The path that led Cy Jervis to his current position as Project Manager for Dell’s IdeaStorm was unconventional, for sure, yet it underscores the incredible importance of social listening and customer engagement.

IdeaStorm is an initiative launched in 2007, to better gauge which of our ideas are most important and relevant to users. As with any new system, IdeaStorm was initially met with a healthy dose of skepticism on behalf of dedicated Dell fans. Cy Jervis, for one, shares his first impression of the site: “It was more of a social suggestion box, in the beginning,” he said. “Michael Dell had a video about the site that made it seem as though Dell employees were actively listening to the ideas and conversations.” Cy didn’t entirely believe the site was moderated, or that Dell would use this crowdsourced product feedback to implement the changes requested by customers. Cy created a test of his own to gauge Dell’s true interest in learning from their community. “Yes, it’s true; I did impersonate Michael Dell,” he laughs. He created a new online persona in the community and posed as the CEO of the company. Cy was surprised, he said, when someone from Dell responded quickly.   

Over the first few years of IdeaStorm’s existence, Cy became the most vocal – and sometimes critical – member of the community. A Communications Supervisor in a Sheriff’s office, Cy had no vested interest in Dell’s success, other than his passion for the products.

In 2010 Cy was vocal about his view that there was much room for improvement in how our company used IdeaStorm, especially as a two-way communication channel. “We knew they were listening; I saw that,” says Cy. “My challenge to them was to actually show they were listening on a regular basis, to interact and really communicate with the people invested in the success of their products.” This is key for companies, he says. 

Tip: Listen attentively and respond in a timely manner. You need to show customers and fans your interest in their suggestions and feedback.

In the following months, Jervis was pleased to see Dell employees step up to engage more on the IdeaStorm platform. His activity in the community eventually led to a consulting opportunity, then an employment offer.

“Sure, I was skeptical when first approached about coming to work for Dell on IdeaStorm,” says Jervis. He’d been in his position in communications for 14 years. “At first, I did a small contract for a few hours a week, just working to bridge the gap between outsiders and insiders.” That was a great test period for Jervis and Dell, he said, as they had time to test out this new relationship and see where he could be most effective.

Tip: For new positions or roles, try a trial contract period to make sure your choice is the best fit for the job.

Jervis is not a developer, but a self-admitted “tech addict and a geek,” who bought a computer instead of a car when he turned sixteen. His parents owned a video store, so he was exposed to and had unlimited access to gaming far earlier than most. As he grew, Jervis would take on a job at his parents’ store that had him working away on the store's computers to keep them running and up to date. His love for technology led him to start a programming course in college, though it wasn’t quite the right fit. Still, as he considered a major career change, his love for the company and its products played a huge role.

Tip: People who are passionate about your products and services are critical front-line employees and management.

One of the attractions for Cy was the open corporate culture, he says. “It’s hard to describe; everyone has the same end goal, but we have different ways of getting there. Once you have some successes, it’s easier to prove to people that open is a good thing,” Cy says. 

Once Cy came on full-time, he had a chance to help promote that open culture, with Barton George’s Project Sputnik. George came to talk to him about Sputnik, which he wanted to be an opensource project, Cy explains. “We discussed doing something on IdeaStorm to gather feedback and insight, so we held a 6-month session on IdeaStorm. Barton also set up a section in the Dell TechCenter forum to get bug reports,” he says.

The response was extraordinary. “A typical Storm session receives 9 ideas on average over a two-week period,” he says. “Project Sputnik exceeded that on the first day. Over the six months the session was open, it received 155 ideas.”

Cy is a passionate, dedicated employee precisely because of his love for and commitment to the company. That began as a customer and fan, when he says he realized, “Wow, they’re actually really open to feedback from customers. That made me more willing to participate in IdeaStorm.”

Today, Cy leads IdeaStorm as Project Manager. Have you ever been inspired by an interaction with a company? Share your experience in the comments!