Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gathering customer product insight using Twitter

Gathering and sorting through customer feedback is an overlooked part of the product manager's toolbox. Currently-used methods are inadequate to the task: surveys are limiting and misleading (one man's 4 is another man's 3, and so forth). Focus groups are biased and prone to takeover by assertive voices.

Fine-grained, freeform feedback, such as is gathered in customer service calls (or, as I'm doing with one client, in open-ended interviews), provides a wide range of opinions from a diverse group, relatively untainted by outside influences, measurement bias and company hypotheses.

The new social applications offer a new and promising way to gather feedback cheaply and in real time. Twitter is one such application being put to use.

Dell and Comcast, for instance, troll Twitter looking for references to their products and services. If people are struggling, their Twitter users will reach out and try to solve the problem, or point them in the right direction to get help. It's as if a call to tech support was being worked on in public. It's highly responsive, and the users who get this kind of attention appreciate it, usually announcing their satisfaction in a Tweet.

Other times, Dell in particular responds quickly to critiques of their products (see an earlier post and a Dell comment). It's done well--not pushing back on the commenters, but certainly getting the company message out in that forum. In other words, comments on Dell products are always responded to.

Both the above examples have obvious PR benefits and bring the Comcast and Dell folks who engage in these conversations closer to the real customer experience. All good.

What I'm talking about, in addition to that, is collecting dozens or hundreds of tweets on a particular product and looking at them all together. What do they say about the product? Are these issues that seem to crop up continually? Are people using the product in unexpected ways? Is something about the product really, really annoying people?

Note that gathering the data is easy. Sorting it out is the hard part, but using narrative analysis techniques can separate the wheat from the chaff and give you real, useable insights.

(Here's an example of the Twitter conversation around the new Ford Flex. I hope Ford's product marketers are listening! Here's another conversation on the Flip video camera)

There are other ways to gather freeform customer feedback. Customer reviews on Amazon, for example. Blog posts. Companies should use all of them. Particularly as these technologies become more embedded, and more people start talking in these forums, the stories customers tell will be more and more vital to innovation and the product creation process.

(If you'd like a comprehensive look at how businesses can use social technologies to engage with the outside, read Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff)

Related posts:
Dell's web2.0 efforts pay off
Is Google listening to the stories around Knol?
On "Groundswell"

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Stewart Rogers said...

I troll Twitter for FeaturePlan tweets and I have also seen another product get ripped to shreds and which were ignored by the vendor. However, Twitter is only one source of input. Have you watched the Market Sensing webinars at the Product Management View?

John Caddell said...

I haven't, Stewart, but I will check them out. Thanks for the tip. regards, John