Brandy Robert, Senior Manager, Proactive Service Delivery, Oracle Corporation and Rob Shapiro, Senior Director, Customer Service Experience, Oracle Corporation, have teamed up to implement ideas in My Oracle Support Community. The Your Idea Counts! series of blogs (tagged with ideas, and ideation and your idea counts) was co-authored by them and will deep-dive into topics such as why idea generation is important today; ways to capture ideas; user and business impact; changing company culture to rally around ideas; and, of course, measuring idea ROI's, KPI's and other intangibles.
Do you really have the foundation for why ideas count and The Thinking Model? If not, review Your Idea Counts: How to successfully implement ideas in a global customer community. Do you really understand why an engagement model is so important? If not, review Your Idea Counts: The Importance of an Engagement Model. Have you put together an implementation plan? This is really important, so if you did not, please review Your Ideas Count: Implementation Planning and write one.
Can you now say you are prepared and followed our suggestions and actions? Great! Time to Go Live!
Rewards & Recognition
What you do (or not do) to reward and recognize your users' involvement in ideas is entirely up to you. To that end, it is both an optional as well as an ongoing practice. We place it here because we recommend that you employ your formal gamification system in a stepped and evolving manner beginning with when you go live, so read on.
While the implementation of the idea exchange by itself should be enough to recognize those who put forward great ideas that are then embraced and delivered, there is something to be said for more formally laying out a concrete and systemic approach. Both rewarding and recognizing can be a key element to awareness, adoption, expectations and most importantly to participation. There are two dimensions to this which can be used together: gamification rewards and real-world rewards.
Here are some thoughts we have to reward and recognize users that can be done in the context of gamification software (i.e. automated):
- Making a great comment(s) in helping to shape or deploy the idea
- Replying to a comment to embellish the insightful portion of the discussion
- Idea(s) created
- Idea(s) voted on (note that this is different than "voting for" - here, the author of an idea has his/her idea voted on by others)
- Idea delivered or partially delivered
- Voting on an idea, although here we caution you to be careful. In our experience, we have seen users gaming this aspect and so we would discourage you from rewarding the user with badges/points every time he/she votes on an idea. Instead, we found that by raising the bar for when the user receives the reward mitigates any gaming while still recognizing that voting does have a part in the development and delivery of an idea. What we did was award a one-time badge with very low points (50) based on the user voting a high number of times (100). While you can follow what we have done, what is more important is for you to consider the same line of thinking and arrive at an award that makes sense for you. If this leaves you unsure, delay this reward until you have a better feel for how users see voting.
- Note: Other rewards for liking, bookmarking, sharing links and the like are not good candidates because we view them as thoughtless and mechanical, thus have no intrinsic or contributory value. In fact, gaming a system just to secure any kind of reward or recognition is a likely outcome with these.
In addition to what can be automated, going outside the box of gamification software, you could consider some elements that most users would consider to be a higher value than badges and points (and yet still use the gamification software to highlight and record the rewards and recognition) such as:
- Invitation to speak at an event
- Develop and/or lead a webcast or other social media engagement
- Free admission to your next corporate or user group conference
- A low valued physical gift such as a cap, pen or t-shirt with your company's logo or product (note that a high valued physical gift could be construed as compensation or against a government, country or corporate ethic policy)
- Become a product champion - Invitation to be part of a larger interaction to discuss additional ideas or thoughts on the product roadmap...or maybe even to be part of a beta test of the improvement or part of an early adopter program.
We would advise you to consider starting slow and building rewards and recognition as your idea implementation grows and matures. There is no need to rush and being thoughtful about what and when you implement this part will likely make a difference. For instance, at the very beginning, consider only giving badges/points in the key areas. The obvious one is creating an idea and in our communities we made it a series from creating one (which is a repeating reward) all the way to 500 in rational steps (i.e. 10, 25, 50, 100, etc). The other ones are commenting on an idea, having *your* idea voted on (which is not the same as voting on an idea), an idea delivered or a partially implemented. Really, that's enough to get you going. Thereafter you can start adding as you feel it is warranted for more badges/points but also for arguably more important considerations such as leadership and sharing opportunities (invite to speak, lead a webinar, write a blog, etc) and recognition as your "idea champion".
As mentioned in the beginning, administering rewards and recognition is an ongoing and evolving aspect of your ideas implementation. You'll get a feel for what is right based on all kinds of feedback from users to developers to your own community management team. Making small changes can usually happen without a lot of fanfare. Making big (or bigger) changes should probably come with some kind of communication either before (if more feedback is needed) or at least at time of implementation so that users understand your changes and why you are making them.
Action for you: Write down all rewards and recognition you think are relevant to your new idea exchange. From that, build a road map of what you will do, if anything, at the time of go live, in 3 months, in 6 months, in 1 year and beyond.
Ways to capture ideas (both the art and science of using community)
When launching ideas in a community, we recommend starting with some existing ideas and seeding them into the community before go live. Sure, you can start the community fresh from scratch, but think about the missed opportunity of immediately engaging with the users. What about that list of items that has been pushed to the side time and time again because the thought of going through the list and extracting out what is truly important or needs focus will take more time than you have. Are the ideas even still relevant? Do you tend to focus more on the recent and less on the sustained? Well, putting that list into the community as ideas can help you quickly determine what the users find interesting and important. Suddenly that list of 20 could become 5, and what a win to then accept 3 of the 5 for inclusion in the next iteration of the product or service. Examine the possibility of that instant gratification a user would feel knowing that their feedback and interests are part of the larger conversation shaping the way forward for your offerings!
Action for you: Identify existing and relevant ideas, no matter their source, to seed in your new idea exchange.
Detail of process
As we discussed in a previous installment, you want to keep the process simple. Already, you are embarking on a shift in mindset and way of doing things. It is imperative that you make it easy for your customers to create and present their ideas as well as the management of the ideas. Moderation is what can help to simplify all aspects of idea creation and generation. When using a community, keep the presentation simple. We discourage against using templates as they can give you the opposite effect of the open interface you are working to achieve. Guidance can be given on things to consider capturing when presenting an idea, but refrain from putting the customer into a predefined box. Let their ideas come in as they may. Sometimes we struggle with expressing our ideas. If we throw the customer into a rigid environment where they are more concerned with release and version details, it can take their attention away from what they are trying to express. There is also another issue with predefined input in that you can inadvertently (or not) transform your community in to another incarnation of a ticketing system. We have overcome this challenge by creating a "free-form template" where we ask the user to copy, paste and fill in the details for the idea being created. See an example of what we use attached to this blog.
With moderation, you can begin to explore the idea, clarify the idea, and turn it into something that resonates with the larger community audience. Some ideas will be better than others. Good moderation is what can transform a simple idea into a more detailed understanding of the user's business challenges and what features or functionality can be enhanced to give them a more robust and universal product or service. Moderators should exist from various aspects of the business (support, product management, development, etc.) and be knowledgeable about the product or service being discussed. They don't need to understand the details of each piece, but should be able to discuss intelligently as it relates to the users business flow. Moderators can ask questions, as well as share their knowledge which can enlighten the user more about the product or service design and intentions. Moderators will build relationships with the users and begin to collectively examine and share insights around the product as they become intimately aware of the business challenges and asks of the larger customer base. In fact, moderators can help to identify those key ideas based on their interactions and use of voting or comment information. Remember that as moderation matures, a single idea can explode into multiple distinct ideas. It is a good practice to try and separate these ideas such that we do not get distracted from the original idea presented. There are a variety of ways that you can link ideas and collate them into something of meaning, while still letting the idea stand on its own merit.
Once moderation of the community is established, you need to incorporate some level of assessment with the ideas. While we understand that ideas will naturally rise and fall against voting and participation in discussions, one of the biggest measures of success is in the acknowledgement. Like we discussed in a previous installment, this does not mean every idea requires a response, but the users are certainly looking to see your participation and assessing the ideas is a big part of this. Keeping the users up-to-date on the status of the ideas helps to set expectations. If an idea is not part of any future planned direction of the product or service, be transparent and say it. Marking the idea with a status that is representative of this truth will let the customers know that 1) you have reviewed the ideas, 2) you have considered the idea, and 3) you don't currently have any plans to offer that feature in the near future. It's direct, but certainly more positive than leaving the customer waiting in the dark for months or even years wondering if anyone ever really took the time to look at the idea. It doesn't mean you are shutting the door on it forever (though maybe you are), but it says that today and now it is not a possibility. We've heard all kinds of responses for why we shouldn't tell a customer 'No', but we would say that there is a direct correlation to perceived lack of feature functionality and customer experience. When we leave the customer sitting in the proverbial black hole, you can bet their perception of the products and service is instantly tarnished.
Another thing to think about is how you will track the life cycle of the idea. We talked about keeping the status up-to-date, but you need to consider the process of how you will track the idea from a state of accepted (where you have agreed to take the idea and create some sort of solution for it) through the coding cycle and eventually through the release cycle. A lot of companies utilize internal tracking systems to manage their coding and release cycles, so there is a portion of time where the idea is not as clearly visible to the customer from an update perspective. This is where frequent interaction between the moderator and internal systems can be useful. We won't pretend to have the best solution for this process, but we will stress the importance of keeping the user up-to-date. Something as simple as an update sharing the solution for the idea, or some level of expectation as to when the customer can expect to see the solution can be helpful. Even if it will take a year, some loose commitment allows them to move forward and focus on the great aspects of the current features and functionality.
Once the idea has a solution, and the solution is offered as a feature, it's time to let the user know. Make sure to update the idea status with some indication of delivery and share with the customer where and how they can acquire this new solution. In cases where you may have taken multiple ideas to come up with the solution, it is easy in a community environment to link them together. This let's the users see the background to the solution and how all of the ideas and discussions played into the process of getting this idea into something concrete. It also tells other users that you care, you listen, and you are out there to make the user experience the best that it can be!
Action for you: Document a process you want to employ to serve as internal documentation. Include definitions, roles, responsibilities and accountability. From this, you could also consider writing a more brief (and less revealing) document for customer consumption about how ideas will work in your community. You will find both to be quite indispensable over time.
Here is something for you to remember our key takeaways: