Putting reviews to use in product development

By now, most merchants recognize the value of customer reviews — they give brands credibility with shoppers who seek authentic product information; they have word-of-mouth marketing potential; and their content can help boost relevance for search engine optimization.

New research points to another use for customer reviews: future product development. In its third Conversation Index report, social software provider Bazaarvoice found that 12% of reviews include product suggestions — and those suggestions are most often found in reviews that award products positive ratings of four out of five stars.

Research from Bazaarvoice on customer reviews

Moreover, most product suggestions contain ideas for further improvement or requests for expansion with additional colors or styles, rather than critiques of intrinsic problems, Bazaarvoice found.

The upshot: Mining customer review data for product suggestions is a great way for merchants to connect with largely satisfied customers, who have the potential to become even more valuable as loyal brand advocates. To encourage product feedback in reviews — and to let consumers know their voices will be heard — take the following steps:

Help reviewers aggregate their opinions using tags. While you can’t control what customers write in their reviews, giving them the ability to tag their posts with keywords — and to use tags others have submitted — is one way to gather information on which product attributes are most popular, and which could use improvement. REI asks reviewers to select tags for “pros,” “cons,” and “best uses,” displaying which keywords individual customers selected within their reviews, as well as a summary at the top of the reviews section of the page.

Customer review example from REI

Search for “pivot words”. Bazaarvoice suggests glean product suggestion content from reviews by scanning for keywords such as “however,” “although,” and “if only”, which signal that the contributor has included ideas for improvement alongside a generally positive review.

Take suggestions social. If product reviews reveal a recurring theme, broach the topic on social networks to gather further information — for example, by polling Facebook followers as to which additional colors or styles they’d prefer. This tactic can extend beyond product features to include crowdsourced merchandising strategies, as Soap.com did during the holiday season, when Facebook followers could vote on which brands would be discounted for the peak Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days.

Customer feedback example from Soap.com

Connect with top contributors. Frequent reviewers are a potential gold mine — they’re willing to contribute significant time to share opinions and offer suggestions. Merchants should connect with these individuals directly and invite them to participate on a more substantive level, whether through a focus group or a customer feedback panel.

Let customers know they’re being heard. When you take action based on customer reviews, be sure to report back to the reviewers to let them know their voices were heard. You can also publicize the new product modifications more broadly, both as a sales driver and as an incentive for others to contribute reviews, by using language such as “you asked … we listened!”

Best Buy has made a significant commitment to gathering customer feedback through its IdeaX forum, where consumers can post ideas for service and product improvements and vote on others’ suggestions. Best Buy flags each contribution with a response —  including“Tell Us More” to gather more information and “Under Review” to show that the suggestion is under consideration.

Customer feedback example from Best Buy

How are you using customer feedback content to guide future product selection or development?