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20 June 2008 ~ 3 Comments                                       

Part 3: Digital Suggestion Box: how big corporations are asking for help

Listening to customers is nothing new, but the technology and transparency it enables are. Recently, companies like Dell, Starbucks, and SalesForce have implemented forum-like sites for users to submit, discuss, and vote on product enhancements and product extensions. (The technology under the hood of Starbucks’ site is actually provided by SalesForce, called SalesForce Ideas.) This is customer co-innovation and customer co-creation at its purest: submitters to the site are not compensated for their contributions, they are simply doing it for the love of the brand and its products – or at least out of the desire to see the company improve.

This type of technology is similar in spirit to that found at Crowdspirit, Spigit, and Kluster, to be discussed in a future installment of this series, but the aim is different – and much more difficult to pull off. While these are unestablished companies looking to the wisdom of crowds to create totally new products and work up the design, the Dell’s and Starbuck’s of the world are looking for popular ideas to use as jumping off points for their internal experts to mold and launch.

As Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff would say, this is the “Embracing” portion of the Groundswell – though I would argue it is also a “Listening” activity on the companys’ part. As a commenter on the Groundswell blog mentioned, the only way this works is if it is supported and promoted within and outside of the company. The fact that a company follows up on ideas is an essential way to improve contributions and return visits. Simply slapping your own SalesForce Ideas up on your company’s site will do nothing for you if you don’t promote it and actually incorporate it into the regular functioning of your company.

Getting feedback without some kind of action, whether that be an explanation why the company can’t implement it or examples of successful implementations, will lead to failure.

(I have included below a set of companies that, while they do not have an open process available for voting, they do accept submissions over the web from anyone with an idea or relevant intellectual property. Not quite there, but interesting that companies are opening up, nonetheless.)

Examples of open, digital suggestion boxes:
Dell IdeaStorm
SalesForce IdeaExchange
My StarbucksIdea
IBM ThinkPlace
Cool Software

Throw it over the wall and hope they buy it:
P&G Connect+Develop
Staples Invention Quest (closed idea competition project)
Shell’s GameChanger


Read previous posts:

Part 1: Figuring out crowdsourcing: What does it mean? What’s working? What isn’t?
Part 2: Crowdfunding, Investing and Donation 2.0

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