I am fascinated by IT Conversations. This is an audio service using podcasting to deliver up to 140 megabytes of audio “conversations” daily with IT experts. The founder has a very useful service and apparently a large number of users.
Now he is asking for his customers to help him find a business model that will keep the service alive.
Using a Wiki, he posts his ideas about his business model (part advertising, part subscription or micropayment) and then asks for feedback. What he gets is hundreds (or at least dozens) of ideas freely contributed by his users–some of them avid users.
I love the idea of providing a free service which is widely adopted and then engaging your interested users in helping you create a sustainable business model. In this case, this approach is being taken by a highly technical company founder who has technical users (they’ve already embraced podcasting) and is capable of setting up a Wiki for feedback. Some of us can’t set up a Wiki, but we can easily create a Yahoo Group or Google Group and email our best customers so that they can talk to each other and to us about what they want most.
At MyFamily.com a private web site was created for hundreds of our top site administrators. One of our engineers visited the site every day. I visited it often. We received hundreds of excellent suggestions from our best customers, and in one case, one administrator created a spreadsheet of the top 100 enhancements they wanted on MyFamily.com. The value we received from our best customers was incredible. They loved our engineer because he truly cared about their opinions. He personally fixed problems they found and coded enhancements directly from their suggestions, without going through any product management layers. I loved this Rapid Development approach that brought the engineers and customers together onto the same team.
I think most companies don’t really care about their customers very much, don’t ask them questions, don’t engage them in discussions, and don’t create opportunities for them to discuss among themselves what should be done next.
Does you company have a way to continually be engaged with your customers? Do you personally? If so, tell me about it. If not, why not?