Solutions solve customer problems. And so it stands to reason that those customers or software users probably know a thing or two about their problems. They might even have a few novel ideas about how to solve their problems. And they need you, the solution provider, to build complete solutions that combine the ideas and best practices of customers and users, along with your company’s innovative software and services.
Yesterday’s NY Times highlighted the case of Twitter. Twitter has been slow to innovate and hasn’t paid much heed to user suggestions. But they’ve come around since. Now, says the NY Times, some of the best new service features – hashtags, @username and more – come from Twitter users (twusers?). Twitter has integrated those “uses” right into the service. So Twitter users can see all of their @mentions by clicking a link. They can see trending hashtags. And soon, says The Times, Twitter will even add a retweet feature as well. How does Twitter get those ideas? Simple – they watch and analyze the Twitterstream.
Twitter’s opportunity may be yours as well.
Real-time user labs. Historically, software companies used testing labs to understand user patterns. But now with SaaS and Internet services, companies can monitor all activity in real-time – either directly or indirectly based on privacy agreements. At minimum, you should be able to see how users actually use your service. What features do they use? Which are used least? How do they use your software to solve specific problems?
Watch the SaaS stream. While keeping to security requirements, you can monitor the actual information flowing through your service. While Twitter sees #’s, @’s and RT’s, you might notice overall trends for certain types of transactions, total volumes and more. Without compromising the privacy of individual accounts, you can now see aggregate trends – in real-time as they unfold on your SaaS offering.
Ask! Of course, you can also get feedback the old-fashioned way – by asking for it. Personally, I enjoy meeting users to discuss their challenges and ideas. Leaders like Salesforce.com also ask users to identify, comment and vote on user suggestions (now that’s user-directed) on their website. Canon, maker of cameras, printers and other electronics, enables users comment about their products right on their sites. Customers provide candid feedback that helps other customers to make better decisions – while providing valuable insight to Canon. Check out this example.
Read those tweets. Twitter can help you too. You can also monitor social media sites – blogs, Twitter, Facebook and more – for company, solution and product mentions in order to gain useful feedback while engaging in a customer dialog. (For more, check out my social media monitoring comment from July 31, 2009).
The opportunities for customer-driven innovation are everywhere – you just have to watch, look and listen for them.