Voice of the Future Customer

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Last summer, a story hit the mainstream media that put predictive analytics in the spotlight.

The story was about Orbitz, the online travel site. Orbitz's predictive analytics team determined that Mac users tended to spend more money on hotels than PC users. Once they discovered this, they began customizing search results to deliver higher-priced hotel options to those who were logged in using a Mac. Although some expressed alarm at this, it was quickly clarified that the prices were all the same, regardless of the computer you were using. Only the order in which the options were presented had changed. This seemed to capture the public's interest, opening their eyes to the sophisticated ways that companies are putting customer information to use.

In the world of predictive analytics, this is actually a pretty simple example. Many companies are crunching reams of data to better understand the needs and buying behaviors of their customers. No longer is it good enough to simply ask customers what they want. Instead, specialists are combining all kinds of customer information to predict their behavior, sometimes with remarkable accuracy.

What this means is voice-of-the-customer (VOC) strategies are rapidly changing. This became very apparent to me at a recent forum that featured customer experience professionals from about 25 large companies. During the event, I helped facilitate sessions where we considered customer strategies in the year 2020. There were a number of interesting projections, generally falling into three broad areas:

Customers are changing. Everyone agreed that customers will continue to seek immediate gratification and have higher expectations for innovation, quality, and service. With more options available, they may switch more, and will be less likely to get locked into long-term deals or contracts. Customers will also get used to the fact that companies know a lot about them and will expect them to use that information to deliver products and offer service in a manner tailored to their needs and wants.

Companies must change. To meet these higher demands, companies will need to work harder to know their customers and anticipate their needs. They will need to be more sophisticated at monitoring what their customers are saying and doing. While there will be no shortage of data to gather, companies will need to concentrate on building decision support systems within various departments to make sure customer insights are put to use. Finally, company leadership will need to foster a culture that has a bigger appetite for using customer insights to make day-to-day decisions.

Customer strategists must change. Professionals involved with customer experience or VOC strategies should anticipate big changes in their role. Just administering the annual survey won't do. These professionals will need to be adept at gathering customer information from many more sources and conducting advanced analytics to provide predictive and prescriptive advice. They will need to be the "customer intelligence architect" who provides the system to make customer insights accessible so all this data gets put to use throughout the company.

If only a fraction of our discussion comes to fruition, there will be quite a bit of change as we move toward 2020. It can make your head spin to wonder how you can transform your company and your role to meet the changing needs of customers. With that in mind, I'll finish with three suggestions:

Having the right data matters. With all this talk about big data, it is easy to conclude that more is better. Focus on the right data to support your customer strategies.

The more data you have, the harder it is to manage. With more sources of data, focus on building systems to make it easier to analyze and apply.

Excel at putting it to use. Many will put more effort into gathering lots of data. Don't fall into that trap. Focus on using intelligence to drive action, change, and results for your organization.

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a customer intelligence consulting firm. You can read his blog at http://blog.walkerinfo.com/blog/engaging-the-enterprise. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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