Lessons from the Road: How Today's Top Brands Listen To Their Customers

As we settle into the New Year and comfortably get one month under our belts, you know what that means -- conference season is upon us. I spend a lot of time on the road, and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to hear thoughts, ideas, predictions and trends surrounding the world of customer experience management, especially from a varied range of industry practitioners bringing perspective from different vertical markets.

After attending Clarabridge's Customer Connections (C3) user conference in January, the theme most explored reinforced how many leading organizations take the "voice of the customer" seriously. New executive-level positions and teams are being created -- such as chief customer officer, and customer insight and client experience teams. These new customer experience champions are responsible for capturing, analyzing and providing actionable feedback, direct from customers, to the various lines of business and departments. They are charged with creating a more holistic and centralized approach to the voice of the customer across various channels, moving away from the past and more common siloed mentality. They're also seeking new sources where customer dialogues are taking place -- social media is one example, but this renewed focus is moving beyond these platforms and taking it a step further.

Following are several real-world examples, where companies achieved significant results by taking the voice of the customer -- in combination with analytics technology -- to a new level.

Best Buy Thinks Outside the Box

Best Buy shared a great "out-of-the-box" example from the Clarabridge conference, highlighting its unique "Voice of the Customer Experience" (VOCE) program. Immediately after an interaction takes place, employees type text notes in free form indicating the outcome. The program emphasizes that these notes stay as true to the actual voice of the customer as possible. The company then runs text analytics software to comb through the unstructured data, gleaning new insights into the purchasing process and identifying ways to improve in-store experiences.

This first-hand insight helped determine that Best Buy's in-store mobile phone pick-up and configuration process was too complex, causing headaches for consumers. As a result, the company has since streamlined the process around mobile phone purchases -- which led to a 10% increase in sales for its computing department. And, it's even more noteworthy that when Best Buy's employees saw that their input was being well-received and acted upon, additional members of the team wanted in on the action. Collecting data and participation in the VOCE program increased by roughly 400%!

Retailer Stays Ahead of a Potential Recall

Here's another prescriptive example. The news is filled with product recalls for foods, cars, electronics and more. However, with an effective warning signal, many of these situations can be avoided. A major retailer experienced a spike in complaints about its store brand jam. The feedback appeared in its text analytics solution, enabling it to immediately reach the manufacturer. The findings revealed that the manufacturer accidentally forgot to add sugar to an entire batch. The retailer responded quickly and, as a result, the issue was rectified early into the process -- avoiding a very public recall.

General Mills Listens to Customers

General Mills is the world's sixth largest food company and one of the nation's largest producers of breakfast cereals¾a market where children tend to be the largest consumers. I often hear parents complain about the increased sugar levels and added sweeteners in today's foods. So, it only makes sense to think companies, such as General Mills, would receive such feedback in plenty. When the company started mining consumer complaints across its contact center, the results were surprising. The top concern had nothing to do with sugar levels and everything to do with the use of animal-based byproducts, especially those containing pork. In response, General Mills adjusted recipes and formulas to ensure its products accommodated the strict diets of its Jewish, Muslim and vegan consumers. The company also identified, through the use of analytics, that consumers wanted gluten-free products. After marketing a new gluten-free Chex cereal product line, General Mills experienced a 30% increase in sales for this line.

United Airlines Redefines Customer Surveys

The airline industry has endured many criticisms from the media and travelers alike. This is why it was refreshing to hear the efforts that United Airlines has recently put into place by revamping its customer feedback process. The company has replaced traditional paper surveys with an online system -- a much more scalable way to go. Travelers can add free-form text to almost every question in the survey, rather than saving comments for the one general open-ended common at the end. Leveraging its analytics software, United mines these free-form questions to create actionable insights and then distributes them across various departments that have an influence on the customer experience -- such as reservations, airport check-in, in-flight experiences and baggage claim. Even further, the support internal teams provide to improve the customer experience and increase satisfaction levels is directly linked to department and personal compensation. Great news for frequent travelers!

The insights captured from analytics tools -- including speech, data, text and customer feedback -- can produce exceptional and unexpected ideas. For example, the in-flight program that shares dialogue between the pilot and the control tower is a feature that many passengers enjoy. The airlines didn't probe specifically for this detail in structured surveys, but it did appear in many of the unstructured comments from passengers. As a result, you often hear pilots highlight the availability of this channel, in addition to providing regular flight status updates throughout the journey.

These examples reinforce that an increased emphasis on the voice of the customer isn't always about achieving an immediate ROI. They can also surface unexpected opportunities or threats. Fundamentally these organizations, and many others, realized that capturing, analyzing and acting on customer feedback is simply a good business strategy. By taking the customer's voice across the enterprise, companies can help ensure that consumer insights turn into actions and changes, leading to a better customer experience and creating more profitable and effective organizations.

2 comments about "Lessons from the Road: How Today's Top Brands Listen To Their Customers ".
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  1. Andrew Koven from Steve Madden, February 15, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.

    Dan - great piece - check out what Steve Madden is doing with Customer Experience on Facebook - listening and responding.


  2. Ken Tomlen from Andrew Reise Consulting, February 16, 2011 at 3:39 p.m.

    Great examples Daniel. It's great to see organizations not only capture and analyze but then act and drive real change across the organization.

    Ken Tomlen

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