By Gavin Winter
Of course it’s not. As I sit here at the restaurant bar (a very good one at that) replete and awaiting my bill, I look around at the interactions going on in-the-moment: orders being taken, meals being served and bills being closed-out, staff interacting at all levels with each other and diners. All this serves to remind me just how far we have come in the past 10 years in particular, in terms of what it means to be customer-centric. And yes, we are talking about customer ‘experiences’ here that go way beyond the simple customer service ethos of ‘the good old days’, though the basic tenets of ‘good service’ e.g. reliability, efficiency, quality and courtesy still remain the essential underpinnings and upon which a differentiated ‘experience’ is based, relationships developed and brand affinity built and re-affirmed.
The four seasons of the Customer Experience Management
So what’s my point? In the world of the small businesses, the owner sets the tone and leads by example which staff follow. The bigger, more distributed and complex the business becomes (i.e. it becomes an ‘Enterprise’), the harder it is to achieve and sustain the consistency, let alone the tone, the consumer expects when they see the brand’s name over the door, or when the agent answers the phone. Thus, the Customer ‘Satisfaction’ industry was spawned (some twenty-five years ago) from the need to address these inconsistencies. With the recognition that brand affinity (loyalty) has become harder to achieve through product differentiation alone, the notion of the more comprehensive branded Customer ‘Experience’ subsequently took shape.
In the meantime, advances in technology have vastly improved the cycle-time and quantity of, what has become known as, the ‘voice-of-the-customer’. Organizations have learned that listening to the voice-of-the-customer helps them steer their customer experience efforts and helps them achieve and maintain that elusive goal of the consistent branded experience.
These technologies and software platforms, developed by a range of organizations including Vision Critical, have collectively become known as Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) systems.
Simply put, their role is to release the voice-of-the-customer from the constraints of the specialist few in research departments and the echelons of service quality management, and democratize that voice by cascading it across the breadth-and-depth of the whole organization. These systems have been, and continue to be critical to ‘driving’, versus just ‘measuring’, performance at all levels, because they make customer feedback timely, granular and focused on specific job roles and responsibilities. Consequently, that customer feedback is more relevant and actionable as far as the varied constituents within an organization are concerned.
Increased integration with CRM systems has enabled the best EFM systems to place the voice-of-the-customer alongside key business metrics to give customer feedback greater business context – furthering the relevance of these data and putting the customer center-stage.
So what’s the reason for the title for this article? Well, essential as these systems are (and if your current customer research platform doesn’t deliver on the key characteristics I’ve just outlined, then it should!), EFM as currently practiced, though not dead – is still not sufficient. There are some commentators who claim that this year will be the year that EFM finally comes-of-age for more companies than ever before and this is all good stuff; but it can be better, much better, and we think clients should insist upon it.
So, why the fuss?
To date, the bedrock of EFM has been traditional one-way dialogue provided primarily through surveys. Sure, we’ve come a long way, by moving beyond just the structured question data to mining the customer comments and call center notes for meaning too. We’ve increased the reach and scope of our efforts by going online and using mobile to get to the point of being actually ‘in’ the moment, not just following! We’re also keeping customers co-operating and getting better quality data as a result, through the use of more visually engaging questioning techniques.
The Emperor’s new clothes
Yet in some people’s eyes even this is still not enough: what about all that unstructured chatter out there in social media and the blogosphere? We all know this is now the world of three, not just two-way dialogue, and any EFM solution that doesn’t incorporate and consolidate this is remiss. Or is it? I would venture a critical perspective before jumping in with both feet first.
The customer experience industry has been eager to sup from that fire-hose of social media all too easily. Vendors have been equally keen to respond by shoe-horning, or perhaps a better analogy would be attempting to funnel, this torrent into their EFM platforms which, I would argue, is not necessarily the most appropriate place for it. Moreover, efforts so far have been more hype than substance.
Hel-lo, it’s in the name duh!
“The right tool for the right job”, is what my Dad used to say, and the same applies to your EFM system and social media analytics. I fundamentally believe that the primary focus of an EFM platform is to deal with the feedback that can be usefully disseminated, and above all, ‘attributed’ to the right constituent whose role it is to do something with it. In other words, EFM’s success is about right time, right person and the right format. I know, it sounds glib but it’s true and guess what? That’s why there’s an ‘E’ in EFM: it means ‘Enterprise’-wide!
Where the EFM rubber hits the proverbial customer experience road!
You see, unlike directly attributable customer feedback and dialogue which make good EFM systems sing and of such value to businesses, the vast majority of social media and blog traffic is still (frustratingly) not yet sufficiently attributable (to either the type of person making the comment or the unit being commented about). Consequently, it is of limited use to managing customer experiences and front-line performance. In short, it’s not actionable in an operational sense.
Sure, at brand, line-of-business, or even product level within organizations, listening-to and deciphering overarching issues and identifying themes from the constant stream of ‘social media sound’ may (on-the-face-of-it) appear to require integration into EFM. The processes may even share some of the underlying tools e.g. text analytics. But think again for a moment: let’s remember that this is the domain of analysts and internal constituents who are few in number, in a couple of locations, who are charged with managing and sometimes responding to those themes. It is not the world of hundreds or thousands of employees in multiple locations. Remember my earlier point that EFM has made a huge contribution to Customer Experience Management through the democratization of information, when appropriate.
We’ve got something for that!
So, what next for Customer Experience Management (CEM), or ‘CX’ for some? How can we advance and build-on the undoubted utility of EFM tools, further improve their utility and impact while at the same time harnessing social media in a meaningful, more holistic and actionable way?
With some justification, Vision Critical claims bragging rights for having developed the art-and-science of online community panels. We believe that the next step for CEM is to combine with communities to provide a more holistic picture. Obviously, our hope is to be one of the pioneers in this development.
Like most great ideas and technologies, stand-alone Community Panels continue to do their job and serve their designed purpose excellently. However, when combined with other tools they offer the potential to be more than just the sum-of-the-parts.
Communities allow organizations to build rapport and collaborate with their customers and in doing so harness their energy, insights and ideas to innovate and test their products and (crucial to this discussion) diagnose problems and ideate customer experience improvements – even to redesign specific customer interactions, or even whole customer-journeys.
The potential is limitless, and as far as we at Vision Critical are concerned the combination of CEM with communities can move CEM to the next-level.
We thought ‘outside –the box’ to find the box in which we excel – come join us!
Combining online Communities with CEM will allow organizations to seamlessly move between the two environments using the former to diagnose and resolve urgent issues which the continuous flow of voice-of-the-customer in the latter identifies.
When social media monitoring identifies a potential or emerging issue at a macro-level, we deploy surveys or discussions in online Community Panels to go-deep to help to understand whether it actually matters or not. It’s all too easy to forget that while social media is ubiquitous it is not shared equally among customers and our job is to identify whether it is just noise created by a vocal minority or something real: something indeed that might be a leading indicator of what our CEM solution can be on the look-out for and validate, or an issue that can be mitigated before it gains traction in the market.
I’d love to hear your thoughts….