CHICAGO, March 31, 2009 — The mood here at the Customer Experience Summit before the opening morning keynote addresses was hopeful, despite the dreary economic climate. Speakers stressed the need to continue focusing on consumer loyalty by acting upon the voice of the customer (VoC).
"This is an exciting time in customer service," stressed Chip Rodhe, vice president of sales for Horsham, Pa.–based outsourcing solutions provider NCO Group, and chairperson of the conference. "Companies will fail or succeed based on customers."
This premise was hammered home during the opening keynote address from Thomas Cates, president of Acton, Mass.–based The Brookeside Group, a consultancy specializing in loyalty. Cates explained the importance of realizing first what loyalty isn't:
- retention; or
- mere loyalty programs.
"Loyalty is emotional and personal," Cates declared. "It's about fostering relationships that will last," he added, describing the ultimate goal as "big-‘L' loyalty." That concept, Cates told the crowd, can only be adequately promoted by companies that understand how to keep customers coming back, an ability that requires measuring these six dimensions:
- integrity—the reliability and dependability of a company;
- competency—the determination that a company has the skills, people, experience, and tools to deliver on promises;
- recognition—the idea that the business did something worthy of customers' belief;
- proactivity—the ability to stay ahead of customers' needs;
- savvy—the knowledge that customers think the company understands its business; and
- chemistry—the ineffable, without which, Cates said, "everything breaks down."
There is a new breed of customers, Cates said, and companies must react accordingly. In the next keynote address, Dean Wiltse, chairman and chief executive officer of Dulles, Va.–based enterprise feedback management company Vovici, explained that being able to glean insight from consumers is entirely different today than it was even as recently as 2001, when the previous economic downturn hit. Rather than relying primarily on phone-based surveys, the pendulum has swung, he said: Companies are now using the Internet to better glean insights of both the quantitative and the qualitative varieties.
"How many of you are on the ‘Do Not Call' list?" Wiltse asked the attendees, most of whom raised their hands in affirmation. "It doesn't matter who it is," he said. "You don't want calls at home anymore. There are much better ways than calling to try and understand what makes people motivated to buy [your product or service]."
Sid Banerjee, chief executive officer of Clarabridge, a Reston, Va.–based customer experience management solutions company, admitted that, at first glance, the costs of shifting to the Internet for more customer insight may appear to outweigh the benefits. "It's a hard environment," he said, matter of factly, regarding the economy. "Our own companies -- and their end consumers -- are struggling with ways to rationalize how to spend money [while looking] for ways to save." And yet there's hope, he said -- in the technology. "You can use customer feedback to grow and rationalize your business in a tough economy," he said. "Many recognize the need to cut spend, but must be smart about where to do so."
By accumulating and analyzing insights regarding customer experience, Banerjee said, an enterprise can benefit in three different ways:
- ensuring products and services are oriented to customer needs;
- optimizing marketing initiatives; and
- improving service delivery.
"Sourcing the VoC -- establishing listening posts, gathering customer feedback, aligning channels with all relevant business segments -- is about trying to truly figure out what your customers are saying," Banerjee said. "If you do this, you'll start to see your customer service people are going to be more aligned with the enterprise and [its] goals."
Unifying customer-experience efforts can be a tough nut to crack, according to Vovici's Wiltse, but online-community feedback forums -- once considered a futuristic notion of VoC -- can now help create actionable strategies. "Think about [the] targeting you'll be able to do, [the] information you'll get -- and ultimately the cost savings," he said. "Think ahead to where the industry is going," he added. "The opportunity [exists] for you to build [your] own proprietary panel that allows your consumers to get faster information from you. You'll be able to keep them loyal and coming back."
At the end of the day, though, Wiltse stressed one simple tenet to keep in mind when seeking to alchemize customer loyalty out of customer insights -- from online communities or anywhere else.
"The key is making commitments -- and following through," he said.
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