Take Back Control Of The Conversation

With consumers readily discussing their brand experiences on blogs, review sites, and social-media platforms, the voice of the customer (VOC) has never been stronger than it is today. The word-of-mouth impact of one negative experience can start a firestorm with far-reaching impact on your brand.

While public discourse about companies is inevitable and difficult to control, by preemptively engaging in an ongoing, open dialog with consumers, you can significantly affect their sentiment s that go far beyond brand management. By inviting open-ended feedback from customers, companies collect valuable input for product development, customer service, user-experience optimization, and brand loyalty as a whole.

No business can afford to wait for the trailing indicators of customer opinion to determine if the time, resources, and energy invested in a product, service, or campaign resonate with audiences. In order to take back control, companies must become part of consumer conversations at the earliest possible opportunity.

The secret is getting back to the basics of simple, effective listening: most unsatisfied customers will begin by looking for ways to share their experiences with you directly -- through your websites, stores, mobile apps, and other touch points in your brand backyard. If you're listening there, your customers' need to go elsewhere will be mitigated by that simple expression of goodwill. In that sense, an opt-in, open-ended feedback system is the best insurance policy you can buy.

But more than that, opening up a channel of continuous listening is basic to truly understanding your customers' frustrations, preferences, ideas, and the reasoning behind their behavior. Most companies with preconceived notions of what their customers want to talk about, begin collecting open-ended feedback, and immediately start discovering things they never before knew-insights that surveys could by no means have revealed.

Of course, managing all that feedback can be challenging. The right listening technologies will help you monitor, measure, and react to customer feedback. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Deploy listening technologies: At the very least, you need to listen to your customers at the touch points you control. The ROI of streaming VOC is difficult to dispute: How much do you save by eliminating one call-center call? Now multiply that by tens or hundreds every day. How many bookings could you generate by pinpointing and repairing a glitch in your site's reservation sequence within minutes rather than hours or days? The only question left is how to best collect, organize, and distribute data. The most effective way to capture real-time customer feedback is through opt-in, open-ended methodologies that can be customized for use for both digital and traditional touch points.
  • Capture context: VOC feedback data provides the attitudinal insight necessary for a clear, complete picture of consumer behavior. But in order to make informed decisions, you need to capture the complete picture. Collect as much contextual data as possible, and plan on integrating feedback with behavioral data.
  • Leverage text analytics: Once you begin collecting and reading feedback, the benefits of automating content and sentiment interpretation will quickly become obvious. A variety of text-structuring engines now exist at various price points, including tools that structure and bucket comments according to various taxonomies. Regardless of which engine best supports your business requirements, the key is to select a system that operates in real time.
  • Distribute business intelligence throughout the organization: By automating text analytics, you can deliver targeted customer insight to hundreds of stakeholders within your organization in real time. Based on sentiment, content, or volume, you can set automated alerts to ensure that appropriate parties receive feedback relevant to their department or role.
  • Be prepared to act in real time: Many customer comments warrant further investigation in order to seize an opportunity or problem. Automated systems allow you to instantly respond to known issues or opportunities, potentially saving hundreds or thousands of disgruntled customers from leaving. In order to effectively respond and protect the brand, it's best to act on feedback while the customer is still engaged.

In short, provide your customers with an open-ended invitation to share feedback in their own words, on topics important to them, at anytime. You'll be astounded by what you hear, and by how easily voice-of-customer feedback can affect meaningful change within an organization.

2 comments about "Take Back Control Of The Conversation ".
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  1. Gregory Yankelovich from Amplified Analytics Inc, November 9, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.


    I agree that VOC/WOM traffic is larger than ever and keep growing, however most of it is brand associated rather than product focused. The volume of truly meaningful, product focused, messages is relatively low per product/SKU and that is where most actionable information can be extracted from. From that perspective I wonder why you think that real time operation of a text analytics engine is so critically important?

  2. Rand Nickerson, November 10, 2010 at 8:58 a.m.

    The current brand focus of VoC is likely related to the maturity of effective listening technology at brand touchpoints rather than product touchpoints....but that is changing. It is difficult to argue that a phone number on a cereal box is an effective listening technology....but consider the impact that smart phone capability to read product codes or tags might have on extracting product feedback as the consumer uses the product. Second, I believe your comment about the mix of product versus brand specific VoC is highly industry specific.....for example, a company such as Symantec might receive very high volumes of product-specific VoC. Finally, real-time operation of a text analytics engine is important to response capability as volume VoC listening technologies brand and product touch points, volume will most certainly increase...probably in an unpredictable fashion.

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