Building a Customer Listening System Using Web 2.0

The collection of technologies that enable customers to be participants and not just the passive recipients of communication is what many are calling “Web 2.0.”

While there just as many definitions of “Web 2.0” as there are people writing about it, I’d say its safe ground to include the following: blogs; peer-to-peer networking for both files and music; RSS (Really Simple Syndication); social media; social networking sites including LinkedIn; wikis; and the combining of Web applications to create mash-ups, which I first learned of from reading Forrester Vice President and Principal AnalystCharlene Li’s blog. Taken together, those are the building blocks of Web 2.0. Some claim tagging is part of Web 2.0; others don’t — but decide for yourself by checking out andDigg to see what they’re about.

In fact, Web 2.0 is transforming the Internet into an operating platform unto itself, and from that vantage point, the revolutionary product ideas thatGoogle must be exploring are, I am sure, fascinating. One can only imagine what Google must be thinking regarding Web 2.0-based customer-centric initiatives based on their advances in several key technology areas — all visible to the outside world at Google Labs’ papers section, which is worth a look from time to time just to see what’s going on in their R&D departments. + Google = The Beginnings of Customer-Driven Web 2.0?

Tim O’Reilly’s article“What is Web 2.0?” from 2005 got me to thinking about how Web 2.0 has progressed in the last year and a half since he wrote this piece, and reflecting on integration to Google AdWords, which sounds much like what he is speaking of in terms of Web 2.0.

For nearly every enterprise software company under US$30 million in sales, AdWords is the biggestlead generation spend category in the yearly budgets. Integrating and AdWords is another data point toward rewriting the customer relationship management (CRM) landscape to be ever more Web 2.0-centric.

Creating a Customer Listening System

Given the many tools that comprise Web 2.0, many B2C (business to customer) companies are experimenting with each, aiming to synchronize content through acontent management system.

Based on projects in development at several large consumer goods product (CPG) manufacturers, this is working out very well, and is in fact leading to potential new product innovations. These CPG manufacturers rely on blogs, wikis and RSS feeds to create a more collaborative level of communication with consumers. In addition, the CPG manufacturers began tracking and monitoring activity across all Yahoo newsgroups, for example.

One of the CPG manufacturers in the set opted tooutsource its customer listening system efforts toCymfony, which is a company worth monitoring as its technologies and direction are fascinating in this area of listening to customers via Web 2.0 consumer-generated media.

While many smaller companies want to create an active customer-listening system and aren’t ready to partner with Cymfony or a comparable vendor in this area, there are steps that can be taken. Here are some recommendations to get started on your own customer listening system:

  • Online communities for building product development panels. One globally known manufacturer of building products began creating an online community using first interest groups and then created an online panel of over 2,000 design, development, production, purchasing, procurement, sales and service professionals to assist in its new product development and introduction process (NPDI).

    From this group of 2,000, the manufacturer allowed much discussion in the community, and 20 emerged as the leaders — the cognoscenti if you will — of the group. This group was placed into a second online community and interacted with design engineers from the manufacturer at a two-day design review session. The result was the development of a new building product that had greater global reach and opened entirely new channels of distribution.

  • Start building an expert blog. That’s what Toyota did with its blog on the hybrid engines, assigning a development engineer to monitor the blog for technical support. Customers complained about the first hybrid engines catching fire due to a fuel line accidentally designed too close to the engine housing. The design engineer owned up to the flaw, explained the situation online, and even explained how dealers were given instructions for fixing the situation, and the issue was resolved. Based on this, Toyota now has a full time blogger just for hybrids. There are other companies following this direction as well. Expert blogs are powerful, because they impart advice quickly and honestly — definitely a great aspect of building an online brand.
  • Experts tackling disgruntled customers’ problems need to be fast and furious. Companies that have these expert blogs are learning that when a disgruntled customer gets online and posts problems in getting service, speed and accuracy of response are everything. Having a one-on-one response within 24 hours that moves closer to a resolution is critical; in fact, doing whatever it takes to solve the problem and deliver exceptional customer service is what is needed in this instance. You want to start creating a legendary level of service here; earn a reputation for responsiveness and that will go a long way. Whatever happens, don’t institutionalize the response with canned e-mails.
  • Give your customers a chance to get their groove on with YouTube. What’s turning into one of the hottest Web 2.0 trends this year is the sponsoring of commercial contests where customers have the opportunity to get their groove on with YouTube. It’s been fascinating to watch the uptake of this trend, and the blogChurch of the Customer has a good entry on this subject. Of all the ones viewed, TurboTax is one of the most entertaining, and the Southwest Airlines offerings are hilarious as well. In a sense, these videos from customers reflect the branding values projected by the companies. Thought for the day: What kind of YouTube videos would your customers create if you sponsored a contest? This is an interesting question and one worth pondering — even for a laugh during the day.

In closing, wouldn’t it be great if Google boughtLinkedIn, and instead of people, there were entire company groupings up there? Complete with YouTube videos, both from the company and from customers online? In the new Uber-LinkedIn, you could get a comprehensive view of any company from a customer’s perspective, complete with videos. This would be sales force automation on steroids, and just one of the many implications of how customer-driven Web 2.0 will change how companies present themselves to customers forever.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.

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