Dell IT

How Dell is Evolving Online Buyer Experience with PCF and Pivotal Labs Methodology

Harsh Acharya By Harsh Acharya Vice President, Buyer Experience, Dell Digital April 9, 2019

In today’s fast-paced ecommerce world, seconds matter in presenting customers with the information they want and helping them decide what they need as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Dell Digital’s Buyer Experience organization is using a revolutionary agile software development approach and cloud native technology to optimize how customers connect with us and configure customized PCs to meet their needs.

It is called Pivotal Labs methodology, a user-centric process which unifies development, design, and product management to create exceptional products (software), not just to improve ecommerce but to advance digital transformation across the company.

Growing Complexities for Customization

Dell is known for offering customers the ability to truly build and customize their own PC’s or servers, using our Dell.com configurator through which they can select everything from memory and hard drive features to processor and screen size.

The problem was as our products lines grew and computers became more complex, the options offered on configurator became more and more confusing and complicated. There are literally billions of combinations to choose from. And in the process, customers could end up wading through 50+ modules on a given web page listing options for a single feature—for example, memory. Adding to the confusion was the fact that such modules didn’t include any advice to customers on why they should be picking certain options.

What’s more, as our configurator expanded, it slowed down the speed at which our web pages were loading as well. That meant more customers moved on without buying. (Industry estimates cite a 1% decrease in sales for every additional 100 milliseconds in page load time.)

And finally, making changes to add new configurator features and capabilities to meet customers changing needs was also a slow process, taking months to complete via the traditional IT software cadence.

Teaming Up for an Agile Solution

Early last year, a seven-member development team from our organization set out to simplify and speed up our configurator customer experience as well as create a faster, more agile process for making changes to the ecommerce solution. Central to their approach was the Pivotal Labs methodology, which encompasses lean, collaborative and iterative software development processes focused on human-centric design.

While much of the Pivotal approach is done in a lab setting with teams collaborating with business users to write code, test and iterate on solutions, we started this project outside the lab leveraging micro-services development framework to transform the configurator app. The team rewrote the solution using Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF), a turnkey, cloud native platform for building and deploying next-generation digital applications. PCF provides a framework that integrates modern software technologies to automate and simplify the process, so app developers don’t have to worry about the complexity of building and maintaining infrastructure typically associated with such development.

Rewriting the solution in PCF meant that new features that used to take anywhere from one to three months to build could now be launched every day as needed. We can continuously iterate on improving the customer experience, solving customer problems faster.

The team also redesigned the configuration web pages to make them lighter and faster to download, shaving 1.5 seconds off page load times for PCs and 4.5 seconds for servers. While that doesn’t sound like much, it actually makes a substantial difference in the percentage of customers who buy off the site. And customers engaged in side by side A/B testing vastly preferred the new design and speed.

The configurator app is now live in 13 countries and is being rolled out to 14 more by the end of this year.

Listening to Customers to Deliver Advice

And finally, we are gathering customer feedback to figure out their top priorities, field any problems they have with the configurator and get insights on how they decide which options they need. Armed with that customer data, our team began working in the Pivotal lab at the end of last year to design and build new features to simplify the way customers configure their products.

A key feature we added is an interactive experience where users answer a series of questions to get recommendations on the best options for their requirements, along with explanations of those choices. We simply call it Help Me Choose.

We also tailored a simplified list of offerings for customers who don’t want to sort through hundreds of options. We are using the information they provide to show them the three or four options of the configuration that most fit what they really care about. That way they can configure what they want to buy more easily. Users who want to get more detailed lists of options are still able to access more extensive options.

We are currently testing these capabilities with our customers and iterating on changes in the lab based on their feedback. The goal is to get this experience finalized for configuring laptops and then deploy similar improvements for our enterprise products.

Based on the success of this team with the methodology, the Buyer Experience organization has expanded the adoption of Pivotal methodology to more project teams within organization. Check out business customers talking about this customer-centric, collaborative approach in Dell Digital Way – Business Perspectives.

Summary

The consumer market continues to evolve faster and faster, ecommerce providers across all industries know that it is critical to stay ahead of changing demands. That means using customer-centric methodology and agile processes are critical to develop new capabilities that resonate with customers. We have to stay ahead of the game.


Are You Going to Dell Technologies World?

Harsh Acharya will be a featured presenter for two customer sessions at Dell Technologies World on April 29-May 2 in Las Vegas. Be sure to check out Evolving Customer Engagement at Dell.com on April 29, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and May 1, 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., and 10-Lessons Learned in Applying Pivotal Approach to Dell.com Next-gen E-Commerce Platform on April 30, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Harsh Acharya

About Harsh Acharya


Vice President, Buyer Experience, Dell Digital

Harsh is responsible for driving vision, strategy, and execution for Dell Digital’s Buyer Experience organization. The mission of the organization is to drive customer centric and data driven capabilities at every touchpoint in the customer journey while transforming technology and processes to increase the speed of innovation for Dell’s Consumer and B2B customers across the globe.

Prior to this role, Harsh led engineering and product management functions for Dell.com, where he drove expansion of the new responsive platform as well as new shopping, checkout, loyalty, and payment capabilities across multiple regions.

In his previous roles, Harsh led engineering and product management functions for numerous products across Dell’s digital commerce experiences.

Harsh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Gujarat University in India and a Master’s degree in Information Systems from Texas A&M University

Harsh lives in Austin with his wife. They love travelling around the world, trying new cuisines, and learning about new cultures.

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2 thoughts on “How Dell is Evolving Online Buyer Experience with PCF and Pivotal Labs Methodology

  1. Are you engaging with consumer and enterprise customers directly to gain their feedback as these services are developed and improved or are you using another company to broker that aspect?
    If direct, what process are you utilizing to exchange thoughts, feedback, and ideas with those customers?

    • Great question, Michael! Engaging directly with customers is a very critical part of our development process.

      For majority of our iterative development, we use Pivotal’s Discovery and Framing methodology. You can find a great example of this process here – https://content.pivotal.io/blog/what-we-did-on-our-summer-internship-at-pivotal-discovery-and-framing. Depending on the budget and scope of the problem, we either bring consumer/enterprise customers on-site or utilize a virtual service like usertesting.com.

      For more difficult end to end user research, especially in language/countries our product teams are unfamiliar with (e.g. China), we use third party agencies to help drive formal usability studies in a lab like setting. We develop hypothesis and designs in-house, but the agencies help us with the recruiting/interview process.

      I hope this helps.
      Harsh