When viewing products on Amazon.com, you may notice a section on the product page labeled “Customer Questions & Answers.” For example, on the page for the Flash Point board game, which I purchased last week. In this section, you are encouraged to “ask the owners” (of the product) a question.
The labeling is misleading because they don’t actually limit the ability to answer to owners only. You don’t have to have purchased the product on Amazon to be able to answer the question. I guess you could say it is based on the honor system. But that’s beside the point.
I was reminded of this feature recently when I received an email from Amazon. They knew that I had purchased a particular product (since I bought it from them), so they wanted to know if I was willing to answer a specific question that was asked about that product. The question was included in the email as well as a link to answer. I found it compelling, so I clicked and found that others had already answered the question adequately. I assume that when the email was sent, there were no answers.
The Power of Amazon’s Customer Data
When it comes to seeding a Q&A feature, this is a great way to do it. Amazon is uniquely suited, of course, because they sit on this great database of customer data. They have a direct relationship with hundreds or thousands (or more) people who have all purchased a product. When a customer asks a question about that product, who better to turn to than an actual owner of that product? In some cases, maybe the manufacturer, but Amazon already facilitates interactions between customers and manufacturers.
Because of the size of their database – of products and customers – Amazon might be building the most impressive collection of product based questions and answers ever assembled. This will have its limits – a niche community focused on a product will always go deeper on that product. But that’s not really a concern for Amazon because they aren’t in that business (with some exceptions, like Digital Photography Review). That said, in building a quality database of questions and answers they will definitely be getting a bunch of great content which can be indexed by search engines. Most importantly, the content matches actual queries that people will type into search engines (in this case, questions).
Impact on Customer Support and Community
Amazon also benefits due to the (hopeful) reduction of customer support costs. When people help each other, support costs tend to drop. These aren’t necessarily questions Amazon customer support is most qualified to answer, anyway. Does this air conditioner work in an 800 square foot room? Amazon can read you the manual, maybe. But a fellow customer can draw on actual experience.
However, that reduction in support costs has to be offset by an increase in community spending. With more user generated comment comes more responsibility for community and moderation, whether that is investment in automated tools or people-power.
It’s Important to Target Your Seeding Efforts
When most people try to seed their community, to target people at this level, you normally have to do it manually. Amazon isn’t just targeting people that have given them their email address. They aren’t just targeting people who have viewed the product or talked about it online. They are targeting people that have actually bought it. And if they want, they can go even deeper (they might be doing this already). For example, they can exclude people who returned the product and those who marked their purchase as a gift (since that likely means it is owned by someone else). They can exclude people that have owned the product for less than a certain number of days. In other words, they can go really deep.
I do think it is an interesting example for companies who have strong customer data. For example, companies have been asking customers to register their products for a long time. And more recently they have tied email and opt-in to these processes. If Panasonic wants to launch a similar Q&A feature, they likely have a database of product owners that they can ask for help, just as Amazon is doing here.
For everyone else, it’s a good reminder to be as targeted as you can be when it comes to seeding.