One perk of working for a large company is being recognized, or winning prizes, for contributing useful suggestions. While employees can be pretty cynical about the whole process, overall, it’s good for employee relations to solicit and reward suggestions. Employees appreciate the opportunity to voice their ideas to senior management and do their part in making the company/products better. And if they win a free dinner, it’s all that much better.
The same concept can work even better with customers where you don’t have to worry about favoritism and corporate politics. But how do you solicit meaningful suggestions without getting bogged down in an expensive and time-consuming evaluation process? And more important, how do you prevent the really innovative ides from getting killed in the marketing/customer service/IT department, where the not-invented-here bias rules?
Interactive suggestion box from Starbucks
Amidst a sweeping round of innovations announced at its annual shareholders meeting today (see note 1; press release here), Starbucks provided a glimpse of the future of customer feedback with its MyStarbucksIdea, a user-generated discussion forum revolving around product and service suggestions (see screenshot below).
By involving users every step of the way, the system helps remove the inherent bias that plagues most company-run programs. The key is allowing registered users the power to vote on each idea, the best rise DIGG-like to the top, where other customers, along with the Starbucks top-brass, are likely to see them. Other than light moderating of the forum, Starbucks only has to process the very best ideas.
To provide the all-important company feedback to the community, the Starbucks site (note 2) has an area that will showcase the ideas that are actually implemented. The site says there are no monetary rewards, but I would expect that wining ideas will receive some small token of the company’s appreciation such as a $50 Starbucks card or t-shirt. You don’t want the incentives to be too high, or the system will be gamed and its appeal damaged.
The most popular idea at Starbucks has to do with providing discounts…no surprise there. But the company has wisely introduced a dozen idea categories to help spur discussion in other areas. For instance, in “Other Product” section (second screenshot below), I found two that I voted for: microwave ovens to re-heat coffee and providing small stickers to keep the coffee from sloshing out the drinking hole while driving.
Implications for financial institutions
I believe that every financial institutions should have some type of suggestion program even if it’s just an email address (email@example.com). And I think the open Starbucks approach could work very well. However, if there are no ground rules, most banks and credit unions will be innundated with “ideas” to lower fees, raise savings rates, and so on. As much as you don’t want to stifle discussion, you may have to restrict or even forbid suggestions about pricing. Most people will understand that your pricing decisions are not made via the consensus of a public user forum no matter how many votes “interest-free loans” receive.
To help spur ideas outside the usual complaints, create a list of categories such as online banking, wire transfers, checking accounts, branches, and so on to generate ideas for your different product lines.
MyStarbucksIdea homepage (19 March 2008)
Top ideas in “Other Products” category
1. Starbucks also announced a set of rewards for users of its prepaid card including free premium drink upgrades such as soy milk, free beverages with the purchase of coffee beans, and the big one for the WiFi set, 2 hours of free Internet access with a purchase.
2. Interestingly, Starbucks new app is built on the Force.com platform from SalesForce.com.