eBay's "Voices" program…
eBay's success depends on a strong working partnership with its community of members. eBay works hard to stay in touch with the community, understand members' needs and concerns, and keep ahead of the game on new trends in the marketplace. One of the important ways that eBay stays in direct contact with members on a regular basis is through the Voice of the Community program, commonly referred to as "Voices."
How it started...
Like many of life's best innovations, the Voices program arose out of an immediate need.
Brian Jones, Community Development Voices Coordinator, explained how it began back in April of 1999.
"Two changes had caused a strong, negative reaction in the community - the prohibition on firearms and the elimination of the Live Support boards. CEO Meg Whitman decided that eBay should hear what members had to say face-to-face."
So, the then-Vice President of Customer Support, Matt Bannick, organized a group of 12 members to fly out to eBay's San Jose headquarters, where they could all sit down with eBay executives and other staff. In the meeting, they got to know each other better, and explore all the problems and issues surrounding being an eBay community member in depth together as a group.
From the executive level on down, all who participated felt the experience was extremely valuable and should happen more often. The success of that inaugural visit led to the development of the Voice of the Community program.
What is a Voices Event like?
Several times a year, eight to ten members are flown to eBay's corporate office in San Jose, California. They are chosen from all levels of eBay's buying and selling community -- from Shooting Stars and PowerSellers, to mom-and-pop sellers, and all levels of buyers.
The first meeting is always a brainstorming session. This is the time that each participant is given the opportunity to bring up the issues and concerns he or she would like to see addressed over the course of the conference.
Subsequent sessions are held with staff from Customer Support, Trust & Safety, and Product Management and Development, and other organizations within eBay. The questions that arose in the brainstorming session are addressed in the most appropriate session.
The two days are very busy and can be intense! Throughout the conference, members are encouraged to explain their experiences, problems and concerns, as well as offer feedback on new proposals or product features. They also get the opportunity to get to know many of the people making the day-to-day decisions at eBay, and learn more about the complexities they face and their strategies for dealing with them.
One participant had this to say: "One thing that impressed me about the formal meeting was the large number of eBay managers, designers and developers who were eager to present their ideas and listen to the thoughts of this small group of living, breathing users. eBay presenters jostled one another for time, and staffers sat in rows around the edges of the room just watching us and listening. I almost felt like a species of rare and newly-discovered fauna being observed by a group of wide-eyed scientists. But it was a good feeling."
After the event, Voices participants continue to have input on eBay policy and features through regular conference calls and email discussions. Participants sign non-disclosure agreements while in San Jose, a standard business contract that ensures participants will not speak publicly about information discussed in Voices sessions.
This confidentiality makes Voices groups a powerful tool for receiving community input early on in the process of solving a problem, developing a new feature, etc. The Voices program has helped drive very important change. Recent projects that have originated from, or been heavily influenced by, the participation of Voices groups include such things as the integration of Pay Pal, the Seller Information Box, the redesign of eBay's Help system, and the recent Community area redesign.
drexelantiques, who attended Voices said this about his experience: "eBay had set up a wonderful program. Very informative. I hadn't expected eBay to really listen to the Voices participants, but they did. eBay staff was very concerned with users' opinions. Participants' questions were answered fully. The eBay staff were very frank in discussing issues. The staff at eBay that we had a chance to talk to were among the nicest group of folks I have met in a long time. We were treated very well. ….eBay staff also alleviated some of my concerns over the direction eBay was taking."
gatorpack wrote: "The most important thing I took away from the experience was the realization that everyone I met at eBay was genuinely sincere in their efforts to carry on as much of Pierre's founding philosophies as possible, yet pragmatically deal with all the twists, turns and complexities the beast was spinning off. In 1995, '96, '97 or '98, who could have possibly imagined what was to come. If anything, it reinforced, rather than changed, our perceptions and opinions of eBay. I know exactly what it's like to work in an environment where you are constantly making up things as you go along."
giraffer had this to say: "Really I expected to hear a sales pitch, or as we often give our customers where I work...the mission statement pitch. And never expected anyone would listen to us and really show that they cared about the community and our problems. I was impressed to have vice presidents sitting down and talking with us in such an informal manner. I was impressed with how friendly everyone was and how they made me feel important and glad to have me there. What did I take away? That everyone at eBay cares and will continue to do their best to make the site work for the community. That they are real people, not just this unknown entity. I'm so proud of this program and eBay for having it that I proudly display the Voices logo on my ME page and my business card."
eBay is currently expanding the Voice of the Community program. We are increasing the number of conferences held per year, and have even held our first International Voices conference.
To help increase the amount of member input that goes into category changes and other category-specific enhancements, a new program called Category Voices was started late last year. This program teams up members with expertise in a given category with the appropriate category managers. The two groups meet in monthly conference calls. At this time, there are ten Category Voices groups meeting monthly, with the number expected to grow.
As eBay grows, continuing to invent new ways to bring eBay staff and the community together in a productive environment will continue to be a top priority. The Voice of the Community program and others like it provide a solid framework from which to work, and we thank everyone who has participated!
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