Finding Customer Insight in Online Communities

By Jim Vecchio

The iconic retail visionary Harry Gordon Selfridge is famously quoted saying “the customer is always right.” While this is a statement worthy of some debate, the bottom line is this – in order to be successful, you have to listen to your customer. They will tell you volumes about how your products and services are measuring up to their expectations. All you have to do is listen.

The evolution of listening to customer feedback has taken us from focus groups, to client comment cards, to phone calls, then guided surveys and has exploded with the mainstream adoption of online data such as reviews, knowledge bases and social media. The tools have certainly changed, but the goal of driving the business towards what the customer wants via actionable insight remains the same.

One of the most insight-rich sources of customer feedback is online communities. Companies like Cisco, SAP, EMC and others have all demonstrated a commitment to serving their customers by building relationships using online communities. Whether interacting with each other, with associates from your organization, or simply leaving product reviews or comments, the customer conversations are real and unguided. They provide tremendous insight on many aspects of your business from product design and quality to store layout. While communities are most known for deflecting customer service calls (and the mega-savings associated with that), they also have the potential to boost marketing efforts, increase product knowledge, increase customer loyalty, and uncover problems you didn’t even know you had.

But communities produce a mountain of data. Millions of conversations can really add up. So how do organizations find the nuggets of insights within all those conversations? We know actionable insight is the ultimate goal of data collection, and should be the standard, but actually doing it appears to be the exception. Forrester research shows 74% of businesses want to be data driven, yet only 29% are successful at putting analytics into action. What’s the disconnect? Many organizations are left paralyzed by the vast amounts of data, a general lack of understanding in how to make sense of it all and corporate bureaucracy.

Technologies such as text and sentiment analysis tools enable the discovery of key topics and sentiment. They enrich the data by marrying it with operational data such as product ID, store location and customer ID to achieve a complete picture of the customer environment. Many platforms collect and analyze the data in real-time and distribute useful insights in the form of reports such as trends and insights to business leaders throughout the organization. These technologies enable the organization to focus on taking immediate action rather than weeks and months lost in the actual analysis. Furthermore it helps leaders make confident decisions based on fact rather than gut intuition.

There is a veritable goldmine of insight in community feedback that if properly analyzed can help organizations respond faster, avoid repeat mistakes and highlight what is working. While those goals may seem lofty, they are achievable with a technology platform that enables the analysis necessary to make sense of the feedback. And in the end leading to improved customer satisfaction scores, loyalty and revenue. Who knew a customer community could lend so much value?