In the last several years many companies have shifted away from the mad pursuit of new customers toward focusing on retaining existing customers and winning more business from them. Against that background I expected to see a resurgence of customer relationship management processes and systems, but instead there is a growing focus on social media, customer experience management (CEM) and voice of the customer (VOC). I have already voiced my concerns on the level of focus on social business. My research into CEM shows that as yet few companies fully understand it or have the systems they need to support an enterprise-wide CEM initiative. The same seems to be true of VOC.

Searching the term VOC, I think, will lead most people to one of two conclusions about what VOC is. Some think it is a collection of customer feedback, analysis and reports and charts that highlight customer concerns, customer sentiment and customer influencer ratings. Others might say it is the result of speech analysis, which allows organizations to gain insights about their customers by automating the analysis of call recordings (literally the voice of the customer). Both of these are very limited views and take into account only part of the story .

For a long time vendors promised to provide “a 360-degree view of the customer” that included all information about each one. But none of them could produce such a view, because they weren’t able to access every source and form of customer data. For me, VOC is equivalent to that full-circle view. It should take every source and form of customer-related data – structured, unstructured and event-related – and clean it, synchronize it and integrate it to produce a complete analysis of each customer, or at least each customer segment. It should have demographic, marketing, sales and product information. It should include a record of all interactions, regardless of media. It should have event information relating to each customer (such as being unable to get a broadband connection because the network was down). It should have sentiment and influencer analysis. It should have metrics that relate to both efficiency (how many calls they made to the contact center) and effectiveness (how much new business they generated individually and through recommendations). It should include historic, current and predictive analysis. In short, VOC should have everything.

A few vendors, such as NICE Systems and Verint, are close to producing the full VOC. Their next challenge is adoption; over the nine years I have been covering the contact center market, I have seen how hard it is for vendors to gain adoption for their BI and analytics products. Indeed, my research into customer analytics and contact center analytics last year showed that the most popular tool for those tasks is still spreadsheets. I assume that most companies cannot see the value of investing in specialist products, even if they could influence their entire business. In addition, my latest research into customer relationship maturity shows that more business units now handle customer interactions. Doing this effectively requires everyone to work from the same information, and that information should be as complete and up-to-date as possible, which is hard to achieve using spreadsheets.

Beyond handling customer interactions more effectively, VOC can be used for other key tasks such as these:

  • Identify both front- and back-office process improvements.
  • Identify best- and worst-performing customer service employees.
  • Determine training requirements.
  • Identify product and service improvements.
  • Avoid unnecessary calls to the contact center or posts to social media.
  • Interact in customer-preferred ways.
  • Provide up-sell opportunities.
  • Spot trends and likely future customer behaviors.

Information is the lifeblood of the customer-focused organization, and every organization should strive for a VOC that contains all of it. A full 360-degree view is something that few organizations even attempt to reach, but it is more feasible now than ever before. As a first step I recommend companies collect more customer feedback through more channels and analyze it to begin the journey of becoming more customer-focused.

Is your company truly customer-focused? What use do you make of customer feedback? Please tell us more by participating in our benchmark research into customer feedback management, and collaborate with me on this topic.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director