Using an online community to gauge customer reaction

When in the States, I often see adverts for OnStar. This is a remote vehicle control service whereby you can give a third party remote control of some of your car’s facilities, as well as an in-car ‘conceierge’ service to get directions and the like. For example, if you lock your keys in your car, OnStar can remotely unlock the car. If you are involved in a crash, OnStar can detect this, try to get in touch with you and call the ambulance services.

The problem with this sort of service is how a service provider walks the line between being useful and crossing into territory where the customer feels uneasy about the amount of control OnStar has over their vehicle and the amount of information they wittingly or unwittingly end up giving to OnStar. This was particularly relavent for their latest offering, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown – a new service which would allow the police to slow down a vehicle if it was reported stolen, preventing dangerous high speed chases.

According to a recent article in computing, concious of the potential controversy, OnStar turned to an online community to gauge whether or not this was an acceptable service to its customers. The outcry and damage to OnStar’s reputation and brand would be significant if they got this wrong. The results of their questions to the community showed that if appropriate safeguards were in place, and there were checks to ensure that the correct vehicle was being slowed down, OnStar’s customers would welcome this service. As such, it is due to launch in 2009.

What is interesting is that in order to assure customer participation in the community (of about 3,000 people), free monthly remote vehicle performance checks were offered to the contributors. More and more companies will need to think of valuable offerings that can be given away in a cost-effective manner in order to entice people into participating in on-line schemes. OnStar is also looking at expanding their use of on-line forums for future product launches, and to measure OnStar’s own on-line brand and reputation

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