Six Trends Changing Customer-Feedback Programs

In a report based on interviews with more than 20 technology companies, Forrester Research found that analysis of unstructured and unsolicited data, inclusion of social media and more continuous feedback were among the trends changing how companies implement customer-feedback programs.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 13, 2009

5 Min Read

Six trends are changing how organizations implement customer feedback programs, and companies should pay attention to these changes in order to improve the customer experience and drive more loyalty, a market research firm said.

In a recent report entitled "Voice of the Customer: The Next Generation," Forrester Research found that analysis of unstructured and unsolicited data, inclusion of social media and more continuous feedback were among the trends changing how companies implement customer-feedback programs.

The findings, based on interviews with more than 20 technology companies, are important because many organizations' current efforts to track and act on customer feedback are broken. Companies, for example, often gather lots of information and create presentations with the data, but then end up doing very little with the results.

In addition, customer service reps, marketing, Internet managers and corporate research groups build silos of customer information, but rarely connect the data. As a result, only a small portion of employees end up with a partial picture of customer feedback, the report, written by analyst Bruce D.Temkin, said.

Other problems include ineffective customer surveys from companies failing to ask the right question at the right time, and a lack of an ongoing approach for customer feedback that results in having to invest in customer insight for every project. But because such market research is expensive and time consuminging, many efforts go without customer insight, the analyst firm said.

The good news, however, is that there's a number of trends that customer-experience executives can take advantage of to implement more effective customer programs. Those trends include tapping into unstructured and unsolicited text from areas like inbound e-mails, call center conversations, blogs and text messaging in chat rooms. Vendors with technology for such analysis include Clarabridge and Overtone Software, Forrester said. Other trends include the ability to integrate social media monitoring to learn the thoughts and opinions of customers online. Vendors like TNS Cymfony and Visible Technologies offer text mining capabilities so companies can monitor conversations about their brand. In addition, customers are increasingly establishing protocols for responding to customer feedback. Vendors like ResponseTek and Satmetrix create alerts when feedback from a customer, such as an e-mail, meets some predefined criteria, Forrester said. Poor feedback, for example, from a good customer can get automatically routed to a manager or kick off a more complexworkflow process. Forrester also found that most of the vendors it talked to offered multiple levels of online access to information, including full flexibility for analysts, drill-down for managers and report viewing for other employees. Also, most of the vendors provided easy-to-use dashboards with data visualization techniques that can be configured to meet the information needs of the user. Beyond metrics, Forrester found a move toward diagnostics. "Firms often can’t tell why a metric moved or how to change it in the future," Forrester said. "Instead of obsessing about customer feedback as a means of keeping score, firms are focusing their efforts on uncovering problems and identifying opportunities for improvement." Finally, Forrester found that companies are using new tools from vendors to go beyond relationship tracking through periodic customer surveys. Instead, they are starting to focus more on ongoing mechanisms like interaction monitoring and continuous listening. In some cases, companies are using vendors like Communispace and Think Passenger to maintain ongoing customer communities that can provide nearly immediate feedback. For companies looking to improve the customer experience by infusing more customer feedback into their efforts, Forrester offers a number of important steps. First, companies should assign an executive, like a chief customer officer, to lead such projects and build a strong governance structure that gets line-of-business executives and their organizations involved. Companies also need to build a strong customer insights team that develops and maintains methodologies, tailors insights to the needs of different organizations and provides support for advanced ad-hoc analysis. In addition, companies should create customer interaction redesign teams that look at key touch points and find ways to improve them by using customer feedback. "What can these teams do? Design processes that avoid issues, recover from problems, and delight customers," Forrester said. Finally, Forrester advises organization to develop a customer insight and response platform. Unfortunately, firms will need to piece together their own CIRP that facilitates the four key customer feedback processess: listening, interpreting, reacting and monitoring. That's because no one vendor offers a comprehensive solution. Providers come at the market from a number of different perspectives, including market research frms like Taylor Nelson Sofres interaction specialists like ForeSee Results, OpinionLab, and iPerceptions; survey-centric Vovici and SurveyMonkey; and more operationally focused Allegiance and Confirmit, Forrester said. Even though the economic recession is cutting into nearly every company's budget, Forrester is advising customer experience professionals to push for investment in "voice of the customer" programs, because such projects will find low-cost ways to improve customer experience, which will increase loyalty. In addition, increasing the use of customer feedback will help companies align with shifts in customer needs and demands during the downturn, Forrester said.

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