I am sure that some of you know the quote “It’s my way or the highway“. Patrick Swayze’s character ‘Dalton’ in Roadhouse sure did know how to lay down the law. Although I am not trying to compare the online world to a rough road side bar, what I would like to point out is that ‘Dalton’ would have a hard time in the online world in this day and age. Why? Users are getting a voice!
Gone are the days where web- and product developers (and the many other job titles surrounding this topic) determined what was best for their website/product. A popular and much needed trend has been discovered over the past few years where the focus on design and development has shifted to the users. But how do you break down the barriers between you and your users in order to hear what they really have to say?
Note: For the purpose of this article, a “user” will be defined as a website visitor, customer, product user, general internet user et al.
With the introduction of main stream social networks several years ago, users have started to learn how to use their voice. In the beginning where irc and chatting were all the rage, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and for us Dutch people Hyves have given users a tool to connect with friends and share their thoughts, compliments, disapproval and media on a larger scale.
“To what level can companies benefit from this?” By asking this question, I am implying that all companies want to benefit from hearing what their users have to say. This is definitely not the case, but for the purpose of this article let’s just pretend it is.
Social networks and in particular Twitter give companies the opportunity to seek out information about themselves and their products. By using the search function on Twitter, or by using online tools like Monitter or offline tools like Tweetdeck to monitor brand and product names companies can gain insights to the word on the streets.
Website feedback, why not?
It is a simple fact that input from your users is worth a bag of gold. Social media does allow users to share their thoughts but approaching them is an entirely different story. Another slightly anonymous method to collect input from your website visitors is by conducting Voice of Customer surveys.
Companies such as iPerceptions and ForeSee Results are specialists in this field. To be honest, I do see some restrictions in the use of this method as it only focusses on visitors to a website. It does, however, give these users a chance to share the experience with the website owners.
Since usability is a hot topic these days, users are learning to share their thoughts on that subject too. I think everyone has had a bad or a ridiculously irritating experience on a website before. Where do you voice your concerns? Sure, a voice of customer survey would help, but what if the website in question is not conducting one?
This is where a website like the Dutch ReviewIt comes into play. ReviewIt, like the word suggests, allows users to share their joy or disappointments about a particular website by reviewing it. Companies are free to communicate with the reviewers via the website and thus break down the barriers.
If many websites like Amazon allow users to give feedback about a product, why not give feedback about the website itself? Constructive criticism never hurt anyone and could even help improve a user’s experience of your website.
Let’s enjoy some quality time together!
So what other ways are there to get in touch with your client base? Focus groups? In the past forums were a powerful tool for companies to get feedback, offer support and inventory feature requests (if users were so lucky). Forums became difficult to manage, prone to misuse, service costs were involved and companies would never understand the annoyance that arose with users who had to sign up for yet another forum.
GetSatisfaction, a San Francisco based company, made use of this situation and even added a new dimension to online customer service. On the website you can search for companies and products that you have a question or comment about. The power of GetSatisfaction lies in the sense that if the company and/or product is not known to the website, it will allow you, the user, to leave a comment anyway, because according to the owners ‘anyone can create a free customer community’.
With this approach any visitor can always leave their comments on the site, ie. complete their goal. The second powerful feature of the website is that anyone can respond, be it a company representative or another community member (often another customer). In all fairness, GetSatisfaction truly defines ‘People Powered Customer Service’. Similar to the Review-it, albeit not free, companies can reach out to their users via the website and communicate in a forum type fashion.
Yes, you can!
I know it, I just used a cliche expression as the title for this paragraph. Without going too deep into politics, I would like to say that democracy has finally arrived online!
Who doesn’t want to turn good products into great products? Who doesn’t want to capture feedback and ideas and even let users vote on them? UserVoice, a Santa Cruz based startup, has developed a nice online application that allows companies to gather users feedback on products that can help them in future development.
Users can also share ideas which, when offered as possible new feature, they can later vote on. This will allow developers to focus on those ideas which are (perceived as) the most important to the end users of the product. True democracy at work!
As you might have noticed I did not go into much detail about the benefits and possible pitfalls of using users feedback in all of its forms. This is a tough subject to cover as every company has there own policies concerning development and user research.
On a brighter note, I honestly think that companies should get more involved in bridging the gap between users and themselves. Users are your #1 source of feedback which, when analyzed properly, can seriously help you improve your product and services, which could in turn help you increase your market share.
So, don’t be shy and get in touch soon, because if you don’t, your competition will!