Verizon: using crowdsourcing to get products right – or wrong

A few weeks ago in San Francisco, I attended the fiftieth Blogwell presentation since the beginning. Laurie Shook is portfolio leader at Verizon, a leading US telecom operator. She is a product marketer who uses social media, not a social media expert and she even describes herself as a “marketeer with a passion for Social Media” on her LinkedIn profile.

Verizon’s Idea exchange was developed in July 2010, as a place for customers to exchange ideas about services and things that customers would like Verizon to do. The platform provides means for ranking ideas. It is “semi-anonymous” Laurie said and “gives the idea to people that they can speak freely” she added. In a nutshell, it is n opportunity for Verizon clients to express themselves and “it’s also a great opportunity for marketers” Laurie said.

HD TV high on the agenda

“Many customers comment on HD TV and mostly on TV programs. “They said for instance that they’d like to see certain channels in HD or hide channels which they aren’t subscribed to and Verizon subsequently implemented that option” she said.

There are all kinds of ideas on that platform though and some of them are content related. Customers vote and propose ideas and sometimes they even propose to vote against ideas which they oppose.

913 ideas received 280+ launched

Laurie went on describing a business case study:  the “IMG 1.9” plan; IMG is the abbreviation for “interactive media guide”. “There is one release a year, it’s a lot of work and once we’re done, we involve 100 customers before launching it” Laurie said. “Last summer [2011], we extended the HD channel guide, hid unsubscribed channels, added DVR chapter selection and made the channel guide softer and easier on the eyes. That was based on feedback : ‘made fonts bigger, change the background etc.’”

Yet, even though a majority “loved the ideas”, things weren’t so easy since there also were other users who were “very vocal and critical”. Some didn’t hesitate to post comments such as “you really screwed up your tv guide” Laurie said.

what do you do with negative feedback?

The next question is familiar to any marketer in charge of communities. “what do you do with that kind of feedback?” Should you ignore it, or make it a priority? Laurie’s answer makes perfect sense:

“You don’t respond immediately. Sometimes, people are pissed off with change and you have to wait for the dust to settle. Acknowledge the status and wait. However, the post became popular, and even the most popular on the platform” Laurie went on.

facilitation tips from Verizon

She admitted to not finding this very pleasant but you have to bite the bullet and you also have to respond she said. Here are her recommendations:

  1. “Cool you jets before responding” (remain cold-blooded, there is no need to heat up and start an online battle)
  2. “It’s best not to respond immediately and to respond with the medium” (i.e. Idea Exchange rather than choose another tool)
  3. “a personalised response is necessary” such as “I’m sorry you are not of the same mind … and we will work to make you happy again”

are early innovators biased?

“Maybe it was an execution issue or a community bias, whereby people who join forums are early innovators and do not represent customers. Maybe the rank and file TV viewers aren’t represented?” Laurie went on “but when that guy commented, we had more people joining”. Laurie suggested that there was some sort of Hawthorne effect in reverse and that conclusions had to be drawn from that experiment with regard to crowdsourcing and how much hindsight you should introduce when conducting such projects.

on the positive side

Beyond this bias, there are some positive conclusions to be drawn from that experiment Laurie added. Here is what she thinks has worked for Verizon:

  1. faster customer feedback (before Idea exchange  there were disconnects but you didn’t know why or how or how much. “With direct feedback, you know immediately and you understand much better” she added)
  2. nuances of customer opinions are highlighted
  3. there is an incentive for more focus on customer priorities
  4. there are customer expectations of “Internet time” and this forces a large organisation to do things more quickly

Laurie added that “this example is strictly consumer-orientated, and that Verizon business is working with customer advisory boards, in a much more face-to-face format”.