People are social animals. The success of Facebook (News - Alert), LinkedIn, and Twitter attest to that fact. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to hang out at the mall with your girlfriends or sisters, however, shopping for most people tends to be a rather solitary experience for the most part.
But wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to talk to about buying decisions – and not just anyone, but rather a person who knows and has even used the product or service you’re considering for purchase? That’s what a company called Needle is enabling, with the aim of helping retailers sell more online.
CEO Morgan Lynch says he got the idea for Needle after shopping online for a wetsuit. Because deciding on which wetsuit to buy is a rather technical exercise, Lynch started out by reading reviews about various products in this category. However, he wasn’t able to get all his questions answered via online research, and he didn’t get to talk with anybody knowledgeable about wetsuits during his online experience, so he ended up buying the wetsuit offline. That was unusual for Lynch, who buys most everything – including his cars – online. So, in 2010, he incorporated Needle, which brings online customers together with advocates – that is, people who are very familiar with specific products or product categories and are willing to share their experiences about them with others.
“Advocates are the difference,” says Lynch. “They are really kind of the way of the future. They have a lot of expertise and knowledge that is hard [to get] in the contact center.”
Most people are blown away when they get to speak with other who are knowledgeable about what they’re interested in, he says, explaining that Needle provides both the advocate recruitment services and the technology that powers the solution.
Here’s how Needle works. Say you’re on a site like Norwegian Cruise Line looking at vacations and ship options. You might see a banner come up that says “talk to an avid cruiser.” You can click on that and connect with person who’s been on maybe 20 to 30 cruises and is passionate about cruises and the brand. You tell this person where, why and when you’re going, what you like and don’t like, and that advocate can offer advice and share his or her experiences with you.
Or perhaps you’re on the Nikon website shopping for a camera. The Needle solution could be working behind the scenes to connect you with a professional photographer who can ask you what you’re trying to accomplish and make suggestions as to the best camera for you.
Needle finds advocates by working with its clients to identify super-users of their products. Looking for people who are active participants in discussions on social channels like Facebook and regular bloggers about a particular product or service has also been a successful strategy for advocate search and recruitment. Once advocates come aboard, they can select their own hours, are paid in cash, and also have the option to get product for their work.
Organizations that leverage Needle can pay for the service per interaction (which ranges from $3 to $6 each), license the Needle tools (which offer various customer engagement features) for use by their internal contact centers, or use a hybrid approach involving both internal contact center employees and advocates.
In return, these organizations can drive new revenue, says Lynch, adding that Needle customers tend not to reach out to all their website visitors using advocates, but do this only for a subset of them. However, he adds, if Needle can allow an organization to engage with just 1 percent of its total web traffic, it can increase its top line revenue 10 percent. And the company, whose programs average Net Promoter Scores of 70 or better, last year drove more than $300 million in net new sales for Needle clients.
“Needle retailers find that even the small percentage of buyers who engage with opinion leaders spend disproportionately more per shopping basket than those who do not,” says Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester (News - Alert).
Edited by Dominick Sorrentino