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When your customers talk, you should listen in

New technology means that it is now possible to find out what customers are actually saying. Professor Tor W. Andreassen from BI Norwegian School of Management has listened to what customers have to say about various products.

You can be sure of one thing: customers talk about the goods they are buying or thinking about buying. And you can be equally certain that not everything they say about a product or service is good.

A dissatisfied customer makes his complaints clear to his friends and acquaintances. If a company can find out what its customers actually talk about, it can learn a great deal.

“Companies that understand their customers, often enjoy significantly greater customer satisfaction than those which don’t,” asserts Professor Andreassen. And happy customers mean a satisfying rustle of banknotes in the till.

Exchanging opinions on the net

Previously, finding out what your customers thought was easier said than done, and in many ways only a pipe dream. Now this is all changing.

Increasingly customers are saying what they think on the Internet. This is happening through various discussion forums, “chatting”, virtual meeting places or through the use of blogs (web-based diaries).

Simultaneously, special search engines have been developed to find the information you require in blogs and discussion forums on the Net.

“New technology makes it possible to discover what customers are saying when they discuss companies, products or services,” maintains Andreassen, who is head of BI’s Department of Marketing.

15 topics of conversation

Professor Andreassen headed a research project at BI on customer talk about different products. The research team recorded every dialogue between the users of selected discussion forums over a period of three months.

The researchers then analysed the content of the dialogues and identified a total of 15 popular topics of conversation, which were divided into four main groups: customer relations, users’ experiences, requests for information and comments on new products.

Andreassen can reveal what customers said about:

1) Quality of customer service
2) Dealer quality
3) Dealer availability
4) Companies’ business practices
5) Product quality
6) Relationship between price and quality
7) Experience with special functions
8) More subjective experiences
9) Ways of using the product or service
10) Technical questions
11) Requests for additional information
12) Experience of a particular type of product
13) Opinions of new products
14) Expectations of coming product launches
15) Wish lists for future products
Customer-driven innovation
“We can read in black in white what customers think about new products and what they want from future ones,” says Andreassen.

BI’s researchers are in no doubt that customer talk contains valuable information for company research and development departments. In practice, this will enable innovation to be customer driven.

Companies which actively use their customers to generate ideas for fresh solutions can reduce their development and launch times considerably, while simultaneously increasing their probability of success. They can also correct any defects more quickly by keeping up with users’ comments.

“Insight into continuing conversations between customers will be a life-line for every market-oriented organisation,” declares Andreassen.

Audun Farbrot | alfa
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