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Technology that enables you to use communities to understand how your customers use your products, whether for improving existing products or creating brand new ones is now within reach of everyone.

This approach is enabled by technologies that now allow us to create online communities and this provides an effective alternative to traditional voice of the customer processes.  It is possible to get the input you need faster, cheaper and in more depth than you can achieve by using old fashioned surveys or focus groups.

Don't involve your whole community.  You will get the best results by selecting community members on a qualified basis, such as those that have been early adopters, unhappy customers or even potential customers that are using competitors products.  This will reduce the risk of the general disclosure of any discoveries that are made.

Your social space should encourage sharing and cross talk between your customers as richer insights and data will result.  Take advantage of the relationships with customers in your existing social networks for the task.

Like all good tasks, defining the scope of your request to your customers is vital.  Do this right and you will not generate meaningless data or waste your customers's time.  Be crisp and concise on what the objectives of the exercise are.  Setting a time limit for the task is also important.  Treat them with respect and describe what the benefits to them are delivered through their involvement.

Deal with the intellectual property risks by setting up an NDA with the participants.  Don't think this can't be done, Companies like Proctor and Gamble have developed a process to overcome this road block and you can too.

Carter and Bradford  suggest that a Community Product Requirements Chart1 is a good way to visualize and communicate the discrete information collected and categorized from the community.

Grouping or categorizing the collected community data is a necessary step in producing the chart.  The categorized summary should collect the textual and usage context for the data.  Photo's of the product issues are a very useful way to capture the context. 


This chart organizes the scoped inputs, those categorized functions and features that are most important to the customers and the number of positive and negative responses are graphed on the vertical axis. 

Using this data enables you to create products which will embody high customer value which is important to stop you wasting time developing and evaluating low value product features.

This approach provides you with the information to make quicker decisions based on customer input and drives early customer support for your products.

Social collaboration solutions have become a critical tool for teams to share information and drive decision making. Research by Babson Executive Education and Mzinga indicates that only 14% of companies use these tools, but 80% are expecting to do so in the next 2 years.  

Strike now and get a jump on the competition by sharpening your product development processes and creating products with the highest customer value possible. 



1.  Carter, John and Bradford, Jeanne, Innovate Products Faster, TCGen Press, 2011 



We use Basecamp for tracking discussions on customer usage and for other collaboration and sharing needs. 

This type of cloud based tool is well suited to collaborating with your community as well.  We use the discussion tool to identify the issues being reported and these are tracked to each customer.

The discussion tool allows comment cross talk between customers to be made and collected.

Pictures and other files can be added to the discussion and it's comments.  

Basecamp allows us to see all changes in the project.  At the end of the collaboration, we manually collate and categorize the data for analysis.