This series of blogs summarizes key takeaways from some of the presentations and panel discussions offered at the 2009 Social Commerce Summit.

“Getting Shoppers to Talk: Unearthing the Voice of the Customer” was a breakout session hosted by Sean O’Driscoll, CEO of Ant’s Eye View, and Jon Nordmark, founder and CEO of eBags, on April 28, 2009.

Insights from Sean O’Driscoll, former General Manager of Community Support and the MVP program at Microsoft:


During his 15 years at Microsoft, Sean learned a lot about customers, and the power of influencers – why they matter and how to make the most of them.

While he was at Microsoft, things got more complicated as the company built new products and sold to new audiences. Sean and his team had to figure out how to drive value for everyone, from the CIO to his own mom – all over the world. The scale was enormous.

Eventually, Microsoft became a utility. The public felt that instead of choosing Microsoft, consumers merely inherited the brand. Apple, in contrast, has a lot of emotion with its customers.

Meanwhile, over in Usenet, Microsoft users began creating online conversations. Creators, critics, collectors, joiners, and spectators discussed Microsoft products via online forums.

Microsoft started paying attention to all of these conversations. They realized that “answer people” offered a lot of information on their experience with various products, on their own time. Instead of reaching every single client, the company needed to connect with an elite set of influencers who, once recruited, would battle for the brand. And so Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional program was born. The group encompasses over 4,000 non-Microsoft employees who provide product insights to other users for them, simply because they want to.

Advice Sean gives for creating impactful customer interactions:

  • Segment. Connectors, critics, creators, and collectors all respond differently. Organize the information they offer, and make it discoverable.
  • Measure. How loyal are your customers? How do they rate your quality of service?
  • Monitor behavior. If your goal is feedback, critics are your most important demographic. The goal is to develop rapport with your supporters, and understand connectors. Start with one main goal and follow that through – you don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Enable. Different types of contributors want different things. Critics want feedback and change.

Remember the One Big Thing:

If you walk up to your customers talk to them, they will talk back. They’ll give you amazing insight. It’s up to you to close the loop. That’s how you reinvent brand activism around what you do.

Insights from Jon Nordmark, founder and CEO of eBags: has enjoyed a tremendous rate of growth, reaching profitability just two scant years after its launch in 1998. As a start-up company in a start-up industry, eBags stood out from its competitors for several innovative online retail techniques, including its thriving system for product ratings and reviews.

eBags was one of the first of a handful of retailers offering product reviews at the time, a planned component of the company’s marketing strategy from day one.

So how does eBags do it? And what can product reviews do for you?

Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

  • Review requests need to be one-on-one. Personalize emails at the top and the bottom. Customers must feel their input is valuable to the company,
  • The most effective responses come from reviewers who understand the product they are supposed to review. eBags adds a picture of the product in the solicitation email, and waits 21 days in order to give the customer time to test their new purchase.
  • Encourage your reviewers with an incentive. Promotions are a great way to drive reviews as well as traffic. But you don’t have to over-reward people for contributing – a “thank you” goes a long way.
  • Think through the cadence of your request. Ask twice, then let it go. Then try again six months later, and then a year later. Find out how they’re doing and how well the product is still holding up.
  • Make reviews a visual on your Web site. Spread the comments through your site as far as it will go. This encourages others to write reviews.

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