Lets go on a journey back in time. The year is 2004 (pre the launch of the Gmail beta), and it marked a year of change in online services. It was the start of what has now become a standard – launching online services whilst in beta to the public. Prior to this point software and web sites were tested amongst select private groups and then launched publicly. Everything was a bit slower.
Today, whether it is a need for speed or just a requirement to get something out there, betas prevail. In fact something like 40% of all Google’s products are still in beta. This feeds the online tech community’s thirst for something new and also makes use of a group of people who are tech savvy and able to identify improvements and issues – quickly. It is an open source of testing.
There is a downside though – I have signed up to countless services in the last few months alone and whilst some just don’t impress and I promptly leave never to entertain their doorstep again most are (unsurprisingly being in beta) good but just not quite there yet. I usually write about improvements on here to those services and/or submit feedback to the owners for (hopeful) addition. But with so many services starting up, time is becoming a limiting factor and I have noticed a dramatic improvement in the ways these services are interacting with the tech community.
Three methods stand out.
1. The use of getSatisfaction – Intense Debate, Twitter and many others have used this to their great benefit. It acts as a 3rd party support/feature request engine and allows for public interaction on a product – like a Forum 2.0. The important thing to note is that your customers can add your company and products without you and interact with other customers – so it is another place online to check what is being said.
2. Surveys and reminders – Everyone knows about surveys – they are a quick and easy way to ask questions (but not too many) of your customerbase. The really important thing to remember is that whilst reading the replies takes time, that is is the reason you sent the survey in the first place 😉 I was most impressed to get emails from Qype (local reviews) about me not having interacted with them recently and from Skydeck, where I was on their beta program and I had got stuck in one of their processes (it only works with US mobile phone companies right now). I also get surveys from 1and1 – quite regularly as they often have problems – I have stopped responding to their surveys – having given them the worst marks and even asking for a callback and not gotten any response, it is obvious no one is reading them. It is just a matter of time before I close all my accounts with them down (5 weeks and counting till shutoff).
3. The last method is within the service itself. I have been using SocialMinder which is a great service that allows me to keep track of who I have talked to when – I’ll write more about this another time as it is one of the best services I have seen in quite a while. They have a prominent feedback link built into every page and have also brought the concept of voting for features that you want added to the feedback page. I’d like to see a restriction on the number of votes you have so that I can just vote for everything but so far people do not seem to have abused this. This last method is a great way to allow users to understand the need to prioritise features and not expect everything in one go.
Mind you, whilst I am all praise for SocialMinder’s setup, I have not had a response back on any of the feedback so right now I am just hoping that someone is actually reading it.
The beauty of the conversation is that when you start having one with your customers, you quickly become much closer to them – not only do you have a better understanding of their needs, but also you make your customer feel like they are involved in the company; that the company is not a cold entity and the result is an added loyalty to the service.
You can never have enough loyal customers 😉
N.B. This all assumes you dont lie to your customers. Needless to say the end result of that is a disenchanted customer or worse someone who is actively berating the service publicly.
[Update] Turns out SocialMinder does restrict the number of your votes 🙂 They are using a system called uservoice which seems to provide something similar to getSatisfaction – it seems to have some better features though is not quite as rounded out yet.