.

• James Lawson-Smith said Google+ would need some improvements first: "A: The ability to quickly and easily restrict access to the hangout to one or two people, trying to provide support to 9 people at once would be a nightmare; B: The ability to be able to boot people from a hangout, if someone is getting abusive you may want to boot them and not block them to get them out of the hangout; C: You would need to be able to log into the same hangout if you get logged off. This would take away the need to continually change the link to the hangout it would always be the same."

• "It would be fantastic if someone from Dell could help me choose the right product/configuration from the comfort of my home over the Internet through video chat," said Kumar Sampriya.

• "Great idea--especially if each hangout is grouped by topic, so many people could get their questions answered simultaneously," said Isaac Work.

• "I hate to say it: only if they're actually, personally experienced. I've had a lot of frustration with Dell support personnel being an inefficient interface to a call tree," said Judson Lester. "If I could talk to someone in support to actually get a human answer to my question, yes. If it means than now they have to smile while they read from the KB [knowledge base], no."

• "In hangout I cannot show you my screen. You need that for a customer support," said Juan Pedro Bretti Mandarano.

• "I'm a Dell employee, a design architect for HPC [high-performance computing] and I talk to customers every day. I can say that being able to videoconference, or more importantly white board without a lot of setup, would be a huge help," said Don Story.

• "No. The problem isn't how we connect to Dell's service, it's the (lack of) knowledge of the people we connect to," said Hugh Messenger. "Sorry to say, but Dell's tech support has become somewhat of a standing joke. Adding hangouts isn't going to help with that."