Hearing the Customer

UserVoice offers a platform for structured customer online feedback.

Through a remotely hosted online platform, new customer relationship management technology provider UserVoice plans to ease the process for businesses to communicate with their customers.

"We're trying to solve the problem that all the [company's] founders have had at their past Web companies-being responsive to your user base and letting them have a seat at the table," said Richard White, a founder of UserVoice. "There haven't been good tools available to prioritize what customers want."

White said existing online customer feedback and dialogue tools, such as e-mail contact forms and Web forms, provide fragmented data that is expensive to collate.

"The feedback [from these tools] isn't as a structured as you would want it to be," he said. "It's in vogue now for companies to embrace their online communities, and we make it easy them to do that."

Employing a MySQL open database and Ruby on Rails Web application framework, as well as a Solr open-source search engine that indexes customer suggestions and compares them to previously submitted suggestions, UserVoice is designed to directly collect customer feedback, determine customer priorities, and respond to customer queries. White said the platform can be deployed in multiple ways.

"You can create a page to get user ideas and then redirect the traffic to our hosted servers," he said. "Or you can run the entire system on your own, using our servers. We have spent a lot of energy trying to maintain the brand-to-product experience on your Web page."

White said UserVoice also provides a number of widgets. He described one widget that allows users to display a tab on the side of their Web site that will automatically display the top five most popular customer-submitted ideas and allow customers to vote on them or suggest new ones.

Vahe Katros, president of Vahe Katros Consulting, said that as long as the functionality is robust, a customer feedback management application like UserVoice could become a valuable component of a retailer's social networking efforts.

"Companies that are interested in customer-led innovation are interested in social networking software," Katros said. "Building a solution around a niche like customer feedback management, if built deeply, may be a direction that social networking could splinter into, but it needs to be more than an on-line suggestion box."

UserVoice is currently running in public beta. White said the public beta has lasted about six weeks so far and he does not expect it to last much more than another month before the platform goes into wide release. He said no pricing model has been determined yet.

Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out eWEEK.com's Retail Site.