Apr 22 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Published by under KickApps,Social Media

I wrote this post for the KickApps blog.

TechCrunch’s Mobile Crunch blog reported yesterday that Verizon Wireless is now accepting user reviews and ratings of products in their catalog. The author of the post and many of the readers that left comments seem to think this is a bad move on Verizon’s part.

I concede that it may seem strange for Verizon to be opening themselves up for potential abuse, but I see this as not just a brave move but more importantly, an extremely smart one. By doing this, Verizon goes from being just a transactional vendor to providing something that’s potentially really valuable to customers during the buying process. This translates to trust.

Most people have a love-hate relationship with mobile phone service providers (don’t we all feel like we’re constantly being screwed over by them), and this is a great way of saying to potential customers:

“We want to provide you with really helpful information about which one of our products best meet your needs and what better way of doing this than hearing it from people like yourselves rather than us.”

Just as powerful though is that Verizon gets immediate feedback and insight into what customers and prospective customers think of their products. They hear first hand what features they like and want, and dislike and don’t want. Point is, if you listen to what your customers want, you’ll always have a hit. This is exactly what the guys from Threadless have built a thriving business on. Fact is, in today’s world of the social web, any company that doesn’t care to listen to customers will find themselves looking like this in short order:

I know what you brand and media people are saying right now, “I can’t have an unruly mob take over my website and brand!” Fair point. But, there’s nothing wrong with curation, in fact, I’d argue that it’s crucial to the customer experience.

As a consumer, I want reviews that truly help me make a purchasing decision, that inform me about the pros & cons of whether a product will meet my needs. That’s true value. Having to read abuse for the sake of it is not.

Establishing the guidelines for delivering that value is crucial for any brand or web publisher, call it community rules if you’d like (CafeMom and Flickr do great jobs of this). Consumers won’t begrudge you for wanting to make sure that they get real value out of this feature. Someone saying that this particular model’s “battery life is horrible and won’t be good for travelers” is valuable, whereas, “Motorola phones suck!” isn’t. But, you have to be honest and transparent about this. Again, think real value not just fluffy reviews that blow a lot of sunshine.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. User-generated product reviews help establish better relationships with customers that emanate from trust and value
  2. How are you providing more value to customers and prospective customers?
  3. Set the rules of engagement, but be honest and transparent about it. Establish what the feature is for and what is acceptable and what isn’t. Use clear and straight forward language that’s easy to understand
  4. Listen! Listen! Listen! To what your customers are prospects are saying and you’ll always have a hit product

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