Do people really care about product reviews? You know, those stars and comments that accompany many of our product descriptions on www.riogrande.com?  You bet!

At the very moment I am typing this, 396,333,137,082 reviews have been left worldwide for all organizations who use Bazaarvoice, which leads the industry in gathering product reviews for companies like Rio Grande. In fact, customers everywhere are reviewing so rapidly that, by the time I am typing at this point in the paragraph, just 43 words later, almost half a million more reviews have been left on websites around the world. And I type pretty fast.

Rio Grande customers have written more than 7,000 reviews in the last two years, and those reviews are available to you, to help you decide whether or not to buy a product. In a dynamic internet that asks you to filter through useless information every day, reviews are filled with important information. Information that matters to your life.

Bazaarvoice is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and last week I attended their Bazaarvoice Summit to learn more about what’s coming up in the world of online reviews. Is this topic relevant? Reviews are a part of the conversation that our society is increasingly engaged in through its desktops, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and phablets (big phones that cross over into tablet dimensions).  (I wonder, how many of you shop our website via smartwatches?)

As I listened to each speaker at the conference, I can tell you, I was shocked: I’ve never seen an entire audience look down during a presentation. Almost every attendee was on a laptop, iPhone, or Android. They were listening but also tweeting about the talk, or taking notes, or checking emails, or researching the nearest bbq restaurant for lunch. I had to make myself put my Note II away; I know that I can’t learn from a speaker while responding to business emails!

Another example of your input changing your life, reviews give you a voice, and they help us improve!

One keynote speaker, Don Tapscott, expanded my perception of the future of reviews, and how relevant the growing social media field will be on a human, organic, and relational level. Tapscott is the author of Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital, both groundbreaking books. Another fascinating speaker was John Batelle, co-founder of Wired magazine and so many electronic media concepts that have shaped our internet experience from the beginning, such as banner ads in the 1990s.

Rio workshops and classes are a magical part of our customer experience.

Tapscott talked about the usefulness and personalized nature of reviews, and that because they come from you, your input gets to change your life. The customer is part of the equation, a conversant, a determinant of outcomes. No doubt you have already affected yourself through reviews. I can’t count the times that a customer’s shared insights in a review have sent us into our warehouse  to double-check that a tool works as it should, or that the prongs on a ring setting are long enough, strong enough, or positioned properly.

Tapscott spoke of the internet reality of radical opennessThis occurs when companies give up some of their control, mostly over intellectual property (think of the music business that has become a service, fee-based business). Published reviews are an example; when companies expose themselves equally to criticism and praise, they find themselves on the inevitable path to transparency and trust. He also discussed the related, radical concept of sharing. Rio Grande videos are a great example of this. We are approaching over 4 million views of Rio Grande’s Youtube channel, and we haven’t even promoted it yet!

Our call center agents love our customers.

Finally, Tapscott also spoke to the idea that products are not enough. Service economics used to focus on providing products or services, but the new marketing paradigm of the digital economy is an experience economy. We know this to be true: The customer wants a transformational experience. (I can’t help but think about Rio’s Winter Workshop here. Our customers rave about it as a mountaintop experience, providing not only a class or a skill, but an experience that shifts the way they view their work, their passion, and their goals.)

In, let’s say, Starbucks terms, the “experience” is how the customer feels when walking into the coffee shop, from the music (which is available to purchase at the counter) to the free wi-fi, to the delicious aromas, to the café feel of sitting down for a leisurely newspaper and coffee.

In Rio Grande terms, the “experience” is a mosaic of products correctly delivered, that work as you need them to, free instructional videosRio classes, free return shipping, live customer help through chat or a phone call, call center agents who can recommend products, technical support for jewelry-making, fun contests on Facebook, and here on The Studio. We hope you feel the spirit of satisfaction, education, excitement, and good will that we work to pour into your Rio Grande experience.

So, let’s keep the conversation going. Tell us how we’re doing. Keep reviewing, calling, telling us what you need us to hear. Do it on Rio’s website, on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on G+. Do it by phone or by smartwatch. We’ll strive to keep on creating a great experience for you here at Rio Grande. You can start right now, by commenting on this blog post!