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Beyond CRM: rethinking brands with the ‘voice of the customer’

In an age of exploding media channels and outsourced operations, marketers have never had so much scope for getting feedback from their end users and engaging closely with them.

Yet across their customer base, businesses are still struggling to work out which of the torrents of feedback, messages, complaints are the ones that they really need to act on. Marketers are continuing to invest heavily in CRM and research, but, alongside the insights they are gaining, I think there are some fundamental questions that are still unresolved.

We know consumer-led organisations are the leaders in understanding the customer. They have made investments that go beyond CRM platforms and cleaning databases. They have moved beyond the confines of the annual satisfaction survey. Raising customer satisfaction levels is on everyone’s radar. Boards are taking the issue very seriously. Consumer brands have extended their scope for analysing data to encompass channels such as social media to proactively monitor the voice of the customer.  The acid test is what do they do with this information? While 70 per cent of companies collect insight, only eight per cent drive action and communicate back to the customer.

However, many organisations are collecting more data than they can handle. Perhaps this is a hangover from the days when only the marketer and their market research team were entrusted with analysing customer satisfaction. Not surprisingly, turning today’s tide of electronic, official and informal data into a set of meaningful management information and then agreeing the process-based priorities to drive customer service improvements, remains a challenging task. 

Brands may be identifying tactical customer service improvements. They can be able to send  information ‘prompts’ to their contact centre staff but I do not see this becoming a process that companies (tied to their market research habits) will be able to embed across all their operations or different divisions to make the all-important breakthrough in improving the customer’s experience. Despite all their investments, companies still need a way to empirically link what the customer is saying to practical actions, prioritise them and gain all business units’ agreement, support and action on what is needed.

Some think the problem goes deeper, in that organisations are simply less advanced on this customer satisfaction journey.  They believe that asking the question of the customer is straightforward but knowing what to do afterwards is the underlying issue. They don’t have the ability to join up their CRM’s inside out view of the world with the customer insight (outside in) one.

Others see the problem differently; they believe the challenge lies in disseminating the feedback data back across the business so it can be analysed effectively.

I think such viewpoints underestimate the capabilities of the most advanced analytical and pattern matching tools can get to grips with different feedback, transactional and financial data streams. Customer experience professionals recognise that the key to driving up satisfaction ratings is to get data in one place before analysing it, identifying actionable improvements and setting up a feedback loop that drives incremental improvements – in service delivery or processes – across their organisation.  The leaders are able to uncover which promises they need to make to customers and ensure their business delivers them.


Sadly, too many companies are still looking at streams of data in isolation. For example, they are missing the opportunity to bring financial data into play; feedback from customer contacts at one division of a service organisation might be positive, but when related to the data showing declining purchasing trends from, say, their procurement team, a more rounded, less sanguine picture of the customer’s satisfaction is delivered. 


Getting data in one place with the right methodologies and pattern analysis tools will deliver marketers simpler, “breakthrough” management information on their customers, such as a ‘traffic’ light system or other unmistakable dashboard-type signals like Net Promoter Scores. Critically, these indicators can be linked to automated workflows within the organisation which ensure clear and measurable actions is taken by customer or back office teams on the feedback received.


As a result, service organisations – manufacturing or service focused – are starting to set up analytical platforms that yield a simple customer loyalty metric or a ‘risk number’ that showing the likely financial cost of churn in their customer base.


Of course any C-level executive worth their salt will be focused on risk; but being able to identify a clear “risk number” indicating a potential loss of the business in the millions of pounds would be a vital piece of information; and one that is couched in the right terms for them to act decisively and set up an improvement programme to rethink their service or product. 


No-one doubts that today’s marketing professionals are statistically and operationally adept in researching aspects of their customer base.  But the customer experience sector’s new level of customer insight suggest that market research is not 100 per cent geared to spread its data so that all the senior management sees the overall picture and lead the required changes to transform their brand.


To my mind, the discipline of customer experience does not equal CRM or market research – it goes beyond it. Analytical and pattern matching tools in platforms such as Voice of the Customer can show global brands and industrial concerns alike which issues/customers need to be prioritised, changing customer feedback to real insight.