According to Reuters, Google has ended its invitation-only Google+ test run, opening the network to everyone. With an estimated 25 million (beta) users, Google+ has been upgraded with a search capability and enhanced “Hangouts” feature that lets smartphone-owner-Google-Plus-subscribers broadcast their video chat conversations for others to see.
The launch, especially the availability of a video-chat-and-publish feature is big news for researchers seeking to put their finger on the pulse of their ever fickle consumers. “As part of the research mix, video chats are a valuable part of the qualitative information needed from customers,” according to Mark Michelson of Threads Qualitative Research in Atlant, GA. “The videos will give researchers the opportunity to validate their quantitative findings, better understand demographics, and put numbers into perspective,” he addsed.
For retailers, video chats will let them see with their own eyes how well the brands they carry and the services they offer are performing for their customers–in real time. Video chats will also inform retailers about the emotional side of the buying experience by providing visuals and spoken phrases that reveal how their experience design is making their customers feel. The immediacy and vividness of “video evidence” will bring retailers face-to-face with service and experience design issues that need attention now.
“The challenge for retailers will be to listen to the right things and make sense of them. Just because something is interesting doesn’t make it something to respond to,” says Simack Salari, founder and director of ETHOS, a new breed of research + software company that specializes in ethnographic research, based in the United Kingdom. Salari explains that “The big interest to retailers in video chats should be the mundane, not the exciting because exciting things don’t happen that often. This technology will create unprecedented transparency for retailers because more people are prepared to capture and share their experiences than ever before.”
The viewable hangout chats now available on Google+ may mean that certain research services are needed less by retailers. On the other hand, new expertise will be required to find meaningful patterns in the new data types. As customers begin using their visits to stores, hospitals, airports, theaters, and theme parks as backdrops for their conversations with friends, they will become a valuable new kind of feedback channel for those experience designers and service designers willing to listen to them.
And you thought the world was already spinning fast enough…