Do Your Customers Have a Voice?

13 Nov
2009

One of the most important tasks of a community manager is to be a conduit between the community and internal departments. One such department is product management. A good community manager understands what the community wants in terms of product, and is able to curate the community’s many needs, while reading between the lines. Then the community manager must relay this information to the product folks, making sure to prioritize, and help them arrive at a balance of features requested by the community, as well as driven by the internal product roadmap.

So how does a community manager take a virtual pulse of the community? He / she could ask the community in a blog / comment setting, or to send suggestions via e-mail. Ok, that’s great, but how does one organize and make sense of all of this information? And equally as important, how does one understand which ideas have more community support than others? Well, as you might have guessed, “there’s an app for that!” Actually, there are several apps. Here I will discuss, compare and contrast two (seemingly similar, yet different) tools to crowdsource product ideas and improvements from your own community!

The two tools are: GetSatisfaction and UserVoice. GetSatisfaction, the incumbent, has been around for a few years, and has the benefit of being the market pioneer and having powered feedback for many companies and brands, large and small. A newer, yet formidable, competitor UserVoice recently burst onto the scene capturing the hearts of many community and product folks with its focus on virtual brainstorming and constant product improvement, and making GetSatisfaction pay attention. As the battle rages on, I took some time to tinker with both applications. And here’s what I found:

Even though both applications seem similar on the surface (both exist to collect feedback from users in an open and community-powered setting), one main difference between UserVoice and GetSatisfaction is the focus. While GetSatisfaction focuses on both, reporting and tracking progress with product bugs, as well as eliciting suggestions from users, UserVoice is laser-focused on suggestions for future improvements. From a community perspective, both are extremely important. First of all, you need to make sure that your customers have  an active feedback loop about their technical (or non-technical) issues – we all know that the best marketing is great customer service (take Zappos for example). This is where GetSatisfaction steps in. At the same time, your community wants to have its voice heard and wants to play a role in the future of product development. This is where UserVoice excels over GetSatisfaction, in my opinion.

UserVoice:

UV forumI was lucky enough to get a personalized product tour from the UserVoice team (hopefully GetSatisfaction will invite me over after this article for a chat and product review). As you can see from the screenshot (and I used UserVoice’s own feedback account for this), the homepage of each forum is dedicated solely to eliciting either new ideas, or feedback on existing ideas from its community. As you can see, the top tab allows you to see ideas sorted by number of votes, which is a bit skewed, because it automatically gives preference to more “aged” ideas with more cumulative votes. The “hot” tab, however, gives newer ideas with traction a chance to get noticed. The other 3 tabs are self-explanatory. To ensure that you aren’t suggesting something that’s been already suggested, the systems make you search first (clever!). I invite you to explore the forum homepage for yourself.

Idea suggestion, voting and commenting:

UV_rich_whiteAfter a community member suggests an idea, other members can vote and comment on the idea. Each voter gets 10 votes to be allocated at any given time, and you get your votes back once the idea changes status to being implemented. According to Scott and Daniel of UserVoice, this is done so that the vocal minority doesn’t overpower the rest of the community. Also, by only voting for his / her favorite ideas, each voter has to put forth more intellectual work in evaluating ideas.

However, all community members aren’t the same. For example, the screenshot you see to the left is of Rich White, the UserVoice founder, who definitely has a very high score of activity and idea generation :). UV_float-to-topIn our meeting, I suggested rewarding users with the highest activity and idea scores, with more votes. The team admitted that they have played with the idea, but the jury is still out on what will be done in the future.  A case can be made for keeping the vocal minority at bay when the community is young.  This keeps everyone from getting frustrated about not being heard. I think over time, in a more mature community, as an admin you should be able to choose to reward users with highest quality of contribution. What I do like is that as a new commenter on a suggestion, my avatar and suggestion floats to the top automatically (see right).

Moderation:

As an admin ($19 accounts or better), you can moderate each entry by deleting it altogether or editing the name. You can also respond with a status, updating all voters on where the idea is in the process. GetSatisfaction also allows the admin to respond with a status, but moderation tools only come with a plan priced at $99.

Bug / problem reporting is separate and secondary:

I think it was smart of UserVoice to isolate suggestions from bug reporting. By separating the two, you keep the focus and the mood oriented towards the future, improvements and growth. It also opens up the market to communities and products who don’t want to focus their feedback experience on fixing issues – perhaps they aren’t creating a high tech product or manufacturing a tangible good. You can still submit bugs, but unlike GetSatisfaction (more on GS below), this process is not public. When you submit a bug, an email window opens where you can privately communicate your issue. The exciting thing is that as an admin, you can hook it directly into your bug-tracking software. How’s that for convenience? (GetSatisfaction also allows integration with Zendesk in plans over $99).

Private forums:

Another feature that makes UserVoice stand out as a superior crowdsourcing tool is the ability to set up private forums. Not all brainstorming is going to be public. Sometimes, brainstorming is internal to your company. Sometimes, you want to invite a few hand-picked users to solicit and discuss ideas. UserVoice allows that, with various validation methods. It also allows voters to vote anonymously, so that good ideas are surfaced from all echelons of the organization, regardless of office politics. GetSatisfaction currently does not have private forums.

With UserVoice, all users can have 1 forum (premium can have more than 1) and 100 voters voting on all ideas within your forum. With premium options, you get considerably more voters, unlimited forums, private forums, analytics, moderation tools, domain aliasing, single sign-on (allowing users to sign in with the same credentials they use elsewhere on the site), data export, design customization and even whitelabeling. You can read in more detail about the plans here.

GetSatisfaction:

UV_GS home

GetSatisfaction focuses on more areas:

GetSatisfaction, by contrast focuses on both, problems and ideas for improvement, which changes the focus and confuses the voice of the community, in my opinion. When bugs and problems live on the same page as brainstorming and ideas, it can get a bit confusing. One thing that GetSatisfaction does better than UserVoice, however, is taking the meritocracy idea a bit further and awarding the “brand champion” status to the most helpful members of the community.

The process works in somewhat of a similar fashion to UserVoice. A customer enters either a problem, question or suggestion. Other community members can comment and report that they are having the same issue or question, or “like” an idea. This way, the best of each section rise to the top, similar to UserVoice. However, unlike UserVoice, each member gets unlimited votes, which dilutes the quality of votes for each idea. Both platforms have self-policing community features like flagging as spam or inappropriate. You can see the full listing of GetSatisfaction plans and features here.

Both tools have common features:

Both tools have built a viral element into the suggestion process: each time a user is on the suggestion  / issue page, he can tweet or Facebook this idea to get more traction from his friends, at the same time increasing awareness for the community. Some more of the common features are: have several features that are common to both, such as moderation, analytics, commercial API, custom design, signle sign-on, among others. However, most of these features start at the $99 / month plan for GetSatisfaction. I have put together this handy chart to highlight some common features and how much it will cost you to get those features under each platform.

UV-GS-feature set

User experience:

Although there are quite a few similarities in the two platforms, I think the user experience in UserVoice is far superior for surfacing future-facing product ideas and strategy: it’s streamlined and focused, whereas GetSatisfaction suggestion page is very noisy.

Conclusion:

To my clients, I would recommend both platforms to be used side by side, but for different purposes: GetSatisfaction for a community-based problem resolution, and UserVoice for community-based idea generation. For example, if I’m working with a client with a technical product, who has bugs and wants bug tracking to be open and community-based, then I would recommend GetSatisfaction. I would also recommend that same company use UserVoice side by side for crowdsourcing ideas. If users can benefit from the community based FAQ, relying on previous resolutions of the same problem, then the brand should definitely use GetSatsifaction. However, if you want to keep your bug issues more discreet, you can use the UserVoice bug tracking piece. Just about all companies can benefit from UserVoice. It’s also extremely affordable, and most companies needs can be met with the Tin ($19), Bronze ($89) and Silver ($289)plans.

If you do follow my advice and use both platforms, you should make sure to differentiate them on your site. You can list GetSatisfaction under “feedback” tab, and UserVoice under “improvements or suggestions” tab.

Because of the lower price point and the focus on idea generation and curation, UserVoice has been adopted by users outside of the usual enterprise / company realm. For example, musician Mike Shinoda uses the forum to source new artists to his label: users can pitch themselves or other musicians to the community, and the rest of the community votes. UserVoice was also used by the City of Seattle in its Mayoral Race to surface ideas for Seattle’s improvement initiatives. Because UserVoice is so focused and easy to use, I imagine its users will keep redefining its future uses.

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