Salesforce.com did a good thing the other day when it announced a new customer feedback site. I am not usually the kind of guy who goes to McDonalds and asks to weigh a quarter-pounder, but let me say in all earnestness, it could be better and hopefully it will be.
The company’s statement reads in part, “In our effort to continually create a dialog with our community, we are hoping that this site provides an open and direct channel of communication for customers.” Great, I am all for communications but we win on results not attempts. Simply gathering communications from the field is not as valuable as knowing much more about who is providing the information and analyzing it accordingly. Without some controls on the sample population you get a babble of opinions and little hard data to act on.
How important is it to know that a handful of customers have a specific problem or need if you don’t also know that they all come from a particular vertical market or that all of them have revenues north of a set point? When you know these things you can discern real product needs and act accordingly. Without this kind of information all you have is a lot of interesting data points that don’t necessarily flow together.
The best company anywhere for doing this kind of community research is Communispace, based in Watertown, MA. The Communispace methodology calls for selecting a population of customers that represents all facets of the population base. It might seem less than democratic but that’s OK. There are many ways to gather the voice of the customer.
I am not saying that what SFDC is doing is without validity. It has plenty of validity in showing their customers that the company values their inputs. But there’s another shoe that needs to drop on gathering VOC and it would be smart if Salesforce.com made a call to Watertown.
See Glen Urban’s “Don’t Just Relate, Advocate” and Eric von Hippel’s, “Democratizing Innovation” on the main blog page.