It was only going to be a matter of time before someone figured out that random people milling around social media channels was going to be difficult to mobilize once the technology hit the mainstream.
We’ve already seen how this works on MySpace; as soon as Facebook got into the picture and allowed for tighter, more personal relationships to develop, the random associations via MySpace fizzled.
Twitter had been moving into the same direction when they introduced “lists” and gave you the ability to start segmenting the people you followed into groups.
And now, with the swooning over Google+ and it’s circles, the trend is clear — people want to be in groups and you want them to be in groups because there’s no other way to meaningfully engage with folks without losing your mind or your money.
Customer Research Panels are Your Own Social Network
There have been customer group applications out there, but the big flaw they all have is their inability to make sense out of what your group is saying in a meaningful way. These applications are mostly about having conversations. And that is great – but doesn’t help you make decisions that will improve customer satisfaction or experience.
When you create a customer research panel, you are opening the door to more meaningful conversations around your product or service. And as soon as the conversation turns meaningful — value makes an appearance and this will ultimately drive revenue.
IdeaScale is a great way to start exploring the world of customer research panels. In a very loose definition of the term, people register on your IdeaScale page and vote improvement or development ideas up or down. They can also add comments and get into conversations. There is a quantitative component in that ideas get votes and a qualitative component in the comment sections of the ideas.
You can engage your IdeaScale community in rather powerful ways so that they function as a sort of focus group.
IdeaScale is really a super-two-fer tool in that it saves you money in all the preliminary work around focus groups. It can make you money if you pay attention to the recommendations that are made by your customers and implement them. Depending on how well you use IdeaScale, it’s not uncommon to save your small business in the range of $100,000. This is generally what it costs to do this kind of research that was never in your budget before. I’m not even including the money saved in mistakes and missteps because you didn’t know exactly what the customer wanted.
Funnel Your Customers Into a Panel and Build Engagement
Instead of loading up a customer list to do a traditional online customer survey, invite your customer community to participate in your online research panel.
An online research panel is really nothing more and a group of people who have volunteered to answer your questions in return for either points, rewards or other kinds of incentives.
Building a customer research panel actually makes you money in the following ways:
- You have a group of engaged customers waiting to tell you what they think. It takes time and money to engage customers enough to care to give you an honest opinion. When you already have a group of engaged customers who have your interest at heart (mostly because it’s in their interest), then you have a golden respondent base.
- You get faster responses to your questions. People who have opted into answering your questions will answer them quickly.
- Your response rate will be better. The assumption here is that you are regularly touching your panel, but not constantly bothering them. As in any social response, make the exchange count.
- Other companies will want to reach out to your panel. Chances are there are other companies who weren’t as savvy as you were to create a customer research panel and they sell to your customers as well. This is an opportunity for you to give your customer panel the opportunity to earn more incentives and to earn some revenue off the work you invested in creating the panel.
- Better decisions. Companies who use a customer research panel to test out ideas and do exploratory research make better decision faster. By simply asking a few questions and getting quick responses and then showing your customers what you’ve done with the responses they’ve given you, you’re getting them involved early in the development process.