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Jive Talks

7 Posts authored by: communitygecko

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, ideation and your idea counts was co-authored by them and will deep-dive in to 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.

 

Our blogs series, Your Idea Counts!, is not about the platform but rather about the definition, thought process and end-to-end process of implementing ideas in the enterprise for a product(s) but could easily be applied in many other avenues. This is a series because there is much to say and we don't want you to have to read a book to get something out of it immediately (so, short and productive pieces). This blog series gives you the necessary thinking and end-to-end plan (with actions along the way) on using Ideation.

 

Your Idea Counts!

 

communitygecko

The Like in B2B

Posted by communitygecko May 11, 2016

If you are like me (and even if you are not), the concept of Like is, well, very social.

 

My friends post a photo or video of something memorable in Facebook and elsewhere and I'll Like it. But diving a bit deeper in these shallow waters has me pausing about the value of Like. Like, why am I really clicking Like? In these situations I can think of these reasons:

 

  • I really like what is posted - that's what Like is for? Like Right?
  • Wrong! I see cases where Liking is part of being in that inner circle of that moment, that moment being the act of posting something that may be memorable, but may be to demonstrate how clever we are? how creative we are? how inclusive we are? how current we are?...and this list can go on pretty much forever keeping to the spirit of the thought.
  • Wrong! I see cases where Liking is part of being noticed or getting recognition.
  • Wrong! I see cases where Liking is part of the popularity contest for what is posted. We even see blatant self-promotion in this case by companies (Like our page to get a free it-will-break-in-1-day-trinket) or by people (Like my comment so that I will earn something even though I'm not clear on what that may be)
  • Wrong! I see cases where Liking is a part of a kind of social threat: Like my comment even if you hate it because if you don't I will never Like anything you post.

 

These are just some examples and you really don't have to like any of them (and don't let that stop you from Liking them), but I list them because I, like, Like them so that (and I'm getting to it) I can make my larger point.

 

So, let's turn the table just a little and ask: Why do we see Like in a B2B setting? I start a discussion or ask a question or create a new idea. As we write replies or comments, sure enough, the Like button makes itself known. It would be logical to click Like if you really like the reply or just ignore it if you do not. You could also Like the reply for any of the social reasons I already listed and more that you likely have. Some bold platforms even have the Not Like or Thumbs Down icon to click, so ignoring both options must mean you are neutral or don't care one way or the other.

 

In a community I participate in, the use of Like struck me like a bolt of lightning. Someone suggested an idea and others chimed in with their opinion, myself included. It was a pretty clear cut idea and on the surface one person voted it down because of wording (as opposed to voting it up and suggested that the wording should be changed - that's what I did). When I realized that the idea could lose steam (bolt of lightning on its way) I went back and looked at the replies. Without realizing immediately why I was doing it, I started Liking all the positive replies. As I started hovering my reply, the system, of course, would not let me Like my own and that's when the bolt of lightning struck its target:

 

I like Like in this scenario because I want to influence the next reader that this is a great idea and they should vote it up plus also Like all the other positive replies!

The only missing connection is how do we know this happened so that we could see the influence of the Like in our metrics. I don't have a good answer (yet), but I have stored this experience in the think-about-it-compartment and will come back to you when I think I am on to something. Of course, if you think about it and put comments with your ideas in this blog maybe I'll Like your reply to influence and promote more discussion around the topic .

 

PS: Just moments after writing this I went back to the idea and, sure enough, more positive replies were entered and the Likes on the other replies I initiated is catching on because others are now also doing it for the same reason!

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, ideation and your idea counts was co-authored by them and will deep-dive in to 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. Finally, did you consider gamfication, real-world rewards, ways to capture ideas and an established process (internal documentation) to lay out definitions, roles and responsibilities? Review Your Idea Counts - Go Live to make sure you are as complete as possible before you go live.

 

Idea Valuation (a.k.a. Reporting or Analytics)

 

5th_blog_idea_valuation.pngFinally, it's time to talk about idea valuation (also known as reporting or analytics). We need to have concrete evidence to show the value of having ideas and that it is working to support the greater goals of the company and its customers. The problem, as with many other aspects of communities, is that it's not the easiest to prove. We won't even try to pretend we know all the answers on how to prove value, but there are a few things we can share and we hope you will heavily comment in this blog so we can, in turn, learn from you!

 

Proving that ideas are resonating, that they are important and that they are relevant is an uphill climb. It goes without question that an executive is going to ask the tough questions and we had better be prepared to tell a story. As anyone would think, there are basic metrics; metrics we might step up or elevate to be called Key Performance Indicators (KPI's); and, metrics that are modeled to demonstrate a Return On Investment (ROI's). Surveys, both external and internal should also be considered to either fill gaps of knowledge or acquire data not otherwise attainable. We assume this is already in place for you, so we are not going to address it here. If you don't have these, consider creating a customer success survey to specifically capture customer feedback.

 

Basic Metrics

 

We won't spend a lot of time here because the basic metrics should be obvious. At a minimum you should track ideas created, commented on, voted on, liked, shared and bookmarked. Used in conjunction with user data, geographical data, and any other meta data that has attributes which can be reported on will give you a fundamental dossier of fundamental activity. There is no attempt to minimize what this can offer you as these can and will tell you part of the story, it's just that they are not in the class of "why do I exist?" or "why should I invest?" categories.

 

Key Performance Indicators (KPI's)

 

Once we get past basic metrics, we have to grapple with the next level of complication to assess if a measurement we want to gauge falls in the category of really important -or- is so important that it will actually tell a part of the story that demonstrates a return on investment. On one level this will be subjective when considering your company's goals and objectives. On another level, we might argue that there is important and then there is important!

 

For us, which may or may not agree with your thinking, we like to group the following as KPI's:

 

  • Percentage of each stage. Oh, it's really tempting to demote this to a basic metric but consider some of the things this might tell you. For instance, would a high % of a stage called Not Considering represent a disconnect between your company and the user base? Or, would a continual high % of Active or In Progress indicate that your product or service has a quality problem? A wrong market target problem? A niche problem? Your stages are a transparent roadmap to your users, based on their feedback, and as such is a KPI.

  • Idea coverage. This is an interesting one and can be used in 2 ways. When you have many communities it can be a % of how many communities are using ideas against the actual number of communities you have. This can be especially important and relevant when you have 100's of communities (as we do). It's analogous to a community measurement we pay attention to, namely community coverage to gauge what part of 100% of product/service are represented by one or more communities. It may not always be appropriate or warranted to have ideas in a specified community, so the advice here is that the baseline has to be adjusted to not count those as a part of this measurement.

  • Percentage of committed ideas. If you take all the ideas that have a status which represents a firm commitment (for instance, Implemented + In Progress + Under Review) and divide this by the total ideas you will have a number that can mean you are successfully (or are not) engaging your customers in the future of your product or service. There is also a "read in between the lines" factor with this measurement because it could also represent whether or not having ideas on the product or service is resonating or attracting your customers to use it.

  • Age of active ideas. How long is an idea in an active stage such as Active, For Future Consideration and however else you define a stage that is open without commitment. To make the most sense out of this measurement, you would typically want to bucket each active stage with some period specificity such as < 1 month, < 3 months, < 1 year and > 1 year (just an example). In some respects, the age of an active idea is also an expectation you are setting with your customer which obviously could be good or bad relative to your ability to deliver, but also relative to the cadence of your releases. This is surely something not to ignore in either case of good or bad.

  • Selected views. We often pooh-pooh the concept of reporting views as anything more than basic, but consider some aspects of what views could be telling you. For instance, looking at delivered stages (Delivered + Partially Delivered), over a period of time this might show you an important trend and one that is influenced or impacted by your release cadence or your active participation with your customers --- a potential diamond in the rough.  Things to look for and consider would be cases where there is a high # of views, but maybe a low corresponding number of votes or comments.  This could indicate that the idea is not resonating with the users, though something triggered them to view it, so this could require further investigation or thought.

 

Return On Investment (ROI)

 

  • ER efficiency. In the beginning, this is arguably the most important ROI. What you need to measure this is a snapshot of your tracking system(s) as a baseline to measure. For instance, if customers log a ticket (we'll use this generic term to describe the technical support call) to express and document their idea that then transforms or is bridged to a tracking system where you keep "enhancement requests" (ERs) then you have the baseline measurement for 2 types of ER efficiency - one each for the ticket and enhancement request itself. Going forward, you will continually compare the creation of ideas to the # of tickets which if successful will show # ideas created going up and # of tickets (cases) and # enhancement requests going down. The goal with these trends will be to see # tickets reduced to 0 and the # enhancement requests going down to the number of enhancement requests you are actually committing to be done (i.e. no more noise, no more duplication, no more historical backlog!).

  • Ideas implemented. Here, you will measure what % of the ideas created were implemented, i.e. Ideas implemented % = (Delivered + Partially Implemented ideas) / total ideas. A successful ideas implementation will show a high percentage but what that high percentage is needs to be determined for your business relative to the product or service. For some, it could be 90% or more. For others it could be 75% and yet others it could be 50%. The point here is that you will need to put a stake in the ground (which, of course, could change as the business, products, services and customers change) on the advice of executive/senior management. This stake in the ground is also an inference for executive buy-in.

  • Releases implemented. While this could be a KPI, we position it here in ROI-land because initial implementation of ideas might need the support! Once you establish that your releases regularly incorporate ideas in a mainstream capacity, demoting this to a KPI might be ok. Obviously this measurement is: Release implemented % = (Delivered + Partially Implemented ideas) / total # release enhancements. This could also be called or seen as time to market.

  • Increased # users because of ideas or since ideas were implemented. This might need some fancy footwork or a survey. Inspect the user growth side-by-side with idea participation (creates, votes, comments, likes, etc). Your platform will need to be able to track by user and participation. Assuming you can get that, does the growth per user represent the increase in idea participation? It's a tricky correlation and you may be better off having a survey asking about coming to your community because of the ideas implemented there. If you can prove it on the platform or with a survey, you definitely want this in your bag of ROI tricks.

  • License or subscription renewals. Optimistically you will show growth of license or subscription renewals, but there is also cancellations to consider as well. The thought here is to measure this as a % of ideas, although which part of ideas will be up to you. We can see looking at this based on created, active, delivered and all three of these as viable.

 

Conclusion

5th_blog_idea_conclusion_idea_valuation.png

 

We hope that this list of KPIs and ROIs will get you thinking about ways to have more insight into the idea exchange and its success. The list is not exhaustive and will probably evolve over time as we become more understanding of the model, the process, and the customer response.  Above all, we hope that these measures will give some insight into the community engagement.  It is not until the conversation begins do we get a clear and fruitful understanding into our product and service experience. Until then, we can only partially understand and know what the market demands and understand how the market is changing.  Something that would really help is a "sentiment engine" to harvest and translate what is happening in the idea discussion. With a tool such as this, you could probably measure some level of positive or negative sentiment from within the comments.  These have been developed for various social channels but do not appear to be mature enough to bet on the ranch. However, it does not mean they can't provide valuable insight into topics that are important to the customers and users.  They could even help to trigger further engagement by the product or service owner.

 

Whichever way you view measures of success, you won't have anything to measure if you don't get started! We hope that this blog series has given you some ideas of your own as to how you can align more closely with your customer base. We truly believe that starting conversations that appear to the collective audience will truly help to drive better product affinity and uptake. We hope you have learned from us, and in turn we would like to learn from you.  Our list is hardly comprehensive and this is where you come in. So, in being consistent with our approach in this blog series:

 

Final Action For You: Please join us to further develop how to measure ideas by adding your comments here! We are certain that we can all learn from each other and if enough comments are made we will be happy to collate everything in to one more blog in this series to reflect your feedback!

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.

 

Gamification

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.

 

Real-World Rewards

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:

Going Live With Ideas.png

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, ideation and your idea counts was co-authored by them and will deep-dive in to 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. This blog is part 3 in the Series.

 

You now have a better foundation for why ideas count and The Thinking Model (or at least you can go back to your actions and our first blog Your Idea Counts: How to successfully implement ideas in a global customer community) in tandem with why an engagement model is so important (or, again, you can go back to your actions and our second blog Your Idea Counts: The Importance of an Engagement Model). So, now it's time to address governance. Before you ask - no, not rules or bureaucracy. Rather the preparation necessary to begin tactical steps to implementation:

 

So, how does one get started?  What does the path look like for a company looking to get closer to their user base in an effort to really hear and understand what their customers are saying? It’s time to start defining where focused attention is required.  Businesses need to understand how to best use their resourcing for the highest impact activities.  It’s time to let the customer base help you parse through all the things people would like (in the social context) to the things that affect their buying or their subscription/renewal decisions.

 

 

Getting Executive Buy-in

 

It is imperative to get executive buy-in from your development team or stakeholders for where the focused improvements will center.  Idea generation is all about improvements leading, in some cases, to innovation and better design.  Whether we are making a more universally acceptable product, improving on business flow, aligning to new standards and regulations, or designing the next new product, the development team is ultimately the manager and decision maker of these ideas in their implementation.  Without their buy-in and commitment, then all you are doing is collecting ideas.  What you want to do is let the ideas foster growth and change that will allow the company to compete in a market where winning means staying ahead of the next great idea.

 

But how do you get this buy-in?  Sell them the idea!

 

Pull out your Sales 101 material and get to work.  Your stakeholders have to know what's in it for them.  What is this new way of life going to generate for them in terms of growth and opportunity?  Think about this from a company perspective.  By offering an open forum for the capture and discussion of ideas, your company is better positioned to determine if...

 

    1. This fits into the strategy / road map for the product's future or maybe this is the start to a new offering
    2. This is something that could be offered today - often referred to as a 'Quick Win', that really does make the appearance that we care about our customer experience
    3. This allows for a more universal application of the product
    4. Would a change in this area increase customer success, making customers happy and more apt to purchase additional goods and services
    5. This change would allow for more revenue generation
    6. This change would give highest impact for lowest cost spent to develop
    7. This change, in a support environment, could deflect cases/tickets as well as reduce noise in a bug tracking/enhancement system

 

Of course, develop an elevator pitch!

 

Action for you: Test the waters or even get your ankles wet. Seek a quick conversation with an executive's direct report or an opportunity with the executive him/herself at a lunch, conference, dinner, etc. Put the elevator pitch to work! There is always an opportunity or one that can be manufactured.

 

Define the Plan

 

You will need to come up with a strategy for starting the conversations.  This is important in that you can start off slow with idea generation, focusing only on the new ideas or you can choose to jump-start the conversation by seeding previously presented ideas to the users and getting their insights. Maybe your company has some ideas about things they would like to do with the product, but due to resourcing have to put them on the back burner.  Well, what if through idea discussion, you could discover 1 or 2 ideas that users feel passionately about?  This can give you a focused understanding that would allow you to incorporate these ideas into the next design or code release, thus showing the users the seriousness by which you take their feedback.  This shows commitment to users and in cases where the addition or change is easily incorporated and becomes an easy win for the company.  In talking about strategy, you need to think about your goals and objectives for implementing such a plan.

 

The business goals for this project should focus around implementing a community solution to capture product or process specific ideas and feedback.  By embracing this type of community setting and openly allowing for the sharing of ideas, you begin the basic process of brainstorming which allows for aspects and ideas to scope the original idea into something worth consideration.  You also allow for the nuances to be brought forth during the discussion.  The open forum also tells a story about what the users consider about the topic.  Is it something that draws on people's emotions?  Is it collectively of interest?  Or, is this just a fleeting idea that can be parked in the idea bank? When ideas fall into the larger idea bank with little to few votes and no discussion, it does not deem them uninteresting or of no value.  It simply speaks to the here-and-now and what the customer base is looking for or considering as a solution of their own business requirements.  What is the goal?  What is it that you want to ascertain from this new type of engagement?

 

    • Create and track ideas
    • Allow customers to do the leg work by conversing, among themselves, the merits or demerits of a proposed idea
    • Allow customers to vote on ideas most beneficial to their business
    • Allow customers to collaborate and share each others ideas vetting out the applicability to the larger audience
    • Provide an open and flexible forum where the product or service owner can participate in the conversation
    • Provide a mechanism to solicit feedback
    • Change the paradigm for how we entertain ideas
    • Provide an easy to use tool and process for idea collection

 

So, essentially what we are proposing, exploring, and defining is an idea exchange in its simplest form.  An idea exchange is nothing more that the presentation, discussion, voting, and planning of new concepts and ideas in order to improve a particular process, flow or technology.  We must evolve the idea exchange into an integrated process flow by investigating and investing in available tooling.  The idea exchange is intended to facilitate this end-to-end flow in order to identify ideas, improvements, and alternatives all while offering transparency to future inclusions and product line roadmap discoveries.  Feedback is, and always will be, important from a company perspective.  It's a measure of how we are doing with currently positioned products, services and processes.  However, looking beyond the transactional and ensuring the customer conversation is represented proportionately across the customer base, we begin to understand at the deepest levels our products, services and processes.  Often times we view feedback as labor intensive and tend to push a lot of it into the depths of the abyss in order that maybe if we ignore it, maybe, just maybe, it will correct itself.  Is it that we lack transparency to educate the customers on what is being requested?  Are we translating the feedback and ideas today into our own understanding and applying our own defined methods for resolution?  We ask these questions to raise your attention to the need to begin thinking about things differently.

 

What are the risks to this consideration of adopting an idea exchange?  Probably the biggest risk to implementation is adoption.  Adoption by the customer, who is going to be very keen on seeing quick and immediate acknowledgement and response, is the greatest risk to this plan.  That's why having a well defined and well communicated plan is important to your project.  The second greatest risk is having the customer's attention and exchange, but not having the internal organization engaged.  The next sections will speak to these things that are so very important to the idea exchange's success.  You must identify the stakeholders (those who will be responsible for the interaction in the community), set expectations, ensure adequate and proper engagement, ensure the named parties are committed to the process, and lastly communicate!  By adopting a new plan and incorporating a community solution you can begin to make engagement, collaboration and your process less labor intensive.

 

Action for you: You guessed right - develop your plan.

 

Set Expectations (SLAs defined internal and external)

 

You need to set some level of expectation with your users.  Users need to understand that vetting ideas (creating, voting and discussing) does not warrant response or inclusion on every idea submitted.  Some people simply won’t be interested in some ideas and they will go ignored, and that is okay.  In fact, it can be a very positive thing as by vetting the ideas with the users, we are hopefully reducing the noise generated by large numbers for very small and tactical items that really don’t change the scope, the process or the reality of using the product. Activity within the idea discussion tells a story to the product owner, but it also tells the users a lot too! It shows the users how the products and services are being utilized by the larger customer base and becomes a great way to educate users about its use and expectations.  It also removes redundancy as the community allows for the larger customer base to search, filter or sort based on categories, topics or keywords.  Another benefit for a company with a large footprint is that often times a user may not be aware of all product offerings and how they tie into their specific footprint, and so many times products are viewed as 'feature lacking' while in fact the feature is already there but not documented in such a way that the user can make the leap to understand what is available.  Note that a community setting allows for more solution offerings than just an enhanced product.

 

Internally, you must set expectations as to what is reasonable in terms of the engagement. We can tell you now that customers interacting in a community setting are looking for one thing...acknowledgement!  Customers know that these ideas need time to mature, to draw in interest, to weigh on the minds of other customers or to even wait for a customer to catch up in the use of that product or service in order to truly understand if they are passionate about it.  Customers are not necessarily looking for immediate turnaround on these ideas. Rather, they are looking for acknowledgement by the product or service owner.  Something as simple as a clarifying question, a note to consider or a comment relating to the topic just tells the customer that we care and are aware of their presence.  This all aligns with the concept of engagement and is so critical to the success of the project.  Note that you may have different teams who work on different schedules for product improvement release.  This is okay.  By letting the customer know what to expect, you aren't leaving them out there guessing at what may or may not come.  If the customer knows that you only review and accept improvements on a calendar cycle, then they are better equipped and patient with the community discussion.

 

Action for you: Add this to your plan.

 

Get Engaged!

 

Engagement is critical to the success of idea generation.  The thoughtfulness and discussion is what can turn a good idea into a great idea.  Referencing a comment from our earlier blog, bad ideas can transform into a good or great ideas.   It is important that the product owners become a part of this discussion because as implied before, there is often times much to be discovered about the use and implementation of a product, and let’s be honest here documentation is often times vague and lacking to solutions beyond the basic.  The reality is that business today is having to do more with less.  Less resourcing is dedicated to maintaining and enhancing products and services, so we have to get smart about how we collect information and process it.

 

Not long ago, Brandy was involved in a discussion around ideas with a developer whose opinion she greatly respects.  The conversation was based on how we could begin to understand more accurately, customers expectations and business challenges.  In that conversation he said something that struck Brandy to the core:  "Customers make terrible software designers."  Wow...think about it.  We don't think he could have said it any better.  It is not to underestimate the customer or their use of the product, but simply to make a point: for some, we are in the business of software design, and that it is when a company truly understands the customers business challenges and problems along with their expectations of our product or service that put us in a position to design great products!

 

Finally, and we have said it often but bears repeating, it is critical that the product and/or service owner(s) participate. This is very key!

 

Be Committed!

 

It’s all about delivery. You must deliver on some items. What you need to discuss in your planning is what that commitment looks like.  Will you deliver on 10%, 20% or more of the ideas generated, or will you take the position to deliver on those ideas that completely change the landscape of your product offerings?  How will you draw in your audience?  What will success look like?  In a future installment of the series, we will talk about success, ROI, and KPI’s that can help to guide you on this journey.  But, for now, let’s make the agreement to be committed. Let's listen to our users to define the problems within the scope of our product and service offerings. These are potentially holding us back from gaining better market share, producing happier customers and making our brand the one discussed in professional meetings, around dinner tables, with friends, families, and in our schools and universities.

 

Commitment must be thorough and comprehensive. This means that the product or service owner(s) follows through on all aspects of managing the idea exchange environment including status.

 

Communicate, Communicate!

 

Last, but no least, let’s toot our horn a little bit.  When you actually implement an idea, tell everyone (and don't forget your user groups!) about it and when it will happen.  Use it to your advantage!  Be more transparent with your customer which in turn gives them reasons to remain loyal.  Give them what other product and service providers may not be giving them.  Let them feel confident that their voice is heard, their ideas are welcomed, and that you are ultimately striving to make a better product or service. There are many rewards that come from this effort.

 

Speaking of rewards, this is where leveraging a gamification process or system comes in to play to both recognize and reward users for their contribution (creating ideas) and participation (commenting, voting, etc), not to mention their idea being fully or partially implemented. We will talk more about this in our next blog installment.

 

Action for you: Add this to your plan.

 

Here is something for you to remember our key takeaways:

Ideation Implementation Planning.png

In our previous installment, we outlined the very basics of what is an idea and how we, as humans, go about expressing our ideas. We later ended with, what we like to call, The Thinking Model. This model becomes the crux for future blogs in this series.

 

So, why is an idea exchange so important? Let's look at some of the stark realities that probably exist among many of our businesses today.

 

The Transaction Problem

 

No_1-1.png

We each probably have some level of a customer engagement model defined. With this, most likely feedback is transactional in nature from Service Experience surveys, ratings on a product, 3rd party reviews, to direct customer interaction via user groups, escalations, and/or direct executive level engagement. What's interesting is that most of these engagements are not truly collaborative in nature. You use my product or service and I, in return, tell you how good you did. But, what about my business challenges? What about my strategy and the results I am trying to gain from this great service or product that I have purchased? What if things aren't working as I intended them to? Sure, you may collect ideas/feedback, but usually they are presented as "I need the product to do X" or "Why can't I do or see Y."  But, why? If the product is improved to do 'X' or 'Y', what problem are we solving for the customer?

 

We often measure success on how well our design is adopted versus if the design is solving a problem for the customer. Let's take a form of feedback that most companies have today. Surveys are a great way to get a pulse on how well the product or service is perceived. Typically, there is some form of rating and a series of questions that may direct the user to respond to several aspects of the product or service, and even may go beyond that specific product or service to give indication of the overall perspective on the department/division or company itself. In our experience, that rating system is usually measured on a numerical scale and from that, focus is typically spent on specific consolidated buckets that may represent a dissatisfied customer, a neutral customer, or a highly satisfied customer. Surveys are a good way to get feedback and understand the general pulse of the customer or group of customers and their feeling about the product or service. However, they don't usually give insight into the business challenges of the customer and almost always never lend themselves to being a good repository for ideas around how the specific product or service could be improved or changed.

 

A point of concern is that when we focus feedback on the transaction, we tend to look at problems and potential solutions singularly. We fail to look at suggestions collectively as potential insights into how we can truly change or improve our offerings. This can lead to poor and costly design, misuse of resources, and misdirected improvements that are received by the customer as useless or not valuable. Without a complete understanding of business challenge and application, the company could be wasting time and money on solutions that don't matter or expand the realm of influence and application.

 

The transaction problems described here then contribute in whole or in part to the problems associated with knowledge.

 

Action for you: Identify and list your transaction problems. This is a prerequisite to solving problems.

 

The Knowledge Problem

 

No_Info.png

That's the problem, lack of knowledge. When we don't truly understand our customer and what they are trying to accomplish using our products and services, we can't design a better product or service. Sure, we can take a stab, talk to a couple of customers and get insights, and maybe even pull a few ideas, but without the collective audience engaging in the discussion, our efforts may result in sub-par design and utter frustration for the larger customer base. When you consider that often times we are challenged with a universal application, it is truly tough to understand product change impacts when there are lots of different industry applications, special regional laws and applications, compliance requirements, and you name it!

 

By offering the ability to capture ideas in a public forum like a community, you begin to centralize feedback and details around the ideas, reduce duplication of ideas, and expand to a wider audience which allows for more complete information around the product or service. Think about it, you now have the information, at your fingertips, to complete a more effective cost analysis and better understand the perceived impacts of developing a solution to fit your customers needs. In this environment, you have your customers telling you what is important to them and what direction you may need to consider to impart product or service loyalty! The consequences of ignoring this problem, plainly stated, is RISK! You risk focusing time, resources, and brand on solutions that may only provide a partial fix or improvement and could quite simply give your competitors more leverage in the marketplace.

 

Action for you: Identify and list your knowledge problems, known or perceived. This is a prerequisite to solving problems.

 

Problem Solved

 

ProblemSolved.pngSo why not build into your customer engagement model that very layer - an idea layer - in your community. Call it what you will, but we challenge you to think about ideas being more transparent. Whether those ideas are truly public, or reside behind some firewall where only licensed or registered users can see them...EXPOSE THEM! Get the conversation started with your customers. By doing this, something magical will happen. A bubble-up effect will begin to give insight into those things that customers value as important or useful. Through comments and engagement, customers will start to expose their business challenges and begin to offer reasons into why they feel the idea warrants further consideration. But, more importantly, opinions will surface about the applicability to the universal audience and now you have insight, the insight needed for your development teams to design a better, more cost-effective solution!

 

What are the resulting benefits?

 

  • Leads to better software design
  • Develops revenue generating potential as, hopefully, solutions become more universal in scope
  • Reduces noise from traditional tracking systems
  • Identifies what customers believe to be of value or importance
  • Exposes to the customer those ideas which the collective audience deem important, not leaving that idea living un-promised forever
  • Engaging (or better engaging) developers and product strategists
  • Connecting, re-connecting (or better connecting) with the customer
  • More productive product management and support
  • Opens up the process to new innovation

 

In turn, the results from above become the foundation for measuring your success. We will be addressing the topic of ROI and measuring success in a later blog.

 

Action for you: Now that you have identified customer transaction and knowledge problems, translate the above list into specifics for your company.

 

The Engagement Model

 

Engagement.png

Before outlining the model, make sure you define a process that includes development/service ownership and agreement on how everything will work.

 

Tip/best practice: This is a really huge one and you risk much by introducing ideas in your communities for which there is no process and ownership. In fact, if you don't do this you might as well not implement ideas in your communities and just let customers voice their opinion in thread discussions. Some platforms do not even have the ability to have ideas and in those cases, even if it disconnects the community from the ideas, there are open source applications such as Pligg that can be incorporated. If the community in question is a support community, it is also desirable (if not even required) to ask development to own both the management (status, etc) and moderation. Of course, you will need to sell development or service owners by showing them the benefits (and pointing them to our thoughts about ideas is a good start!).

 

At the risk of oversimplification and acknowledging that you may have specific challenges for which we have no visibility, the engagement does not have to be complex. In fact, one could argue that a simple and straightforward engagement model would help those new to the concept as well as perhaps solve any complexity currently in place. The beauty of simplification could be:

 

  1. Customers create ideas. The community votes and comments. Going back to The Thinking Model, the number of votes on an idea may not necessarily be the deciding factor. We see votes as a sentiment. A company's objectives and goals alongside how a product is designed (and can be further enhanced) in tandem with sentiment is the only rational way to make decisions. If voting is the exclusive means to making the decision, you could be both making the wrong decision as well as setting a future precedent in the community that the "popular vote" will usually or always trump other considerations.

  2. Development and/or service owners participate with probing and clarifying questions. Some ideas will naturally lend themselves to generating conversation. Often times an idea, as first presented, is not clearly stated or fully defined. So, this is where the development and service owners become important in either getting the conversation started by asking clarifying questions or as knowledgeable participants in the overall discussion. Insights into other pieces of the products features and functionality can sometimes lend themselves to plausible and temporary solutions while the customers wait for an idea to be vetted or accepted into the product's footprint.

  3. Development and/or service owners are also moderators. This does not strictly fall in to a traditional community moderation but rather one that manages the ideas. Setting idea status (also known as an idea stage) and communicating what will or what will not be are the primary activities. This is a key activity in that it is setting customer expectations. This is also important for ensuring that the users are focusing on, through voting and discussion, the actual ideas that are still active. Making sure that the ideas are clearly marked within their life-cycle gives clarity to the customer and helps in their own planning and product considerations.

  4. Implementation and release. Once it has been agreed that an idea will be implemented, the development and/or service owner transcribes the requirements and supporting documentation in to a release management system where it then follows a company's process to being developed, tested, and made available in either a minor or major release. The cycle is not really complete until it is clearly documented that the idea has been incorporated into the product or service and insight is given into how the customer obtains the new addition. So, it is important to ensure that the idea is tied in tightly with your knowledge base.

 

Action for you: Identify a pilot to implement ideas in your community using the above engagement model. Outline a proposed engagement model using the above prescription.

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, your idea counts and product ideas) was co-authored by them and will deep-dive in to 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. Below is Part 1 of the blog series.

 

Everyday we are consumers of numerous products and services. The simple redundancy of, what may be considered, ordinary experiences can lend themselves to the generation of ideas. So, here you are, a user, with an idea around what you believe to be the answer to a perceived problem. It's something you have spent some time thinking about and just when you want to articulate it, share it or otherwise communicate it you pause.

 

What is the process to have your voice heard? It can leave you a little lost. Well, you are not alone. In fact, you are the majority! Now, why is that? Certainly many companies have a Suggestion Box or some type of feedback mechanism? Uh, yeah, and it's highly likely that it is nothing more than a BIG BLACK HOLE. Does my idea count? DOES MY IDEA COUNT?

 

Your_Idea_Counts.pngAnswer: It absolutely does!

 

Your Idea Counts!

 

But how do you make this happen?

 

Ah, the $1 Million question and one we will address in this series about using ideation (a.k.a. ideas). But before we begin, we have to take several steps back and explain a few things.

 

First, we will go on the journey with you. That's why this is a blog series. We want you to be able to isolate any aspect of ideas, focus on it, study it, twist it and bend it so that you will walk away with something(s) that can be implemented. Of course, we could wait a few more years and just write a book, but that's not productive for the here-and-now, thus we will write short blogs that build on each other. When we are finally done, we hope to have given you enough content to have a guide for whatever path you choose to explore. We won't pretend to have all the answers, but we will bring to the discussion some successfully demonstrated business practices and a story that is currently going through several stages of evolution.

 

Let's start from the beginning.....

 

What is an idea?

 

According to Merriam-Webster, the first definition of an idea is:

 

  • a :  a transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations
  • b :  a standard of perfection :  ideal
  • c :  a plan for action :  design

 

We prefer this definition for business ideas:


A pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations of solutions.

 

Breaking this down is important. Ideas are generated to solve a perceived problem. Whether the problem exists in the usability of the product or service, a process, a business requirement, or simply in gaining efficiency, they often result in solutions that need to have some level of significance. Otherwise, why spend the resourcing in developing that solution? By vetting ideas in an open environment like a community, we try to draw out what is universally applicable to that product or service. If you ponder what we are trying to describe and break it down, it really makes a ton of sense.

 

How do we express an idea?

 

Where were you when you thought about a great idea? It's likely you were not in a place where you could easily transcribe what you were thinking about. Thanks to both low technology and high technology you can still capture what you are thinking about so you at least don't forget. While there are many forms of expression, the preponderance of expression comes from:

 

  • Written form. Have you ever jotted a word, sentence or more on something like a match cover? Napkin? Even the old pen-to-hand trick? This is probably the majority case.
  • Visual and/or audio form. You could use the same low technology as the written form, but thanks to cell phones and tablets (largely), you can use a camera or an application to create something that will represent your thoughts or at least remind you what it is you visualize.

 

It's quite unusual for an idea to be fully baked at its inception. We often see mental images or think about abstract concepts that represent bits and pieces of the problem solving that will ultimately lead us to the promised land of an actual end result. This is the lead to innovation, which is the act or process of introduction of something new. Even a change or removal fits the category of something new - n'est ce pas (is it not)? Real innovation is taking something that is known and making it better in whatever way necessitates the change (i.e. introduce efficiency, becoming more simplistic, complete a process or flow more easily) and it is through this that we find ways to get "better" results, often with less work.

 

From a product point of view (and the orientation of our writing), the desired business outcomes of ideas include:

 

  • Yielding more profit to the business
  • Up-sell / cross-sell opportunities
  • Leveraging or expanding the business value
  • Affect change (causes, non-profit, etc.)

 

Capturing ideas in a community provides a setting for brainstorming that historically was only achieved in person-to-person meetings. The community is now the virtual business meeting to allow users, developers, business analysts, and implementors to vet out ideas for their desirability, relevance, universal applicability across business and industry, and alignment to compliance or international requirements.

 

Action for you: Think about the variety of ways for expressing ideas; how can they lead to desired business results for your company?

 

The Thinking Model

 

A company's roadmap for a product or service is the intersection of 3 major forces:

 

  • Customers.
    Businesses are born to service customers. The voice of the customer, while not the sole input, is the likely biggest influence. In order to capture organic growth and/or market share, you would ideally offer products and/or services where there exists a higher perceived value than that of your competitors.

  • Company.
    The company creates product and/or service. There is a vision, roadmap, strategy to market and practicality of delivery to name a few. Companies are a collection of individuals with different talents and ideas that produce products and/or services that solve a real world problem with a desirable solution, and does it competitively or specific to a particular segment of the market.

 

  • Design.
    The product and/or service was intended to serve a purpose. Consideration in the area of design must be recognized. Factors such as support, documentation, constraints (i.e. design limitations) and expertise can govern what can or can't be done without having to create something altogether new and consequently a new product and/or service. Aspects such as product or service usability, simplicity, reliability, efficiency, speed and scale become the focal point in original or modified design.

 

Consider this model: Engagement models are used to take in to account the customer, company and design attributes to drive innovation through ideas.

Ideas Model.png

 

Action for you: What does this tell you about your own specific ideas? How would you use this guidance?

 

In the next blog installment, we will expand on this concept of ideas and their importance in today's highly competitive and quickly changing marketplace. We will talk about the value extended to both the customer and the company when they engage with collaborative ideas, and expand on the premise that this is a strategy that can no longer go ignored, or lost among the darkness in the proverbial black hole!

 

Another Action for you: Make sure you come back to absorb the next blog on "Why Idea generation is important today and the engagement model."

 

Please let us know what you think about this topic in the comments below. What are your challenges related to ideas?

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