blogpost
Multimedia Feedback Is The Future
author J. Shi, January 07, 2014

The top two things every business owner should know about customer feedback, but probably doesn't:
Simply asking for feedback from customers doesn't work.
Traditional plain text testimonial doesn't work.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of customer feedback. My personal experience shows that feedback collection is difficult for various reasons. Simply asking for feedback from customers doesn't work. In this blog, I will share my views on why the traditional text review or feedback is obsolete.

Written feedback/review is prone to bias. When customers write text feedback, it inevitably includes personal emotion and background. Text feedback is subjective and may not reflect the true quality of service or product. "The trustworthiness of Yelp, Angie's List, and other "unbiased" ratings services is called into question in a new study by Consumer Reports." This is the opening of an article published on Time. Let's see what Forbes say about the customer review website Angie's List. "...The NBC affiliate channel 12 in Richmond, Va., did a little digging into Angie's List and found that lower rated companies can bump themselves up to the top of search results by paying extra money..."

This was exactly what I experienced when I moved in my first house in the spring of 2010. I found a pool care company with straight As on Angie's List. It took them several trips to clean and fix the pool in our backyard. They quoted us additional $125 to simply change an O-ring to stop pump leak. With a little help of Google and YouTube, I bought an O-ring for less than 10 bucks and put it in within 15 minutes. I took care of the pool all by myself ever since.

To truly benefit the business to improve product quality and service and to help customers make good decisions, a more innovative means for feedback collection is desired. This new means should rely more on handy tools and scalable platform to accommodate massive, comprehensive, objective feedback system. Now, the multimedia feedback tool built upon mobile and cloud computing, and web3 technologies is emerging.

More Objective

People are getting more cynical because we are exposed to more and more unverified indirect information online and on air. It's normal that we start with doubting instead of believing. As consumer, we would first check on negative feedbacks rather than positive ones. This consumer behavior really hurts good businesses with false negative. One recent study shows that nearly 20% reviews on Yelp are fake, either false positive for business themselves or false negative against competitors. The number is trending up.

Picture, video, and other multimedia format feedbacks, however, are better appreciated. When I tried to remodel our old bathrooms this summer, I interviewed four contractors. They all claimed that they had done what I wanted. They all assured me that they could be 100% sure to finish the work in time and as promised. Their asking price was all about the same. What made the winner stand out? This guy showed me pictures and videos of all his past projects. Some were done in our neighborhood where houses have the same structure. I spotted quite a few finished bathrooms which were exactly what I wanted. He won the bid.

With pictures and videos, customers could use their own judgment instead of reading or listening to opinions from strangers. Using my bathroom remodel as an example, people who are much richer than me would think they are cheap looking, good for nothing; meanwhile, senior people would think it is too modernized while young couples would think it is too traditional. I think it is perfect.

More Information

The entropy of text feedback is little. Text is black and white, one dimensional. The amount of information text carries could easily be controlled, like the 140 character tweet enforced by Tweeter. One photo, however, is worth 1,000 words. One video consists of hundreds of pictures, though with redundancy. Videos also provide additional angles to display truth. Photos and videos give much more details, present more vivid scenes, and inspire the emotions. That's why the dishes with photos on the menu in restaurants sell much better than the rest. It's not just because they are specially picked, or the chef thinks they taste better.

My friend, Joe, had his hardwood floor done several years ago by a mediocre contractor. He was a first-time homeowner then and had no experience at all. After years of examination and comparison, he noticed quite a few defects of the hardwood floor installation. Some were quite obvious. For example, the contractor didn't do a good job on preparing the subfloor. There were squeaks in at least five spots. Several spots on the stairs even showed the subfloor as the hardwood pieces were a little short. The contractor didn't bother to fix it. My friend could go on and on about it. He couldn't stand it any more. He wanted to hire a contractor to redo his floor. While he was interviewing contractors, he demanded them show him detailed photos and videos about their past work. He paid special attention to the subfloor preparation, baseboard installation over finished floor, etc. Most contractors weren't prepared for this detail, which, in his eyes, was disqualified. He said any contractor who could do fine jobs would be so proud of themselves. They would at least snap some pictures of, if not videotape, his master pieces. If they don't have these materials, it means they've never done any job that they're proud of. They most likely won't be able to provide the quality work he is looking for. I couldn't agree more on this.

Easy To Capture

Writing is difficult and slow. For most people, composing a well-structured to-the-point feedback is next to mission impossible, not to mention that even a well-written feedback is biased in some way. A recent analysis shows that U.S. public school graduation rate is only 75% in 2010. You can argue that writing is avoidable with other formats, e.g., structured survey forms. For survey, I typically choose neutral ranks, because I don't want to make deliberation, to hurt everyone's feeling. A neural feedback can be normalized to zero. Zero feedback means no benefits to the business.

Capture and upload multimedia feedback, however, is straightforward thanks to the popularity of mobile devices, web technologies, and open source contributors. It does not need too much reasoning or deliberation. My three year old often grabs my iPhone and snaps pictures or shoots videos without any education and assistance. Many websites also embed Adobe flash plugin to capture and replay multimedia through webcam. Nowadays, most laptops have multimedia support. On mobile web, it's even simpler. You can record and upload voice and video without any app or flash installation as long as the webpage is created following HTML5 standard.

Not only capture, editing and resizing also is a piece of cake. There are many free tools for PCs, such as, Gimp for image editing, Audacity for audio, iMovie for video. You can trim, resize the media before uploading. The function makes more sense when you use smartphones. There are many free iOS and Android apps too. If you are a tech savvy, you might play with FFmpeg to surprise your friends at holiday parties.

With new technologies coming out every day, I wouldn't be surprised to see more convenient ways to capture. People might abandon text email in the near future. They just record what they want to say and sent the voice file out through email with a few clicks. It's easier, faster, and also carrying much more information.

Easy To Share

In the past, it was difficult to share multimedia files online, especially video files due to the size and various formats. This is no longer true today. How easy can you share photo and video on Facebook, Pinterest, Instgram, or Youtube? If setup properly, most times it is just one click. By one click, your finest products, your master pieces, your best services, or your satisfied customer's feedback are public to the world. If you want to get more prospects, YouTube is a good place to share videos. It's consistently in the top three most visited and searched websites. 10-seconds video blast is enough to create the most memorized moment.

Offline sharing is equally important for many businesses. I visited Home Garden shows and Trade shows in several cities, like Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Santa Clara. Many businesses were using big screen TVs to show off their most splendid projects. Some business owners started to use iPad to display pictures and videos about their products and services. It's very interactive and dynamic. It's better than hiring a sales person to do talking, in my opinion.

More Fun

The sales and market guru, Perry Marshall, said in his teaching that the number one sin in marketing is boring. People get bored of reading. How many people are still reading? The younger generations were born with electronic gadgets and computers. My three year old can easily find her way on my iPad or iPhone to watch video clips on YouTube. How much time do U.S. residents spend on YouTube on average? According to Google's metrics, "...Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube, that's almost an hour for every person on Earth"

It's absolutely true that writing is more valuable for old folks in my father's generation. One of my elder friend on Facebook always comments on the text I wrote. However, we have to admit that the visual content is getting more and more popular. We all know how much the photo sharing apps like Instgram and Snapchat are worth multi-billion dollars. They are driven by users. I have never heard any bestselling books could earn so much money.

In Conclusion

The Internet has changed the habit of information production, flow, and consumption. Our digital life is changing everyday with new mobile, cloud, and web technologies. Business owners have more digital weapons on hand than ever before. The visual content can be captured easily, distributed quickly and widely, and consumed readily.

Human natures never ever change. We pick the most convenient and comfortable way to collect and receive feedbacks. These obsolete text based reviews should and will be replaced by the more advanced multimedia feedback. Machines cannot replace humans, but they could make the collection and distribution of feedbacks much easier. Machines also filter the human emotion and bias in the process. Authentic feedbacks either encourage business or help generate more sales leads if positive, or provide opportunities for improvements if negative. Either way, they are treasures for every business.