Businesses have used customer demand and feedback to direct product development for many years, but the advent of social media has forced the process into overdrive. Instead of using random population samples, basic surveys, and focus groups, organizations are letting their customers tell them what’s hot using Facebook, Twitter, and other media.
There’s even a term – “product co-creation” – that’s gaining currency to describe methods of collecting customer insight and feedback to influence the design or enhancement of a product or service.
To be sure, social media delivers a fast and efficient means of “crowdsourcing” ideas, providing companies with greater access to customer thoughts and opinions than ever before. As we reduce the impediments to communication, we get insight that can help drive successful product co-creation.
But organizations that embrace customer input in the product development lifecycle shouldn’t abandon existing forms of feedback collection. Instead, they should synthesize social media insights and information from the cross-channel customer experience. Each time a client interacts with a company or one of its employees – a visit to a Web site, a sale at a store or kiosk, a live chat with a service representative, or a call to the contact center – the company can capture vital data to help learn more about who customers are, how they behave, and what will compel them to buy.
The amount of information generated through all these venues can become massive. Successful product co-creation requires the ability to effectively tap into that “big data” to understand the factors that influence customer needs and behaviors – and that means customer analytics. Through a combination of historical analysis (which tells a company what its customers have done), predictive analytics (which forecasts what those customers will probably do in the future), and sentiment analysis (which helps businesses understand how clients feel, often by sifting through social media), organizations can get deep into their customers’ thoughts, ideas, and activities.
Customer analytics isn’t enough. Companies must supplement it with other means of more open and collaborative communication. And in order to do that, they need to foster solid, long lasting relationships: in a word, trust. That trust comes when “transactions” become two-way “interactions”, where customer and vendor continuously listen to and learn from each other.
Interestingly, companies can deepen trust using the same technologies they use for customer analytics: their business intelligence (BI) platforms.
After all, trust comes from more frequent and more open communication, and BI’s function is to turn raw data into information that can be communicated more effectively to more people. When companies project BI beyond customer analysis and other forms of back-office reporting, bringing it outside their firewall in customer-facing BI deployments, they enable their clients to interact with information about themselves – their account history, where their most recent order is, the status of any open support or help desk tickets – or can even compare their personal information with that of the aggregate customer base. (Think of Amazon’s “Customers who bought this also bought” feature.)
This is a self-perpetuating cycle. The company gives its customers more information, which in turn gives customers more reason and opportunity to interact with the company, which gives the company even more opportunities to collect valuable data. It’s a win-win situation.
In product co-creation scenarios specifically, planned products or enhancements can be shared via a BI platform – providing aggregated purchase rates, planned adoption rates, satisfaction rates, recommendation rates, and so on – to let the company gather feedback. This augments social media information collection by gathering and sharing what people do, rather than just what they think: It combines the voting and talk of social media with the hard facts of buying and selling that comes from doing business.
The lesson to be taken from all of this, I believe, is that companies can improve service and satisfaction, while moving their customer relationships from that of seller/buyer to collaborative partnership. There’s a mountain of customer information out there, and many businesses would be well-served by using social media, customer analytics, and customer-facing BI to mine it.
By Jake Freivald, vice president of corporate marketing for Information Builders
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond