Having your customers comment on your policies, products or employment practices is one thing. Having them suggest ideas for improving said policies and products — in a public forum where participants can vote on these ideas, no less — is an entirely different matter.
How well a company can handle customer participation in its business — beyond, that is, spending their money to purchase its products — is unclear. Few companies have actually put in place Web sites where customers can log on and advise the management what to do, said Mack Collier, whose blog, Viral Garden, focuses on marketing and social media.
Dell, with its implementation ofIdeastorm, is one notable example, he told CRM Buyer.
Now,so is Starbucks.ThroughMyStarbucksIdea, the company proposes to take suggestions from customers on what changes they would like to see Starbucks make, Collier says in his post. The community then votes on their favorites and provides comments.
Collier thinks the site is a great idea — and fervently hopes Starbucks doesn’t flub it. He’s not casting aspersions on the firm. He just believes, in general, that few companies are prepared to handle an onslaught of advice from their customers.
“Customers will give Starbucks a grace period,” he said, “but after a while, if they don’t see ideas being implemented — or at least openly discussed by management on the site — they will turn like a dime on Starbucks.”
Are large companies likely to stumble on their first social media attempts? If so, so what? “Dell’s initial slip-ups in the blogosphere helped get their culture to a point where they were willing to embrace blogging and a community-empowerment idea like Ideastorm,” Collier observes in the post.
That leads to even more interesting speculation: What if MyStarbucksIdea ends up being the runaway success that it could become? “How many more Fortune 500 companies might adopt a similar customer-empowerment site in the next year?” wonders Collier.
Few companies tend to close the loop on social marketing, judging from comments in response to Collier’s post. “What is beginning to irk me,” writes Mack, “are companies (and social media networking sites) that seem to open doors for customer conversations but never join in. It’s as though [they] are sending platitudes, expecting customers to give them feedback and ideas but never even say ‘thanks.'”
People are asking for a “Buy 9 Drinks Get 1 Free” offering, comments Seth Brady, which Starbucks has rejected in the past. “When the overwhelming majority clamors for this, and it goes against your brand identity, do you change your brand to meet the needs of your community?”
There hasn’t been a lot of “Official Starbucks Response” on the ideas, Brady points out. “[I] assume this is because they’re silently listening and don’t want to lead the witness or try influencing votes. But it will be telling in the coming weeks how responsive this team becomes.”
It may be that the grace period customers are willing to give Starbucks before they become irate with inactivity is shorter than some expect. “I don’t think that asking a company big or small to use a tactic ‘properly’ even for the first time is unrealistic,” comments Toby. “If we feel that the same ‘respect’ is due social media marketing as is placed on *any* marketing strategy from research to interactive the people implementing those strategies should be held to the same standards.”
At bottom, MyStarbucksIdea is another variation of a company listening to — or saying it’s listening to, or trying to listen to — its customers and employees.
There’s another, umm, low-tech mechanism that one large retailer in the Midwest is using to accomplish the same result, notes Patrick Schaber in a blog post atThe Lonely Marketer.
Meet Jill, an employee in the communications department, who went to her bosses with an unusual idea.
“She plopped down two chairs in the heart of this busy corporate campus and put a sign over the two chairs calling out a topic for the day,” Schaber wrote. “She occupied one chair and then waited. And waited. And waited for another employee to sit down and discuss the topic she had posted. No technology. No motives. Just a person genuinely interested in her co-worker’s thoughts and feelings.
“Well, her wait was short. People started to sit and talk. One at a time, Jill sat and spoke with employees. Taking notes on employees concerns and feedback, she promised their input would be anonymously passed on to upper management — and it is.”
At times, reports Schaber, there are lines waiting to talk with her. The company is not only planning to increase her availability to talk, but also considering plunking her down at stores to talk with customers about their experience.
“Again, two chairs. A topic. No technology. The whole world of business broken down to its simplest form — face to face, honest communication.”
More Thoughts on Convergence
Microsoft and its customers are winding down from its Convergence conference earlier this month. Attendees, meanwhile, continue to digest their thoughts on what they saw and heard there.
Microsoft missed a prime opportunity to tell its Web 2.0 story even as it continues to refine its CRM product, Denis Pombriant, principal of Beagle Research, told CRM Buyer.
“Microsoft has a very serviceable CRM 1.0 product,” Pombriant said. “However, in a world that is increasingly talking about CRM 2.0, social media, social networking and communities, Microsoft still has some distance to travel.”
Pombriant did get to see some community applications, he says in hisblog post, and he was told that version 5.0 will have more emphasis on CRM 2.0 — but that’s still in the future.
At least one commenter to Pombriant’s post wondered if Web 2.0 is essential to CRM 2.0. “Aren’t customers still very much focused on leveraging their investment in CRM 1.0 and are gradually evolving to CRM 2.0?” asks Munjal Dave. “Also, most customers are probably not looking for a suite for CRM 2.0 yet. Yes, Collaboration and Web 2.0 is very important but so is improving internal processes, and both of these are not mutually exclusive.”
Whether or not the two categories are mutually dependent now, is clearly a matter of debate. But Pombriant is not alone in his observation that Microsoft CRM is lagging in its Web 2.0 discussions, at least with customers.
“Maybe it’s because the audience was mostly IT people, but they aren’t thinking strategically about the possibilities of the systems,” wrote Liz Glagowski, “and they certainly aren’t ready to connect to customers in the Web 2.0 realm yet. To me it just shows how IT and the rest of the organization really need to break down barriers and work holistically on efficiency gains as well as customer relationship improvements.”
Timely! I posted this yesterday: "what makes me crazy when I see so many online communities totally unattended by the host company or worse yet: totally disconnected from those that actually drive the direction of the product or service. As the Cluetrain Manifesto would express (paraphrasing): Markets are conversations; are you ready to engage? "