Leveraging Web 2.0 to Improve Collaboration With and Among Customers
The SSPA Research ‘topic of the month’ for November was web collaboration, and when I surveyed members to see what they wanted me to write about I expected Web chat to be the top vote getter, but turned out “Leveraging Web 2.0 to Improve Collaboration With and Among Customers” was the most popular choice. I just published a report on this topic, and thought since it was a Web 2.0 topic I should recap a truncated version here.
With many companies launching ‘voice of the customer’ initiatives, input from customers is becoming more sought after than ever before. As support organization push towards Value-Added Support, direct input from customers is critical to delivering service offerings and products that not only fit customer needs, but help deliver more business value and better enable customer success. But capturing customer feedback isn’t always easy, and relying on surveys as the only mechanism to gather input will soon exhaust the patience of some customers. Finding new ways to collaborate with customers, and encourage peer-to-peer customer collaboration, is a good strategy to collect the necessary input, as well as build stronger relationships with customers overall.
Establishing Strong Collaboration Processes is Essential
Just as with CRM (customer relationship management) or ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, technology implementations can only succeed when strong processes are in place, and Web collaboration is exactly the same. If you do not currently have a well designed process to solicit and track customer feedback and input on products and service offerings, launching an online community and expecting customers to automatically participate will fail. Similarly, if you have yet to define a way for customers to contact each other, sharing information and best practices, the fact that you launch an option to do this online will be unlikely to find high customer adoption.
The key, then, is to take your existing processes for customer collaboration and migrate them to the Web, incorporating community capabilities such as forums and Wikis to replace existing email distribution lists, conference calls, maybe even some local user group meetings. Once this online beachhead is established, you can begin to expand the community to incorporate additional processes and additional customers. When other customers see lively discussions going on around topics they are interested in, they will be much more likely to join in and participate.
Based on inquiries and conference conversations, SSPA Member companies are curious where to start with online communities. While every company, and every industry, approaches processes differently, here are a few ideas on existing processes that likely are already in place that easily lend themselves to online execution. See the published version of the report for discussion and recommendations on each:
- Beta tests
- Bug/Enhancement requests
- Customer focus groups
- Regional user groups
Of all the shifts companies need to make to create robust voice of the customer programs, one of the most challenging may be the philosophical shift from “push” to “pull.” Though support organizations have always collected customer feedback on bugs and enhancement requests, most customers would likely say that their input was not a driving force behind product releases. As companies move from being wholly market driven to more emphasis on being customer driven, realize that having customers believe their input is wanted and will be influential is key.
- Educate customers on use of their input. Customers should be educated on the specific programs in place to capture their feedback and how this feedback is used by support, development, marketing, etc. By explicitly explaining the process, customers will understand that feedback programs are more than ‘lip service.’
- Make your organization an ‘active listener.’ A frequent customer complaint is that companies don’t hear or understand them. Apply some ‘active listening’ guidelines to your customer communications: acknowledge input electronically to show it has been captured, recap top requests or input themes for customers, and give customers some realistic feedback on their requests.
- Coach agents on relationship skills as well as technical skills. Encouraging customers to give input and thoughtfully discussing their ideas is not a skill set necessarily found in all technical support agents. Training is required for agents to understand the soft skills necessary to broker and build relationships with customers, and reward/incentive programs must be changed to focus on more than productivity and technical expertise.
I hope this helps. If you have any comments or questions, please add a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!