I consider the behavior of certain companies (like Dell, that shows opinions on every PC listed in his site) that have the courage and transparency to show ratings and reviews of their products on their own site – hey, I mean *their* products literally, non those they sell online but that are produced by others, which they can always cancel from the catalogue, in the event they become embarrassing.
This is a defining step (in the sense that once you go there, you cannot go back, unless you want to lose face) and a decisive one at that, as it impacts directly the really weak point every company has: that of product design and quality as perceived by their customers – or, at least, their pro-active group of customers.
Opening a web site up to customer ratings is something that, at least on the Italian web, is totally unheard of/unseen. It is a frightening thing, a taboo: the risk of disagreement is normally considered too high. Nevertheless, anyone who has ever run a business (or even sold cakes at school parties), knows that it is nearly impossible to please everyone and that a dose of dissatisfaction is even healthy and acceptable. A dissatisfied customer does not always enjoy the support of other customers as a given, especially when the critique is not justified or is not supported by valid arguments.
It’s hard to understand why we’d want our site to be in no way “marred" by disagreement. Why we insist on the site keeping that bogus, aseptic air of the doctor’s waiting room, that perfect order typical of the houses occupied by unhappy families, a site decorated only by the company-speak monologue we marketers do not believe in even a little, the moment we become customers.
It boils down to one of two cases: we either truly believe that our customers are so stupid as to decide to make a purchase just after reading only what we write on our site and accepting it without seeking other opinions, in which case we are the ones to be deceived - because in reality they will look for “independent” opinions elsewhere, poor us, or we ourselves don’t believe what we write. In that case we are the hypocrites, who prefer to keep appearances up, while letting people express their doubts elsewhere. This means that they will in ways that are unchecked and often difficult to handle. In so doing, we give up on the potential opportunity we’d have to manage the dissent, and - why not – to receive good ideas for improvement.
I am also convinced that the moment of truth on social media for companies is not the corporate blog. It’s too convenient to publish a post every so often on stuff that is important mostly to us, but often is of little or no consequence to the customer (who is there mostly to learn about our product, and not to find out what we are doing at that moment) and to say that yes, we are 2.0, we have ears, we are listening. We listen only when the conversation is about the things we want to talk about.
One could reply “but I’ve inserted the give us your feedback button, to ‘listen’ to customers better”. Well, take note: today those forms barely do anything, because nobody will really use them and because whoever writes, giving you the gift of their time, wants (1) to be sure that you will really read that feedback, (2) wants to be helpful to others and, (3) wants to be visible in his/her effort.
Only when I see the company web site open to customer opinions (moderated, requiring registration, that’s fine) I will truly believe that Italian companies have taken a major step - culturally speaking, that they have understood that the controlled communications iceberg on which they were born and have been raised will not last forever, nor for much longer. They need to learn to float (and prosper) in the high seas (not necessarily dangerous or deathly, for those who know how to swim well, of course) of the social web.
Gianluca Diegoli graduated in Economics at Bocconi University, the most famous School of Economics in Italy. He has been Product, Marketing and Communications Manager, mainly online and in the ICT industry, gaining a specific sensibility in social and conversational marketing communications. Since 2003, he's been blogging about macro and micro marketing and communication trends at Mini Marketing with humorous, metaphoric and "no-corporate" language style, around the idea of a new marketing for the people, from the people, with the people. Mini Marketing is now one of the most widely read Italian marketing blogs, and it has been quoted in several Italian business books.