Karen Quintos, Dell and the Ultimate Differentiator

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 10, 2017

Specialization in the C-suite is becoming increasingly common, and a role that is starting to gain more visibility is the Chief Customer Officer (CCO). Still, only a small percentage of enterprises currently employ CCOs, and few, if any, business schools offer formal course tracks for the position.

By their nature, successful business and business organizations must be customer-centric. So why would an organization need a senior executive and team that focuses solely on customers and customer relationships?

To develop a better understanding of the CCO role, how it shapes business strategy and how it enhances an organization’s relationship with its customers and partners, I recently spoke with Karen Quintos, who became Dell’s EVP and CCO in 2016, and is also the company’s highest ranking woman executive.

Quintos believes that customer relationships are the ultimate differentiator for companies in all industries. With this in mind, she took a unique approach to defining her CCO responsibilities. In addition to leading Dell’s customer advocacy and experience programs, she also has responsibility for Dell’s strategy and programs for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Diversity & Inclusion, and Entrepreneurship – business imperatives that she found really matter to customers.

Quintos joined Dell in 2000 and held a number of VP positions before becoming the company’s SVP and CMO in 2010. Prior to Dell, Quintos was Citigroup’s VP of Global Operations and Technology. She also spent 12 years with Merck in marketing, operations and supply chain leadership positions.


Charles King (CK): Since you’ve just celebrated your first anniversary of being announced as Dell’s Chief Customer Officer (CCO), Karen, I’d like to talk about how things have gone on in the past twelve months. Could you tell me why Dell decided that it needed to create the CCO position?

Karen Quintos (KQ): It was a couple of things, Charles. One is that Michael Dell certainly recognizes that we live in this Age of the Customer, a time where customers are calling the shots, and where customer relationships are the true differentiator for any business. Frankly, Michael wanted an organization and a leader that would wake up every single morning and think about nothing other than our customers.

Second, Michael was very pragmatic about the fact that bringing two large companies like Dell and EMC together is a big task, and keeping the customer at the core of everything we do is critically important. Ultimately, we wanted to have an organization with a dedicated focus on the end-to-end customer experience – from order management and delivery to product quality to support and services. This is because our customers judge us by the entire experience they have with us … not just how one organization at Dell performs.

CK: Why were you the right person for the role?

KQ: For as long as I’ve worked with Michael directly, he has consistently said that I’m one of the most customer-centric executives at Dell. I’m used to being the one from his leadership team advocating on behalf of our customers. Add in my marketing background, my operations background, my service and support background, combined with just how I’m wired, and I think the new job is a natural fit for me.

CK: It sounds like you were the exact right pick then.

KQ: Well, I think so. [laughs] It’s been a great opportunity to design what I believe are the right priorities and organizational structure for the team.

CK: That’s an interesting point, because the CCO position is a relatively new development in most corporate organizations. I’ve read that considerably fewer than 1,000 enterprises worldwide employ CCOs. In fact, there isn’t even a study track for the position at most business schools. So, could you talk about how you organized your team and how you work within Dell?

KQ: Sure. First of all, we had the unique opportunity to start with a blank slate. Michael and I talked generally about where he saw the need and the opportunity for the CCO function. Then he suggested that I talk to bunch of folks, do some research and come back with recommendations. So I did just that.

CK: What did you discover?

KQ: That there are sweeping variations in how different companies have established this role. One major point is that many CCO positions are organized as B2C (business-to-consumer) functions. In contrast, I really approached it with a B2B (business-to-business) lens, and focused on how we enable our commercial and enterprise customers.

CK: That seems natural given the nature and size of Dell’s sales to corporate customers. How did you decide to proceed?

KQ: I focused the role and team on three things. First are what I call customer advocacy teams that are aligned with our sales teams’ go to market models. So one team partners with enterprise sales, one with commercial sales and one with consumer and small business sales. Their responsibility is designing high-value, tailored programs that enable us to continue to build relationships with our customers, and honor those who have consistently done business with us.

CK: In other words, seek new growth but also nurture your established customers.

KQ: Exactly. The second area is around customer analytics and insights. I see this as a significant enabler and a big differentiator for Dell, because of the vast amount of rich direct customer data we have collected over the years – frankly, it’s our crown jewel. Our ability to use this data in proactive and predictive ways gives us a 360-degree view of the customer, which allows us to be a true strategic partner.

CK: Makes sense.

KQ: The third piece is around continuing to strengthen our efforts in corporate social responsibility, entrepreneurship and diversity and inclusion. These business priorities became part of the CCO organization because I quickly realized in talking with customers that these imperatives matter to them. Having the right technologies, solutions, products and service models are important, but customers also want a real partner in corporate areas that are impacting how they do business – both internally and externally.

CK: Do you anticipate that Dell’s CCO programs will eventually extend across the entire company portfolio?

KQ: We’re doing some work with that as we speak. VMware has a Chief Customer Officer, Scott Bajtos, who has been a real resource for me in setting up the organization to enable our customer engagements across Dell Technologies. Right now, we’re heavily focused on the core Dell and EMC businesses, but we’re absolutely working on scaling beyond that with our strategically aligned businesses.

CK: Can you give me an example?

KQ: One is in how we engage with our customers to make sure they truly understand the power of our end-to-end technology portfolio, with Dell, EMC, VMware, Pivotal, SecureWorks, RSA and Virtustream. There is also a huge amount of internal interest in working collectively across all our brands on some of our non-commercial corporate giving and diversity efforts.

CK: Interesting. Since your first year as CCO has coincided with the completion of the EMC acquisition, have you found opportunities to help Dell and EMC customers better understand the deal and what kind of benefits they are accruing from the combined companies?

KQ: I spend a lot of time with customers talking about the benefits and advantages of our end-to-end portfolio, as well as responding to any questions or concerns. A big part of my role is really listening to the expectations that customers have for our combined Dell Technologies entity. Those conversations really bring our CCO mission to life; this is where we get insights we can act on, whether it’s around different types of integrated solutions, account engagements, levels of service and support, how we work with a particular customer in this or that capacity, and so on..

CK: How does that translate into action?

KQ: Just recently, I brought on a leader from our enterprise solutions team, Jim Ganthier, who is now Dell’s head of customer solutions advocacy. He’ll partner with our sales teams and spend 90 percent of his time on the road meeting with customers to articulate business outcomes and solutions, making sure that our customers fully understand and leverage the value of the Dell Technologies portfolio. Just like myself and the rest of the team, Jim will also be a listening post, bringing customer feedback to our marketing, sales and product organizations to make sure that the customer voice is incorporated into every decision that we make.

CK: Sounds like an excellent strategy. I’m curious about how Dell’s customers have responded to the CCO. Have there been any pleasant or unpleasant surprises?

KQ: At our CIO Advisory Council meeting in October, prior to Dell EMC World, Michael shared the details on my role, and I could see a lot of customers nodding affirmatively, as if to say, “Wow, this is interesting. Michael’s putting his money where his mouth is.” Michael didn’t just talk about the importance of the customer—he’s actually investing in it and doing something unique that signals that customers really matter. As simple as that sounds, it sends a huge message to our customers.

CK: How has the sales team responded to the creation of the CCO?

KQ: I recently returned from our global sales kick-off, and I can tell you that there is a ton of interest from our sales teams in the work that we’re doing – from the programs we’re creating to how we can help when escalation processes aren’t solving root cause issues. Basically, sales teams see us as a resource to help tackle obstacles or barriers that may arise and impact their relationships with customers. This underscores the notion of the CCO being a truth teller – somebody who is going to constantly push the envelope around what our customers want – which ultimately makes our sales teams more effective. All of that has been good.

You know, customers do business with people. They don’t do business with companies. As much as we might say, “Wow, we have a great relationship with Boeing, or we have a great relationship with Target”, what we really mean is that we have great relationships with 20 or 30 people within that organization – and those relationships usually start with our sales team. Everything that my organization does has an end goal of deepening the relationship with our customers – and you can only do that by a strong partnership with sales. So there really is a kind of one-on-one relationship aspect in how we’re partnering with our sales organization.

CK: Has anything been especially surprising?

KQ: What were some of the big surprises? That a bunch of seemingly small errors or negative experiences – what you might call “amber lights” – can add up to a “fire-engine red” status warning. Meaning it’s not just big failures that we need to be avoiding. It is recognizing that across all of the touch points that our customers have with us, the little things really count and can add up in positive or negative ways. This is why the CCO’s end-to-end view across finance, product, sales and marketing is key. As I said before, customers measure us on their entire experience, not just how one business unit performs.

CK: That sounds entirely sensible. Last question on your CCO position: Since Dell has a broad global footprint, does your role require you to work differently in various geographies or cultures?

KQ: It’s funny you mention that, because I was in Europe recently where I spent a good amount of time with our teams to get a sense of their big priorities, along with the programs and initiatives that we’re watching back here at headquarters. I would say that while 70 to 80 percent of what we discussed had global applicability, there is clearly a localization aspect that we absolutely have to address when working with our customers.

That applies to everything—executive sponsor programs, loyalty programs, relationship programs and advisory councils and user forums. I’m a huge believer in the final mile. We have leaders sitting in each region to help with localization, as well as to advocate on behalf of their customers’ priorities. We’re also putting listening posts, sounding boards and resources in global regions to make sure we stay close to our customers’ needs

CK: Let’s shift gears. Dell has long been a leader in formulating and following corporate social responsibility, or CSR, programs, including the 1998 environmental progress report, the 2012 Powering in the Possible commitment, and the 2020 Legacy of Good plan, along with Dell’s Global Giving program. I’m curious about the company’s progress in regards to its CSR efforts and what sort of benefits have accrued, both to Dell and to the organizations or communities it works with.

KQ: As you say, Dell has had a long-standing commitment to social good. One of our more recent initiatives started in 2012, when we set strategic goals and commitments to CSR achievements that we wanted to have accomplished by the year 2020. We’ve made significant progress against these goals, which include environmental causes as well as social good commitments designed to enable our global work force to perform at their best. We’re in the process of refreshing our plan to combine Dell and EMC efforts and priorities, and will soon be developing new goals to take us to 2030.

CK: There are numerous synergies between the companies. I’d like to know if there are any specific programs you’re passionate about or interested in.

KQ: Both Dell and EMC focus on creating positive environmental and social impacts, including increasing energy efficiency of our products, harnessing renewable energy, innovating with sustainable materials, investing in youth learning, and applying our technology and expertise where it can do the most good for people and the planet.

A great example of a program that I Iove is our commitment to enabling a mobile workforce. This has so many benefits – both environmental and social. As a technology company, we can enable our workforce by offering flexibility for a better work/life balance, while also reducing unnecessary carbon emissions.

Here in Round Rock, we have enabled nearly 75 percent of our employees to work from home one or two days a week. We’ve set an overall goal of enabling 50 percent of our global work force to enjoy that same flexibility. This is also something that our customers are super interested in because it’s about technology, it’s about policy, it’s about manager training. Frankly, it’s a real differentiator for Dell – we hear that from our team members, prospects and customers.

CK: How about efforts directly focusing on the environment?

KQ: Focus on the environment is huge for us. In fact, Dell has the world’s largest technology recycling program, with services for consumers and business in 83 countries and territories. We’ve recycled 1.6 billion pounds of used electronics since 2007. By the way, it’s not just Dell technology we recycle – we will take any used electronics. We are more than 75% of the way to our goal of recycling 2 billion pounds by 2020.

We’re also leading the industry in our use of recycled materials inside our products. In fact, earlier this year, Dell successfully met its 2020 goal of incorporating 50 million pounds of recycled content in its products. A portion of this includes recycled plastics from used electronics collected through our takeback programs. We’re the only technology company doing this.

On top of all this, in February, we announced that we have created the first commercial-scale global Ocean Plastics supply chain. Charles, did you know that each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean? It’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed. Our team evaluated whether we could redesign part of our supply chain to use ocean plastics in packaging – and confirmed that we could!

So, we are processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coastal areas and using them to make new packaging systems for the XPS-13 2-in-1 that we’ll begin shipping on April 30. Our initial pilot project will keep 16,000 pounds of plastics out of the oceans. This initiative supports our Legacy of Good goal of 100% sustainable packaging by 2020. We’re also in the process of convening a cross-industry working group to scale the commercial use of ocean plastic.

CK: Interesting, and congratulations on that success. On another topic, how is Dell involved in corporate giving?

KQ: We believe that we have a responsibility to invest our technology, resources and expertise to fulfill our purpose of driving human progress. This is about more than cutting checks – you’ll see Dell technology and team members actively serving in our communities around the world. Since we launched our Legacy of Good 2020 goals in 2012, our global team members have served more than 3 million hours – we’re very proud of that!

One specific example of how we’re using our technology for good is in our work with TGen (the Translational Genomics Research Institute).

Seven years ago, we partnered with TGen to see how we could apply compute to neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer that generally affects children five years or younger. Since then, we’ve created a solution that reduces the time it takes to perform whole genome sequencing analysis from months to 8 hours. This means that doctors can more quickly identify treatments specifically designed for individual patients.

The team at TGen has found that children are responding to personalized medications with fewer side effects and enjoying better lives. In fact, last year, more than half of the children within our personalized medicine trial benefited from these treatments. And this is only the beginning. Research is expanding beyond neuroblastoma through TGen’s partnership with the City of Hope to tackle areas like adult cancer types, infectious diseases, Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. Our partnership with TGen is near and dear to my heart because it really speaks to the power of technology.

CK: Excellent. From a slightly different angle, do customers care about these programs? How are Dell’s customers reacting to the company’s efforts?

KQ: Around 70 percent of customer RFPs include an inquiry about corporate social responsibility topics. In addition, some customers are now weighting CSR in their RFPs. This really illustrates why having CSR as part of the CCO organization makes sense. Enabling strategic conversations on this increasingly important topic can help deepen relationships and also win deals.

We’ve found that customers want their technology vendor to be a strategic partner – so if we can demonstrate thought leadership in areas that are top of mind for them, like CSR, it’s a win-win situation.

CK: That makes sense. On a related subject, entrepreneurship is also under your remit as CCO. Can you share more about that subject?

KQ: Sure. You know, entrepreneurship is part of our DNA at Dell, going back to when Michael founded the company more than 30 years ago. We want to help entrepreneurs change the world. It all goes back to using our technology, people and processes to drive human progress.

Globally, entrepreneurs are creating over 70% of new jobs, and they need an advocate. Dell is committed to being that advocate – whether it is for the 10 million entrepreneurs that we currently serve, or the countless other entrepreneurs making their way in the market.

We are proud to be a true advisor and partner to entrepreneur communities by providing practical and scalable technology solutions, as well as having dedicated account teams that are very in tune with entrepreneurs’ unique needs. We can also give entrepreneurs access to eco-systems that can help grow their businesses, and there are opportunities for us to on-board entrepreneurs as partners within our supplier diversity strategy.

CK: Interesting. One area that I’ve heard you speak about before is Dell’s support for women entrepreneurs. How is that market unique and what is Dell doing to support this group?

KQ: Women entrepreneurs are responsible for 70 to 90 percent of all job creation, and women open businesses at almost twice the rate of men in many markets around the world. Dell, working with a number of our partners, has measurably helped remove barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of those entrepreneurs taking their businesses globally.

This is not just a social imperative – it is an economic one. Did you know that if men and women participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion? That’s incredible!

We have a responsibility to support women entrepreneurs as they seek access to capital, technology, networks and talent. Last year, female founders received just 7 percent of the $60 billion in venture capital deployed last year – we have to improve that statistic.

CK: How is Dell helping women entrepreneurs?

KQ: Well, instead of focusing on the issues, we’re focusing on the solutions. Last year, in advance of the general election, we released an open letter alongside Vanity Fair and Deloitte outlining policy recommendations for #WhatWeNeedToSucceed, with the “We” standing for women entrepreneurs. Our recommendations came from conversations we’ve had going back to the founding of our Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) in 2010.

Some of the specific recommendations included modernizing and expanding existing government certification, grant and loan programs that help women-owned businesses compete. Others reflected changing investment models; supporting trade agreements that further liberalize trade and open new markets for businesses of all sizes, and still others emphasized Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and digital literacy in education and early training programs.

Additionally, next month at Dell EMC World, we will be announcing “Alice,” the world’s first artificial intelligence platform for women entrepreneurs.

This solution is powered by Dell and Pivotal, and is a wonderful example of applying technology for both social good and economic benefit. To bring the solution to life, we partnered with a fantastic organization, Circular Board, which is providing this solution to their extensive network of women to further develop. There are so many ways we can continue to evolve this technology in the future – it’s exciting!

CK: Excellent. This leads into a discussion on diversity and inclusion, which is the last – but certainly not the least – imperative under your CCO remit. Dell has been involved in diversity and inclusion programs for years, though I don’t think it gets anywhere near as much public attention as it deserves. Could you talk about why diversity and inclusion are important to Dell and how they resonate with your partners, suppliers, and customers?

KQ: This is another area that’s near and dear to my heart, and as you mention, we’ve had a long, long history of supporting diversity and inclusion. It’s an economic imperative, a business imperative and a social imperative. You simply will not be able to provide the right solutions and products without understanding a diverse set of perspectives and having an employee base and a leadership team that reflects your customer base.

CK: So embracing diversity is a matter of survival for modern businesses.

KQ: It becomes very, very important.

CK: How does that express itself in the workplace?

KQ: Let’s consider it from a pure labor perspective. You just cannot fill all the jobs that you need to by following the traditional counsel that you have in the past. Plus, every data point and research study tells you that a diverse team almost always delivers better decisions and better results. So it’s a very important priority for Michael and our entire executive leadership team. We’re supporting a number of programs and initiatives in this space.

CK: Such as?

KQ: We’re really focused on three areas when it comes to diversity: commitment, culture, and community. Commitment is frankly about leadership accountability. It’s about how incorporate diversity into how you recruit, and how you develop and retain your team members.

Regarding culture, Dell was the first technology company to work with an organization called Catalyst on a program called Men Advocating for Real Change (MARC). MARC is a training module focused on the unconscious bias. I personally believe that’s a game changer because at the end of the day, this holds a clear mirror up to our culture.

You can put so many programs in place, but until you build a culture of inclusion, a place where people can really be themselves and you’re training managers on to the best ways to deal with all of that, you’re not really going to move the needle.

CK: How about community?

KQ: That’s our third big priority. This is around how we make sure we’re out there being public and visible around our diversity commitments. This is about leading by example, and relates back to a quote I like: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

CK: Showing how you walk the talk?

KQ: Yes. Another big area here is how we continue to grow our supply chain diversity programs. Dell spends more than $3 billion dollars of materials and services annually with a diverse set of suppliers. It’s something that we’ll continue to grow.

CK: On January 22nd, I saw a comment you posted Twitter regarding the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. You said, “When women win, we all win.” I’m wondering if you could talk about inclusiveness programs encouraging women in the workplace. Are they more important today than they have been in the past, particularly in the tech industry?

KQ: I think real progress has been made in a number of areas but there’s still so much more opportunity in front of us. Listen, I woke up on the 22nd and if I hadn’t had an all-day dance recital with my daughter, I would have been in one of the marches here in Austin. I was blown away by the number of women and men – and families – that had come together in a non-violent, proactive, calm, professional way to send a signal to the world that this issue matters. I was incredibly intrigued by that.

CK: It was a remarkable affirmation.

KQ: Yes. And when I said, “When women win, we all win,” the reason I believe in that so much is because I see the unique attributes that women bring to their communities and to the business world. I see women advocating on behalf of social change. I see women bringing an inclusive perspective around products and offerings and things that we can do to really enable businesses to grow.

I see that in the area of entrepreneurship, when a woman starts a business and that business begins to grow, she typically plows 90 percent of what that business has generated back into her local community and her local market. The multiplier or “pay it forward” effect of this is enormous. So I am a huge proponent of that.

CK: What’s right for people is right for business.

KQ: Absolutely. Also, what I loved about the march is that it wasn’t a couple of million women. It was a couple of million men and women. Men taking part was every bit as important. And to your question about diversity and technology, we all know the technology sector has significant opportunities for improvement. I believe it’s my role as a female in the C-suite at one of the world’s largest technology companies to be the catalyst for change, to be able to represent what it is that we need to do to continue to move the needle.

If you were to look at Dell and EMC before and after the acquisition, you’d see that the number of women executives that we had in certain levels of our organization rose by double digits after the deal was completed. That happened because we have a pipeline, because Michael held his leadership team accountable, and because we’ve focused on it. And we need to continue to focus on it, stay the course, improve this and other affinity groups, like people of color, where frankly I don’t think anyone’s really moved the needle. This is top of mind for me.

CK: I read recently that Dell has relaunched what it calls its Employee Research Groups, or ERGs. Could you talk a bit about those groups and why they’re important?

KQ: When we brought Dell and EMC together, there was an 80 percent overlap in the ERGs that the two companies supported. We have consolidated those groups and added some that were unique. Today, we have 14 ERGs that have a total of 34,000 members in 300 chapters in 60 countries.

What I love about the ERGs is how they are a great mechanism for bringing employees together across our organization. Culturally, it’s a great enabler. It’s been proven that active ERG members have higher employee net promoter score (eNPS), and we know that those with higher eNPS drive higher customer net promoter score (cNPS). More engaged team members equal happier, more satisfied customers!

CK: How do sponsorships work?

KQ: We’ve assigned executive sponsors to each ERG who either report directly to Michael or are members of our Global Diversity Council which Michael chairs.

CK: Which groups are you personally involved with?

KQ: I co-founded our Women in Action ERG, and this year I am co-executive sponsor of our Faith ERG, which I’m super excited to help scale. Other groups that are interesting to me are Connective, which focuses on connecting remote work force employees, our Planet ERG, which is growing quickly, and our Gen Next ERG, which is aimed at young professionals – Millennials and Gen-Z team members. That group is really intriguing because they often serve as a great sounding board for new internal and external programs.

CK: Sounds great. I think we have time for one more question. In a recent Austin Woman magazine profile, you said something I found striking; “I really believe that people work for companies because they have a soul. I really believe that customers do business with a company because it has a soul. They believe in something bigger than just the products and the technology. That’s where legacies are left.” Could you talk a little bit about the soul of Dell? I’m also curious about what you feel the legacy of the company will be and how you’re contributing to that.

KQ: One of the biggest assets that we have here at Dell is Michael. I remember being engaged in a group conversation where we were discussing – really soul searching – our company’s purpose. Everybody was talking about the real purpose of Dell, what we thought, what research said.

Then Michael weighed in and said, ‘Ah, actually none of that’s right. When I envisioned starting this company, I envisioned it because I knew that technology was really about enabling human potential. And that I knew that technology being in the hands of people around the world could do amazing, amazing things.’ And that is so true.

CK: Technology can be a remarkable force for good.

KQ: You know, the notion of technology enabling human potential really continues to be the foundation of our culture. It guides what we believe in for our customers, how we go about winning, and how we approach innovation and giving back. I really think that at the end of the day, customers do business with people, and they prefer to do business with companies with a soul.

CK: Soul is what humanizes organizations.

KQ: When I go talk to customers, the basic fundamentals out there right now are all about the same, right? I mean, you’ve got to deliver great customer service, you’ve got to bring attractive pricing and solutions and technologies – that is all a given. But the real differentiator is the people who you build relationships with and the things that your company stands for. That’s what I continue to believe will be that ultimate differentiator.

I’ve always said that people do not bound out of bed in the morning just because of the stock price. I mean there are certainly some who do that, don’t misunderstand me. But what keeps team members coming back to work day after day is the incredible potential of what their efforts and products and solutions do and enable. I believe that in this world that we live in today, those are the types of stories that our team members and our customers really want to hear.

CK: I think that’s exactly right. Thank you very much for sharing your time and insights.

KQ: Thank you.