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Can Social Media Help Business-to-Business Companies to Learn from their Customers?

July 13, 2013 • BUSINESS & INNOVATION, Digital Transformation

By Hannu Kärkkäinen & Jari J. Jussila

Organisations have to learn about market needs and technological solutions increasingly quickly if they want to respond to the rapid and often unpredictable changes in their business environment. Various types of collaborative web tools and approaches, such as social media, can enable and significantly increase the collaboration and learning of business-to-business companies from their customers in various novel ways. Importantly, social media can provide quite innovative community-oriented and social ways of providing and receiving feedback from new products and concepts. Some forms of social media, such as virtual worlds, can also enable customers and companies to receive a lifelike experience from products, as well as experiment with novel concepts.

Community-based Model of Learning from Customers

Organisations have to learn about market needs and technological solutions increasingly quickly if they want to respond to the quick and often unpredictable changes in their business environment. This learning need is fundamentally driven by constant technological and scientific breakthroughs, competition, and the quickly changing and unpredictable market and customer needs. A further driver for effective learning is also derived from the trend in which companies’ models of innovation are moving from closed to open1. In open innovation, companies experiment and make use of novel ways of tapping into the use of external ideas, resources, knowledge and technologies in their innovation activities.

However, acquiring useful feedback from customers, as well as learning from customers and their feedback is more easily said than done. Some seminal reasons for this challenge are concerned with the limitations of customers to imagine and give feedback about something that they have not experienced2. In the same manner, companies and their personnel that are linked with the development of new products and services find it often difficult to make sense of the acquired customer feedback and customer need information, and to understand it in the manner the customers themselves originally meant it, as well as understanding it commonly in a similar manner by the whole personnel. Companies often under-invest in understanding and making sense of the gathered information, and they often fail to incorporate the information into decision making processes. Thus, companies find often serious difficulties in understanding, learning from and meeting the hidden or latent needs of customers by using traditional methods, such as interviews, focus groups and surveys.

 
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