Validating Customer Generated Comments on Blogs and the Web
Mary Beth Weber is Executive Vice President for SigmaValidation. I recently saw her presentation on marketing research validation at the American Marketing Association Marketing Research conference in Boston in September. I wanted to interview Mary Beth about her thoughts on the validity of customer feedback data on forums and blogs.
I have come to understand that several companies have gained product development knowledge from the use of blogs, Macromedia, Microsoft and Intuit are several companies who are really using blogs to get feedback from their customers. Since gaining that understanding I’ve posed a question for myself about such customer generated data online, I'd like to understand how a traditional market researcher views such data and its validity. After seeing Mary Beth's presentation I thought she would be the perfect person to answer this question.
John: Tell me what you think about customer data generated through blogging or consumer generated online media?
Mary Beth: I think if someone is going to blog about a company or product, they will have had either an exceptionally good experience or an exceptionally bad experience. So if you are listening to customer bloggers you may think you have more problems than good, as typically people are more motivated to express their bad experiences.
For example, my sister recently had a problem with her car, she went to Google and found a website where people put down their complaints, and found other people who had similar problems with their cars. Today when I am thinking about a product, I go online and find other consumers who have used the product. I recently pre-ordered an outdoor toy at a Toys r Us store that was not in stock. After placing the order, I looked the toy up online and found a lot of complaints about the product, so I went back to the store and cancelled my order. With the easy access to the web, I am getting to the point where I base my purchases on how people rate things. I'd advise any company to give people the ability to rate products online -- after a customer purchases a product, the company should send a follow-up email shortly after delivery, and ask for a rating.
John: You sound really passionate about shopping and being a consumer, how do you think a company should handle complaints and getting feedback from customers?
Mary Beth: I'd recommend a company send a survey to a customer after they make a purchase. If you ask everyone who purchases a product about their experience, a company will be more likely to receive a balanced overview from customers -- otherwise; the company might receive more bad ratings than good, since consumers are more likely to take action about a bad experience. If someone prompted me, I would definitely respond. That recently happened for me at overstock.com -- the company asked me to rate a feather bed I had purchased -- I would have never thought to rate this product, but I gave my opinion just because they asked. Overstock.com has not asked me to rate other products I have purchased at the site, so I have not rated them. The point should be for companies to proactively ask customers their opinion.
As a customer you have to read all the comments on a forum or blog -- sometimes other customers will comment on what another customer stated and will provide a balanced opinion about a product. If customers see what other people are saying about products, and how a company addresses any problems, it will make the customer much more loyal to a company.
John: I think of blogs as the very loud bell that has notified most companies of the amount of consumer generated media on the web and how consumers are using blogs, forums, and other websites to compare opinions. How should companies respond to customer feedback on such sites?
Mary Beth: When a company receives a lot of complaints about a product through blogs or other mediums, I'd recommend they conduct a quick survey of a representative sample of their overall customer base to see if there's truly an issue. If a company takes note of an issue early enough, they may be able to solve a problem for customers quickly.
John: There are many, many sites out there that allow people to give their opinions on consumer products and services; Epinions, eBay etc. I was thinking that it would be great to have a site for business to business vendors, one where you can rate market research companies on their products and services in a business setting, what do you think?
Mary Beth: I think many customers would be afraid of lawsuits from vendors, but if you just reported the facts, and provided a rating system it may work. For market researchers you might rate such attributes as delivery times and quality of the data -- does the data make sense. You could also have a moderator that would help ensure people reported only facts and did not just express opinions.
John: Lastly, why is the data a company collects on blogs not valid?
Mary Beth: Well as I said earlier, people who have had a negative experience will tend to post feedback, and such people would not be a good representative sample of your audience. However, they do provide a good warning or cue to companies that they may need to talk to consumers about a particular issue. Most customers that have a problem will not say anything, and will just not use the product anymore. It's important for a company to take the cues as early as possible. I recommend a company conduct online surveys to their customer base and, when preparing a survey, ask indirect questions without leading the respondent. If the complaint is not an issue amongst the majority of your customers, a company will not waste valuable resources resolving an issue that does not exist. If it turns out there is an issue, a company has to take action, before they start losing customers. If a company finds an issue, resolves the issue, and it was a significant a problem, I’d recommend the company include the resolution of the issue in their advertising to let customers know they have improved the product.
Posted by johncass at November 3, 2005 4:30 PM
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