In my last article, I provided an overview of social CRM and walked through a core use case -- customer service (see How Social CRM Improves the Customer Service Lifecycle). In this post, I want to turn to another core use case, one that’s a more proactive use of social CRM than the last --product development.

Product Development 2.0

There are lots of ways to think about the product development lifecycle, and I don’t want to get bogged down here in the details of the different models. Instead, I want to focus on the portion of the product development lifecycle that Social CRM can transform, regardless of how you conceptualize product development -- customer research.

As you no doubt already know, finding out who your customers are and what they think about your products and services is nothing new, it’s a core part of a sound product development process and historically has relied on techniques like focus group testing, first-hand testimonials, customer surveys and market research. Nothing -- Social CRM or anything else -- is going to change that anytime soon.

What Social CRM can do is provide organizations with another way to get in front of the customer to find out what they’re thinking…and then turn that into improved products and services.

Community-Based Customer Engagement

If you’ve been to a site like Dell’s IdeaStorm or Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea, you’ve already experienced Social CRM-enabled product development in action. On the front end, an online community of customers who share product ideas and feedback with the company and each other, and on the back end, integration with existing product development processes to take these ideas and operationalize them.

And although the specifics will differ based on product, industry and organizational culture, there are some characteristics we would expect to see in any Social CRM application tied to a product development lifecycle:

  • User Profiles -- username handle, bio, picture
  • Ranking System -- promote/demote ideas based on users voting up or down
  • Idea Status -- identify where in the product development lifecycle ideas are (e.g. acknowledged, under review, reviewed, coming soon, launched, not planned)
  • Real-time Stats -- tally the number of users online, ideas submitted and implemented, votes case, comments, etc. 
  • Blog -- provide a more centralized, visible way for employees to address the community than simply responding via comments and discussion threads
  • Open Forums -- only minimal moderation (to enforce decency standards)
  • Active Moderation -- frequent and timely responses from moderators to customer questions and comments

What you get from an application with these characteristics is a way to entice customers to join a community, encourage them to share product ideas and feedback and incorporate the best of those ideas and feedback into new versions of products and services.

Advantages of Social CRM-enabled Product Development

Using Social CRM to gather customer feedback and ideas has a number of important advantages over more traditional methods (e.g. surveys, focus groups, market research).

  1. Cost -- While not free, the cost of building and maintaining a site like My Starbucks Idea or IdeaStorm is much less expensive than running a focus group for a similarly-sized subset of customers.
  2. Reach -- The potential audience for Social CRM is virtually limitless: a quick glance at the stats for the Starbucks and Dell sites shows staggering numbers of ideas, comments and overall participation.
  3. Relevance -- Because customers can log into the site anytime and submit ideas or feedback, the information tends to reflect “real time” conditions in the marketplace more accurately than more traditional methods, which have a longer lead time to implement and therefore can lag the market considerably.
  4. Branding/Customer Experience -- The very act of coming to the site is an encounter with the company’s brand.

Each of these advantages has a potential downside however, and it’s important to keep these in mind as you consider bringing Social CRM to bear on your product development process.

  1. Cost -- The lower price tag can diminish the perceived strategic importance of the initiative, causing it to be relegated to an “IT thing” or be placed in the hands of a undersized, under-qualified team (“give it to the intern” or “let the webmaster own it”).
  2. Reach -- The massive potential audience can create an unmanageable deluge of ideas and feedback, something that traditional methods tend to avoid.
  3. Relevance -- It can be difficult for companies to sort out signal from noise given how rapidly ideas and feedback come in (especially in conjunction with the increased scope of reach Social CRM applications provide.
  4. Branding/Customer Experience -- If the overall experience with the application isn’t a positive one, you’ve created a negative brand and customer experience where there wouldn’t have been one had you stuck to traditional product development methods.

The Final Word

Social CRM has already begun to change the landscape of product development, but the next few years will accelerate that process. In the first place, more and more organizations will begin using sites like IdeaStorm and My Starbucks Idea to engage with customers and gather product ideas and feedback -- this is simply too powerful (and too proven) a method to ignore any longer.

But beyond this, the rapid adoption of smart phones now opens the door for Social CRM to impact product development in more dynamic ways, like crowdsourced focus group testing, where consumers can encounter a new product in the real world and provide feedback from their phone via a scanned 2D barcode or a downloaded app.

In either case, Social CRM is poised to be an integral part of the product development lifecycle alongside more traditional methods of engaging customers to bring products to market, rather than a differentiator used by only by leading edge organizations.

For more articles on Social CRM, read: