Under Six Sigma, companies gradually improve process to enhance the quality of their products. With Social Sigma they use feedback from social networks to improve products.

Two great examples.

1) Credit Mutuel, the second largest retail bank in France, has been drafting its customers into product improvement through a program called, Si j’etais banquier — “If I was a banker.” The bank has recorded more than 50,000 suggestions, e.g., “If I was the banker, I’d explain the fees in clear terms.” and recently let customers vote on the top 30.

2) GM’s Fast Lane blog carries some amazingly straight-up conversations about GM’s cars and trucks. Bob Lutz, the company’s chief designer, uses the blog to hear firsthand from customers about design, quality, and product problems.

Product design and R&D will become much more of a continuous conversation — not a black box, “Here it is!” process. Products will be revised under much tighter schedules, with obvious product errors corrected in new versions.

Why does Social Sigma work? Because the social network for a company is trusted and interested — they have a stake in improved services and products and have built-in incentive to contribute time and ideas to the cause.

Companies who fail at Social Sigma will claim to be listening but will fail to incorporate ideas from the social network into its products. They will be faking it — and customers will figure that out quickly.

The biggest hurdle for companies that want to engage in Social Sigma will be the CEO and other high-level executives who will cringe at the brutal criticism. But that’s how customers feel — and the company should use this knowledge to its advantage.

What are the final benefits? 1) More speed, 2) more ideas, 3) better products, 4) cheaper development.