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Voice of the Customer Archives

Who Are Your Blind Sailors?

Posted by Bill Lee on September 14, 2010 at 03:38 PM

San Francisco's Ed Gallagher was an avid sailor when he went blind 15 years ago at the age of 44. But in the last few years he and a couple of other disabled sailors began experimenting with some gizmos that would allow Ed to actually said a boat again--by himself. They jerry rigged a rudimentary system consisting of a laptop and a bulky camera strapped to a bike helmet, to allow someone with sight to direct him from anywhere in the world. They since improved technology with things like Wi-Fi, a more compact webcam embedded in sunglasses, and a small Asustek network computer. The solution isn't perfect, but it by gosh has the blind Ed out in the SF Bay, sailing "alone."

So what, you say? How could such an outlandish use of those technologies matter? Because Ed is a classic type: a "lead user," that is, a customer whose demands are ahead of those of the majority of the market, and who have much to gain from a solution to such needs. And these folks can be KEY for companies wanting to improve their innovation. 

That's how, for example, auto makers came up with the idea of antilock braking systems (ABS) from the airline industry--planes have much more extreme braking needs than cars, and they developed ABS to meet them. The result: auto makers adopted antilock braking system (ABS) technology to autos with great success.

Already, Ed's technology is showing similar abilties to adapt to other less extreme needs: it's been used to help blind people recognize the difference between regular yellow mustard and Dijon in a refrigerator, for example. There are four million blind people in the US. 75% are not employed. Developing technologies to help them work is a tremendous potential market. Lead users like Ed--as opposed to just gathering a bunch of researchers in a room to "think of something"--can help show the way.


Tips From Ben McConnell on Harnessing Social Media

Posted by Bill Lee on April 11, 2007 at 07:48 AM

Since 2001, Ben McConnell has been researching the effects of word of mouth on customer loyalty. Forbes calls his work (along with partner Jackie Huba) in this field "the word of mouth gospel." In his newest book, Citizen Marketers, Ben and Jackie examine the social media explosion: the ever-growing communities of enthusiasts and evangelists using videos, photos, and animations, as well as the "user-generated media" of blogs, online bulletin boards, and podcasts.

And I'm happy to say that Ben will be keynoting at our Spring 2007 Customer Reference Forum on April 24. Here, he takes a few minutes to talk about the implications of citizen marketing for customer reference managers.

Q: The phenomenon of Citizen Marketers has sparked a number of great stories in the consumer and small business world -- as the little guy takes on and sometimes wins against the giant corporation. Where do you see the trend going in the stodgier world of B2B business?

A: The examples in the B2C world often involve customers taking the reins of participation and leading the way for others like themselves to get involved with a company or its products. They create pathways for conversations, which lead to alleys of influence and ultimately, the doorbells of
referrals. For people in the B2B world, the burgeoning world of social media -- participatory media -- can be a rich source of conversations between customer and company, customer and other customers, and customer and prospects. Social media also expose companies to the influence of customers'
opinions. Then it's a two-way street. Better be prepared for the traffic.

Q: If you're a marketing manager in a high tech firm, how would you map out
a strategy to find and engage the citizen marketers relevant to your firm?

A: First, build a listening strategy. That may be a big step for companies used to dictating the rules. Understand what's being said on blogs, forums and social media sites and by whom. Rank the opinion leaders and their ability to lead conversations. After that, decide whether your engagement strategy will be out in the open or more reserved like shuttle diplomacy. The answer probably depends on the size of the company, the number of prospects involved and the company's culture. About the only rule to engaging the citizen marketers is: Each one is different. Treat them like
guests in your home.

Q: If you're a customer reference manager (our group), should you try to
encourage your most enthusiastic references -- what Fred Reichheld calls
"promoters" -- to engage in some citizen marketing on your behalf?

A: Yes, but it's important to observe what's already being created in the marketplace by everyday citizens about your company, product or sector and build on top of that. By keeping close tabs on existing "creation trends" within your sector, you'll avoid the mistake of trying to push citizen
marketers down a contrived path that's unfamiliar to them.

Q: How do we marketers avoid the tendency we all have -- to control the

A: By now, every marketer in the world has probably heard the admonition to
"give up control!" It's a scold, and it creates a natural resistance. I think the better frame to use is: "Create more ownership." Give the early adopters and the content creators -- the one percenters -- the keys and
tools to take ownership of your company, product or brand. The nature of their emotional investment increases their long-term commitment. A housing analogy works pretty well here: In your neighborhood, would you rather have your neighbors be renters or owners?

Interview With Mario Sundar

Posted by Bill Lee on March 14, 2007 at 08:24 AM

Marketing evangelist Mariio Sundar publishes a popular blog called Marketing Nirvana and like Jeremiah (below), he is helping raise the profile of refeence programs. Mario works with a Bay Area marketing agency and is on the board of the American Marketing Association's Silicon Valley Chapter. Recenly he posed 5 questions to me about reference programs and social media.

Q1. This year’s CRF event seems to be focused on topics such as citizen marketers, customer communities, social media, etc… In your opinion, how has social networking impacted customer references within Corporate America? Is 2007 the year, social media will reach a tipping point among the customer reference community?

A: We’re going to cover a broad array of topics at the CRF, but yes, we are definitely going to explore social media and its implications on reference programs. I think social media will indeed reach a tipping point among all marketers, in terms of awareness. Corporate marketers of all types are very concerned that they are losing control of the conversation about their firms’ products and brands. But among all marketers, I think reference professionals — many of whom have spent years building close relationships with customers — are in a great position. With social media, they’ll simply take these relationships to new places using new forms.

Q2. How are enterprise customers adapting to the newly evolving paradigm of social media?

A: So far the lone users and bloggers who can send shockwaves through a major corporation seem to be getting a lot of the attention. In comparison, I think enterprise customers are going to find lower-key, but more systematic — and very effective — ways to use social media and other community tools to exchange information about vendors. If I’m a CIO contemplating a major technology implementation, for example, why should I limit myself to talking to the references provided by the buyer? When you’re talking about 6, 7 or even 8-figure implementations, I’d like to be part of a community of other CIOs who regularly exchange information in a sophisticated, systematic way about vendors

Q3. A few examples of evolutionary/revolutionary customer reference programs (maybe using social media) that you have been impressed with lately?

A: One of the best models for a reference program is SAP’s. In the last couple of years, Coleen Kaiser built it into a sophisticated global operation. Among other things, the SAP reference program has incorporated Fred Reicheld’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) into its operations, developed a reference program with its partners that created roughly a thousand new references in a matter of months, and is at the forefront of establishing the connection between references and revenue. The SAP program even trains sales on how to use references! As for reference programs making the best use of social media, stay tuned for our upcoming forum in Berkeley on April 23!

Q4. I’d recently written a post on the 5 New Rules of customer references, in which I spoke about the level of control that users of a community should have? Do you think there should be a difference in the level of control provided to B2C users vs. B2B users?

A: Both your post and the Creating Passionate Users post you refer to provide some valuable perspective. The rise of social media does not mean users will take total control. They don’t want total control. But they do want more information and more transparency than they’ve been getting, and I think they see social media and other community forums as a way to get these. That means that marketers are going to have to get used to giving up some control — a very scary thing for us! But the ones who don’t panic and find the opportunities to get their message out in this new world are going to thrive.

Q5. In the years past, there has been a perception that customer references “especially in the realm of big enterprise software projects like ERP and CRM—have ceased to have much real meaning” (Source: CIO Magazine). How do you think that has changed since the article came out in 4/2002?

A: I linked to that article shortly after we started our newsletter. It was a clarion call, in my view, to avoid the tendency we have to sugar coat everything that is said about our products and services — even to the extent of rewarding a customer in exchange for acting as a reference! That, of course, destroys their credibility. In the years since, I’ve sensed a growing movement — particularly among the leading programs — to move away from rewards, points programs, free consulting, etc, in exchange for acting as a reference. It’s OK to provide a reasonable “thank you” gift to a customer who’s spent a day presenting at your industry conference. It’s not OK to provide a quid pro quo.

Thanks for your candid responses, Bill. So what do you think will be the greatest takeaway for corporate marketers from Customer Reference Forum — Spring 07?

A: The greatest takeaway will be the relationships participants establish and build with their peers. With respect to social media, the great takeaway will be that this phenomenon, scary as it may seem, will present tremendous opportunities to reference programs and the professionals who run them."

Reference Programs and Social Media: 9 Questions for Jeremiah Owyang

Posted by Bill Lee on March 8, 2007 at 12:03 PM

In addition to having substantial experience with Hitachi Data Systems' customer reference program, Jeremiah Owyang is a rapidly rising star in the world of social media. His own blog is in the top 1% according to Technorati. In his video show for the Pod network he has interviewed luminaries such as Michael Dell, Craig Newmark (craigslist founder) and Marc Canter, founder of Macromedia (now Adobe). He has been involved with or managed four Corporate Enterprise Intranets, and two extranets ranging from enterprises such as Exodus Communications, Cable and Wireless, World Savings, and most recently Hitachi Data Systems. He is also the Director of Corporate Media Strategy at PodTech Networks in Palo Alto, a company focused on Video Blogging, Podcasting and Blogging. And I'm happy to say he'll be presenting at our next Customer Reference Forum on April 24. To learn more about Jeremiah, check out his blog, Web Strategy by Jeremiah.

Today he's sharing thoughts on the rise of social media and its coming impact on reference programs.

Q: First off, what is Social Media? What is Social Networking? How are they different?

A: In the taxonomy of the Internet, "Social Media" is the larger family and "Social Networks" are a sub- class within that family. One analogy could be Social Media = all paper publications, and Social Networks are paper magazines, just one subset.

Social Media is the superset and encompasses many tools such as Blogs, Podcasts, Wikis, forums, tagging software, videoblogs, mashups, as well as social networks.

When I think of "Social Networks", I think of MySpace, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Xanga, CyWord, and Club Penguin. Most of these websites require users to register, provide some profile information, and often (but not always) limit the community to participate within the confines of its domain.

Q: Will social media make marketing obsolete?

A: No, it makes savvy Marketers more relevant.

Marketers are traditional one-way message creators. With Social Media, this forces Marketers to join these conversations of communities that are forming (even if corporations don't participate) and be part of a two-way dialogue that matters.

Customers will be telling marketers exactly how they want their products, information, and services, and that is an opportunity to become better and more accurate marketers.

Q: Suppose a group of buyers start comparing notes on vendors, perhaps like a CIO user group. What should a customer reference program do about it?

A: For private user groups, this is a challenge. I would recommend creating open feedback mechanisms using social media forums or blogs to encourage members of these private user groups to offer their opinion or group findings. It's in their best interest to tell vendors what they think of them, so vendors can improve their offerings over time.

Savvy companies will try to join conversations that exist in public spaces or build tools that let customers and user groups voice their feedback directly to corporations. Intuit's QuickBooks online community is documented as an excellent online community. Recently, Dell launched IdeaStorm, which gives customers and prospects the opportunity to tell Dell exactly what products they want by a submission and voting process. It's still too early to label IdeaStorm as a success or failure yet.

If it's a public space, like blogs, social networks, or public forums, there's opportunity for customer reference programs to get involved. I'll be going into detail at the Customer Reference forum on some methods to do this.

Q: How is Social Media different in the B2B space vs. the consumer space?

A: Without having seen any formal reports on this, I'm going to suggest there is little difference.

Based upon my experience deploying a B2B Social Media program at a Global Fortune 1000 tech company (Hitachi Data Systems), customers would use social media to tell their experiences with the products and services of the company just like I've seen consumers do.

If there was a difference, perhaps the longer decision/buying cycle common to B2B marketing could require a corporate Social Media program to extend along that cycle.

Q: The premise of marketing is that corporations need to communicate to customers and prospects. The premise of customer reference programs is to gain credibility by using customers to speak on the corporation's behalf. Now with social media, customers are talking to each other, unimpeded. Isn't that dangerous for the corporation? Isn't it dangerous to reference managers' careers?

A: There are definite threatening disruptions for corporations and customer reference managers due to Social Media. My post provides some practical suggestions on how to make the Customer Reference Program MORE relevant.

Instead of just harvesting positive references, by extending the Customer Reference program into the Social Media programs, managers can also help build loyalty, join customers in creating the brand together, improve product innovation and feedback, better understand their customers and learn about other market forces, such as competition.

Most importantly, in addition to the Customer Reference program, the savvy manager will harness the word of mouth of existing customers and get them to sing the praises on behalf of the corporation.

Q: What B2B companies have been notably successful in fostering online customer communities?

A: To start off with, Hitachi had a successful "Community Marketing" program that brought customers closer, connected product managers with customers, extended executive thought leadership, tied together an industry, and leveraged the word of mouth of customers. I'm biased of course, as I lead this program!

Microsoft, Sun, IBM, HP, Wells Fargo, Intuit, every music artist, most TV shows are using online communities for success. There are many case studies and examples that are developing right now.

Q: If I'm running a reference program, what's the first thing I should do to capitalize on the Social Media phenomenon?

A: Step One: Understand Social Media. Get educated: Grab some books like Naked Conversations, or ClueTrain Manifesto, and consider attending some conferences. I first learned about social media at the Blog Business Summit . I'm also a fan of the Social Media Club. Both organizations are run by my respected industry peers.

Q: What's the best use of Social Media you've seen that's relevant to a reference manager (by a B2B company, if possible)?

A: Hitachi's CTO is a blogger, and on one key post he asked for feedback on products. A few vocal customers responded in detail about their experiences with Hitachi products (both positive and negative). We then involved the product teams in responding and learning from this free 'focus group' information.

Our CTO then referred to these posts from his own blog. It was an authentic Customer Reference initiative that was not influenced by Hitachi to be positive. One would only expect a prospect reading such dialogue to have a higher degree of trust in Hitachi.

There are many other examples. Former Microsoft Blogger Robert Scoble (now my colleague at PodTech) would highlight customer opinions and experiences with products. He pointed both to the positive and negative ones, which resulted in Robert becoming a trusted source of information about Microsoft -- despite being their employee.

Q: What's the worst Social Media screw-up you've seen?

A: It's hard to tell if it was a screw-up or not -- perhaps there were some intended objectives that I don't know of -- but many have suggested that WalMart's efforts to create a social networking MySpace clone was a big mistake. It's hard to imagine why children would use such a network when they're already in existing networks. I would suggest to corporate web strategists that they consider joining communities rather than creating ones -- especially if the community you envision already exists.

Just a few months later, WalMart and Edelman were found out to have created and produced a fake blog that promoted WalMart which is now cynically dubbed "Edelmart." One PR professional verbally compared it to "finding out your favorite athlete who you idolize just got caught using drugs or steroids."