Your Customer is Talking ... Are You Listening?

I just read an interesting article on how the Symbian Foundation is using crowdsourcing to solicit product ideas from customers. The Internet, and Web 2.0 has given us some great tools for understanding customer needs. I would suggest that it has never been easier to engage customers. In the case of Symbian, they are using a system that "borrows features from Wekipedia, news aggregator, and a product from Procter & Gamble [...]."
I am not suggesting that traditional qualitative, quantitative and other research techniques are obsolete. The message today is that the web and social media allows companies to engage customers and learn about their needs like never before. If you really listen, you will be amazed at what customers are willing to tell you. The cool thing is that you do not need a big pot of cash to start engaging them. Even more important, you can start today.

If you look around you can find a great deal of information on how to use social media tools to have this  conversation. I am sure you have read, heard about, or visited Twitter, Facebook or some other social media site. I want to share one example.

I have been experimenting with foursquare.  Maybe 'experimenting' is not the right word. They have made this into a game and I am a willing participant. The game, tool or whatever you want to call it, has some interesting implications for businesses.  In describing how foursquare works for business, the company write:

foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics - our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.


We'd be thrilled to have your bar / cafe / coffee shop / restaurant / store as part of our foursquare specials program. This can happen in a variety of ways, but essentially comes down to rewarding customer loyalty based on the data behind foursquare usage.

For example, foursquare can tell you how many times a customer has been to your venue or the frequency of their visits. Many venues are now using this data to reward their most loyal customers with freebies or discounts.

This is cool, but only the a starting point. Just think about how your business could use a tool like this to engage customers and learn about their like and dislike. What can you improve? What do they saying about your business and about the competition? It is so easy to communicate directly to customers. Lead off by listening - engage them!   

What will you do to engage your customers? What new tools are you using?