Survey Tools Step Up
A new report by Forrester Research, "The Next Wave In Customer Satisfaction is CRM Integration," anticipates that the integration of CRM and enterprise feedback management (EFM) systems will change not only how data is collected, but how it affects business decisions. Thanks to the prevalence of user-friendly survey tools such as SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang, says Brad Bortner, a principal analyst at Forrester and author of the report, market-research groups have been eager to analyze the newfound bounty of consumer data. The research, however, can be spread out between departments such as technology, marketing, and market research. Without a centralized system in place, companies find themselves facing redundancy and customer frustration.
Bortner indicates two market changes are behind the push for an integration between EFM and CRM:
- Fixing, not just measuring, problems: Market-research studies have been conducted to understand what's driving customer satisfaction for some time, but, especially with the growth of the online channel, companies want the opportunity to intercept the customer soon after issues occur, not months later.
- Online survey vendors looking for new markets: Online survey vendors are providing agile solutions in data collection and "rapid notification" for market researchers, who are salivating over the use of such tools in the hopes of achieving more-sophisticated results.
"[This integration] is the kind of thing that several years ago people thought was going to take off -- and it didn't," Bortner says. "We're a lot closer now to the take-off point, at least for enterprises." Larger companies tend to have the resources necessary to master integration of this complexity. Moreover, enterprise-level firms must maintain multiple points of contact with their customers. Smaller companies, especially those not yet operating online, interface regularly with their customers but have less need for such a hefty venture.
Another challenge in this space, Bortner says, is that "until very recently all these integrations have been custom projects -- very big things -- because every CRM system is kind of different." Consequently, market-research teams are encouraged to thoroughly evaluate whether they need, or can handle, integration of a survey platform and CRM -- an integration effort that requires much more effort than merely conducting periodic online surveys. Nevertheless, EFM software vendors such as Vovici and Confirmit are providing what Bortner calls "modulized connectors" -- offerings, he adds, that should make integrating with CRM "faster and easier."
Bortner acknowledges that while this integration is "inevitable," the effort represents a huge expansion of functionality that may or may not resonate with a given company's culture. On the one hand, there are companies that rely heavily on information gathered from every point of customer contact. Institutions that primarily live online, such as those in the financial services and retail sectors, have been more successful at such efforts, Bortner says. But even within a single industry, companies may differ on their views toward market-research data. Whereas IBM may invest significantly in customer research, he says, Apple does not. (Judging by the latter's recent market success, Apple may not be amenable to a change in tactics.)
Bortner says that, in general, companies that are strictly focused on high-frequency transactions need not focus heavily on the satisfaction survey component. Instead, online feedback can serve as a real-time alert system. Both functions, he says, are strong selling points for online vendors looking to enter into new markets.
In either case, an uncoordinated survey environment -- what some might justifiably call "chaos" -- requires what Bortner terms "disintermediation." In a centralized EFM system, all segments of the company inhabit the same survey platform -- and can therefore have access to the same set of collected data. This controls for survey redundancy and information hygiene, which in turn avoids both corporate clutter and customer frustration -- two stumbling blocks that could derail a mission-critical EFM effort.
And Bortner does believe that EFM is a critical tool. Though he advocates retaining a surveying expert to evaluate each survey before it's sent out, he has a simple bottom line: "Centralized market-research functions should own the customer-insight function."
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