There are more and more examples in the marketplace today of consumers providing make-or-break feedback on product introductions and corporate actions. Two recent examples include Gap reversing its decision to change its logo based on consumer feedback and Bank of America changing its decision to charge customers $5 per month to use their debit cards. Less obvious, but potentially just as impactful, is the power an organization’s employees have in shaping how they learn, teach others and manage the flow of information in the enterprise. This power is evident even in the relatively staid business software environment.
Consider the migration from traditional classroom training to more informal methods of learning such as personalized portals, social networking communities, discussion forums and search engines. Organizational adoption of such methods to power learning can be tied directly to the prevalence of consumer-targeted applications such as texting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. Use of these applications — at home and on the go — has translated into use in the enterprise.
Now, think about the way business software providers are listening to and incorporating feedback from their consumers. For many years, software providers have been attuned to feedback and enhancement requests through traditional channels, such as vendor-provided support portals or phone lines. But the savvy provider is now monitoring and incorporating input in many additional ways. For users of learning software, there are many ways to help influence these products.
Learning leaders have more opportunities than ever before to not only engage with and benefit from peers using the same products, but also to connect directly with vendors to influence roadmaps and drive product enhancements. And the avenues below have the added benefit of being part of the everyday tool suite for most professionals.
Twitter: Yes, it’s limited to 140 characters. But this is a perfect way for vendors to reach out to a user who posts a question or a product wishlist item. Even just responding to a status update that references the vendor’s product can be a way to elicit, discuss and incorporate a great enhancement.
LinkedIn: There are many vendor- or product-specific LinkedIn groups. For LinkedIn members, groups are an obvious way to interact with peers and learn from others. Anticipate that software vendors are on the lookout here to mine discussions for feedback and potential enhancements.
Blogs: The availability of technology such as Google Alerts makes it extremely easy for vendors to monitor mentions of their products in users’ blogs. From that point, it’s easy to reach out to the blog author to gather potential enhancements.
Public discussion forums: Forums are also typically open to searches and alerts and can be great way for vendors to hear from highly engaged users. Monitoring forums is a way to hear the compliments and complaints of a highly engaged group.
User group events: Whether independent or vendor-hosted, user group events are one of the most valuable venues for hearing feedback because they enable face-to-face conversation. This allows for a deeper dive into enhancement requests to ensure the user’s idea is completely understood. Plus, there are often sessions dedicated solely to enhancement brainstorming and prioritizing.
Organizations should expect to engage with software vendors in ways beyond submitting help tickets, because the success of corporate learning initiatives is impacted by vendor partnerships. A vendor partner who listens to feedback and helps organizations evolve can yield positive results for training teams. Consider submitting an issue or enhancement request as the bare minimum. Beyond this, organizations should expect insight into enhancement status to allow for time to plan an upgrade and incorporate new functionality into deliverables.
Vendors should go further to monitor and respond to constructive and value-add feedback online. Ideally, vendors should be investing time and staff in the execution of live events. While online communication is valuable, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction to connect learning professionals to each other and to the makers of learning software.
Vendors should constantly seek ways to meet evolving customer needs — even ahead of identified needs. Remember, learning is a continuous process, so learning products shouldn’t be static. Without ongoing change, customers may lose interest in learning products and not re-engage with learning tools. Vendors should constantly look to the needs of their customers, introduce new enhancements and offerings, and adapt their products in response to evolving demands.
Frank Lonergan is the CEO of ANCILE Solutions, a provider of learning software to more than half of the Fortune 100. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.