5 Companies Using Social Voice to Enhance Client Experience and Drive Innovation
by Rob Wolfe – Connected Places Global
A recent Pitney Bowes study, “The Customer Dance: When to Lead, When to Follow,” investigates the level of engagement consumers seek from today’s brands and the types of interactions that are most likely to increase brand loyalty and encourage repeat patronage. Polling consumers in the U.S. and Europe, the study reveals when companies should lead customer interactions and when they should cede control to customers—and as a result, identify where marketing spend may be best allocated. (This information was provided by 1to1 Media in their article, “Communication: The Key to Any Successful (Customer) Relationship.”)
Consumers noted a distinct appreciation for being included in decisions concerning the range of products and services offered, with about half citing this as an effective customer engagement technique. This aligns with a recent report by Alterian, which states that more than 80 percent of consumers say involvement in product and service development with a brand would make them more likely to promote the company to others.
In their “Shaping Social Engagement for Results” whitepaper, 1to1 Media also suggested that companies can further strengthen relationships with social customers by sharing the actions taken based on customer feedback with them, including ideas for new products, suggestions for improving the customer experience, and comments on other aspects of the company-customer relationship.
Holly Green, CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc., asserts that this sort of “disruptive innovation” approach solves problems that customers didn’t even know they had or were unable to clearly articulate to themselves or their vendors. Green notes that in a recent study published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management, researchers measured the benefits of user involvement in the product innovation process for future mobile phone services, rating three distinct user groups—ordinary users (customers), advanced users (technology and/or computer trained users) and professional product developers (from a leading European telephone company) – to determine their ability to generate ideas for innovative products. Researchers found that customers not only produced more original new ideas, but their ideas were also rated as significantly more valuable. In contrast, professional developers and advanced users produced the greatest number of realizable (better chance of making it to market) ideas, but they were perceived as having less value to customers.
Co-creating Products With Customers
Here, I provide examples of five companies that engage customers by inviting them to actively participate in the innovation process by suggesting product/service ideas to help drive innovation and improve the overall customer experience (with links to their sites and excerpts from the promotional information provided there).
What would make your Starbucks experience perfect? We know you’ve got ideas – big ideas, little ideas, maybe even totally revolutionary ideas – and we want to hear them all. That’s why we created My Starbucks Idea. So you can share the ideas that matter to you and you can find out how we’re putting those ideas to work. Together, we will shape the future of Starbucks.
Any visitor can look at the ideas that have been posted. Everyone helps decide by voting. Ideas posted to the Popular Ideas section of the website (determined by using an algorithm based on number of points, number of comments and recency of post) will be considered, but our Idea Partners may also choose ideas simply because they think they’re promising.
We’ve got a dedicated team of Idea Partners – Starbucks employees who are experts in their respective fields – who will read all ideas and comments. They’ll take a combination of the most popular and most innovative ideas that are the best fit for Starbucks and present them to key decision makers within the company to recommend how we put those ideas to work.
The IdeaExchange is a forum where salesforce.com customers can suggest new concepts for our product and services, promote favorite enhancements, interact with product managers and other customers, and preview what we are planning to deliver. In salesforce.com’s ongoing efforts to continually create a dialogue with the community, the IdeaExchange provides an open and direct channel of communication for customers.
The IdeaExchange is one of the simplest and most direct ways to communicate your requirements to us. Our product management team monitors the IdeaExchange to understand which Ideas are most important and most relevant to you. We take your Ideas seriously when planning future releases. On occasion, our product managers will appear on the IdeaExchange to chime in on an ongoing discussion or ask for input on an idea of their own.
P&G Connect + Develop: Times have changed, and the world is more connected. In the areas in which we do business, there are millions of scientists, engineers and other companies globally. Why not collaborate with them? We now embrace open innovation… more than 50 percent of product initiatives at Procter & Gamble involve significant collaboration with outside innovators.
We are aggressively looking for solutions for our needs, but we also will consider any innovation — packaging, design, marketing models, research methods, engineering, technology, etc. — that would improve our products and services and the lives of the world’s consumers.
Idea Exchange is a new part of the Verizon Residential Community where community members can share ideas about new or existing Verizon products and services. This is your chance to tell us what you want to see here at Verizon, share your thoughts with others, and comment/vote on ideas and suggestions others have submitted as well. Ideas with high vote totals are more likely to be recognized and accepted by the teams at Verizon who develop our products and services.
One of the great things about Idea Exchange is that you can track the status of your ideas- as your ideas are sent to the people here at Verizon who can make them happen, you’ll see the status of your idea is updated. We’ll be telling you if the idea is something we are working on now or would like to do in the future, or if it’s something that is not feasible for us at this time. Rest assured- we’re listening to you!
Ford Social: Your Ideas. A very good idea someone once had. It could happen in the shower. It could happen at the grocery store while deciding between one- or two-ply napkins. Most likely, it’ll happen when you’re driving. A great idea pops into your head about how to make your Ford even better. Don’t keep it to yourself. Post and read ideas here. You never know, your idea could become the next big thing at Ford!
The Your Ideas site allows you to post your ideas in the following categories: Technologies, Convenience, Green, Infotainment, Performance, Personalization, and Safety. It allows you to read, comment on, and vote for ideas submitted by others (and there are thousands of ideas), and also allows you to share any of the ideas submitted with your connections on various social media platforms.
The Google Factor: Balancing Protection of the Brand With Customer “Betas” of Product Innovations
In his Business Insider article, “Talking, and LISTENING, to Your Customers,” Larry Kramer recalls 2006 negotiations to put CBS TV shows on Google. (Google hadn’t yet launched Google Video, nor had they bought YouTube.) CBS was nervous about how their shows would look on Google TV, and pushed Google on making sure that the viewing experience would be as close to perfect as possible.
The Google folks basically told CBS not to worry. “We just call it Beta and let our viewers test for us and tell us how it’s going. We’ll just keep the “Beta” on the site as long as we want so people will understand if the video freezes or refuses to start.” Ultimately, the CBS people pushed hard for guarantees that the video would be perfect before the launch. But those guarantees never came.
The clash of those two cultures was symbolic, says Kramer. While the CBS’s of the world are right to protect their brands because those brands had built multi-billion dollar businesses, the Google’s of the world are also right to engage their audiences in the process of product development, because they recognize that so much is changing so fast, and public beta testing by consumers helps Google see changes in consumer behavior as they are happening.
The New York Times is currently using a similar “beta” product customer engagement approach on their Beta620 site.
Join the Discussion: Share Your Thoughts & Stories
It’s not news that companies need to interact with and engage customers in ways that create brand loyalty. I’ve included examples of 5 companies that involve customers in product innovation, but there are many others, such as Virgin and Symantec (which even allows contributors to earn rewards that can be redeemed for gift certificates). Also, many companies aggressively seek and monitor feedback from their customers, and many companies effectively use that information to improve the customer experience. But there’s much to be considered about the benefits of engaging customers by actively involving them in product innovation.
What are your thoughts on actively including customers in product and service innovation? Are there certain types of businesses for which this approach wouldn’t work? Do you have knowledge of legal restrictions that prevent some companies from soliciting or using product ideas from customers? Are you aware of any other companies or brands using interesting approaches to including customers in driving product or service innovation? What are your thoughts on companies using customers to beta test new product ideas?