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  • February 1, 2007
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Feedback Mountain

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One of CRM's strengths, traditionally, has been to provide behavioral and transactional customer data. Measuring and predicting a customer's attitude toward a company and/or its products, however, is still quite new, and represents the third piece of the customer data trifecta when combined with behavioral and transactional information. Enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions are the mapping tools for this almost uncharted ground. "Want to know the easiest way to find out what customers think about your company?" asks Esteban Kolsky, a senior research director at Gartner. "Ask them." Think
is the operative word here: Companies now ask, what are consumers (customers) thinking? Organizations have begun to demand greater value and efficiency from departmental survey initiatives that can be shared with other departments. Software providers have addressed these demands by providing a centralized framework. Enter EFM. Gartner first recognized the concept, and nomenclature, of EFM in 2004. But for 31 years, American television staple Family Feud has understood the importance of using surveys. Contestants attempt to name the most popular responses to a survey question posed to 100 people. To one enthusiastic degree or another, we all know, the audience--including viewers across the country--shouts its choice of probable survey responses with conviction. The parallel, on an enterprise level, is that while surveying tools themselves aren't new, organizations can now leverage centralized systems for the continual collection, management, and use of customer feedback throughout the business, enabling companies to engage their customers for feedback via targeted programs or questions asked during customer interactions. The difference, aside from sampler iconography, is how EFM solutions develop, centralize, and leverage the surveys and results. Why EFM? Kolsky likens the development of EFM solutions to the development of CRM and ERP. "Somebody stepped up and created a centralized solution to bring all the data together. EFM is the same thing, only for surveys." EFM solutions are not occasional surveys, which in the past organizations typically conducted by implementing inexpensive, low-functioning tools adopted by a specific department for a specific use. Two or more functions required two or more tools, deployed independently and conducted without leveraging the lessons of either. "Before [EFM] surveys were like mushrooms. They sprouted one by one and soon, they took over the landscape," Kolsky says. "Companies would conduct a customer satisfaction survey, then a market research survey. It's not productive, it's a waste of time and resources, and you bombard your customers." Currently surveys are used by companies to measure customers in five unrelated situations: customer satisfaction, human resources (employee satisfaction), market research, process enhancement--monitoring processes that require periodic reporting--and compliance surveys to ensure certification processes are being maintained. Despite the market's relative immaturity, EFM solutions are rapidly gaining ground on traditional surveying tools. According to a 2005 Gartner report, "Make the Transition from Surveys to Enterprise Feedback Management," 40 percent of total feedback system deployments will be done through EFM solutions by 2008. By 2010 independent survey vendors will cease to exist, having migrated to EFM platforms. "As the value of customer and employee feedback gains more importance among organizations, more enterprises are seeking ways to collect and analyze data," Kolsky says. "That's where EFM will take over." Gartner estimates that at least 10 percent of current feedback technology deployments involve EFM tools, with another 35 percent of enterprises considering the adoption of an EFM system in the near future. Among software providers leading the way, Kolsky cites Allegiance, Perseus Development, and SPSS. Another is Intelligenxia, whose product IxReveal manages unstructured feedback provided in surveys and uses that data to help managers discern customer trends. Poll Vaulting The science of statistical surveying and survey methodology can be complex. Poorly designed surveys lead to bad results, so ensuring that end users have the ability to design and issue the appropriate survey for the appropriate situation is critical. "There are certain types of surveys, due to their complexity, that will require a market researcher to design in order to be statistically sufficient," says Su Doyle, CMO of Perseus Development/WebSurveyor, referring to more complex market surveys. "On the other hand, many surveys can be designed by a marketer or salesperson that provide useful and accurate feedback, provided they receive a little help." As a result, the emphasis by vendors is on embedding survey templates and best practices into these solutions. The templates themselves are customizable, and are typically representative of the type of interaction the customer just had or will have with the company, such as a recent purchase, an abandoned shopping cart, or a survey immediately following a customer service call. "They're providing the end user with an outline based on best practices," says Arturo Coto, CEO of surveying provider Inquisite. These prepackaged templates also solve a problem that has bedeviled companies for years. Besides being a tremendous waste, the old school practice of designing, using, and discarding individual surveys also prevented organizations from being able to benchmark customer trends. EFM solutions solve this problem by making previous templates and survey results accessible, allowing companies to track the arc of customers' changing attitudes. "Every survey had a different set of questions, because nobody could reference the previous one," Doyle says. "By asking different questions each time, you'll never identify customer trends to a particular subject matter." The ability to engage customers via multiple channels has also gained importance, and vendors have responded by embedding multichannel functionality into their solutions. This has given companies the ability to not only distribute surveys via any channel they see fit, but to allow customers to respond or complete a survey by means of a more convenient channel. Patrick Quigley, global vice president of Dimensions sales at SPSS, cites the pharmaceutical industry as a perfect example, many of whose companies use market research surveys to identify market trends for their sales force. EFM solutions have given drug manufacturers the ability to contact a doctor via phone, to cut the survey short in the event of a medical emergency, and have given the doctor the ability to follow-up via an email that lets her pick up where she left off. Surprisingly, despite the emergence of the Web and telecommunications, over 50 percent of surveys are still administered and collected via paper, according to Quigley, and many customers still stress the importance of paper scanning and data entry capabilities. As a result, EFM vendors continue to drive innovation with new and improved capabilities, such as wireless functionality that allows for surveys to be issued via a PDA or smartphone, while still respecting the old-school methodologies that have been used for decades. The CRM/EFM Hook Up EFM solutions provide companies with the attitudinal data that CRM systems can't. If CRM provides the who, what, when, where, and how about customers, EFM solutions offer the why. By providing a surveying framework where surveys and data are kept together, EFM solutions erect the perfect analytical foundation to compare operational data with attitudinal data. EFM vendors are embedding analytic functionality into their offerings to let end users closely analyze customer information to help companies attribute behavioral and transactional information to attitudinal feedback. Financial services is one vertical that has taken a lead in this area, with some banks using EFM solutions to garner real-time feedback at point of sale. The attitudinal data is then used to drive more accurate segmentation models to make cross- and upsell recommendations to CSRs and tellers. SPSS's Dimensions software offers these capabilities. It is a surveying/analytics suite that marries the multichannel surveying and collection capabilities inherent to EFM tools with the vendor's data-mining and predictive-analytics capabilities. For the first time, companies are taking consumer feedback collected via surveys, segmenting that information and identifying common trends via data mining, comparing it to operational data from CRM systems, and using predictive analytics to foresee customer responses to new product concepts, marketing campaigns, or even catalog layouts. The resulting data models are then used to make recommendations in real time during future interactions. Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP) is a 35-year-old market research and customer satisfaction firm, and a longtime SPSS customer. It's not unusual for TARP to conduct more than 300,000 interviews a year for a client, with response rates as high as 50 percent, according to Dennis Gonier, worldwide CEO. The company surveys customers of some of the largest enterprises in the world, including AAA, Cisco Systems, Daimler Chrysler, Honda, and Neiman Marcus. Founded in 1971, TARP recently upgraded to Dimensions to take its customer surveying capabilities to a new level. TARP uses Dimensions surveys to collect two types of data: qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative data, or information that conveys feelings and attitudes toward the company that might explain certain behaviors, is cross referenced against quantitative data, or data that is measured numerically (for example, on a scale of 1 to 10). "Qualitative data speaks to the heart, quantitative data is more scientific data," Gonier says. "When you cross reference the two to identify matches, and then combine that information with operational data from CRM, that's where the real profit wins come from." TARP clients use this information to predict a customer's propensity to buy or churn, forecast whether a customer will respond to a particular marketing campaign, or determine which hot button items or issues will drive customers' purchasing habits. The upgraded software is also allowing TARP to implement a new range of applications for collecting data, including text and instant messaging. These analytics are also being used to attribute satisfied customers to specific employees. Employee surveys, often called HR surveys, were one of the first uses of surveys by businesses. EFM solutions allow companies to use these internal surveys to drive external customer satisfaction. Besides helping to keep employees satisfied, companies use the rapid-fire capabilities of EFM to measure a sales force or call center staff more frequently to inquire about sales tactics, common responses by customers, and customer remarks about competitors. Using EFM analytics that information can then be attributed to a particular CSR or sales region via operational CRM data. "You can attribute sales data from CRM to a particular sales region, survey that sales force about their recent success, and then emulate those practices throughout the company," says Greg Heaps, COO for Allegiance. Vendors have done a good job of refining EFM solutions. The solutions are coming into use more and more, but Gonier says "on a scale of 1 to 10, we're still not at 5." He does, however, expect plenty of uptake in EFM over the coming years. With that uptake will come growing pains as companies learn to refine the business processes that are associated with EFM, Gartner's Kolsky says. As a general rule, Kolsky maintains there are three criteria companies should follow to maximize the benefits of an EFM solution. One is developing a strategy to determine what they need to measure before making the implementation; the second is leveraging the end users and departments that will use the solution; and the third--perhaps the most important--is accurately consolidating the functions, processes, surveys, and feedback into one solution. "Reduce, reuse, and recycle feedback information with strict adherence to corporate standards," Kolsky says. "That's EFM's biggest benefit." Contact Assistant Editor Colin Beasty at cbeasty@destinationCRM.com. EFM Best Practices: Getting Good Response Rates and Accurate Results Keep it short and sweet. Focus questions on the data your company is seeking. Companies make the mistake of asking customers every question known to man once they get them on the phone or on the Web. Time is perhaps your customers' greatest commodity--don't steal it. It's better to do two or three quick surveys over the course of a year than one long one. Don't ask questions you already have answers to. An enterprise should have a customer's name, contact information, and purchase information before a survey run. By integrating EFM with CRM firms can cut to the chase, personalize the survey, and tailor questions based on a customer's transactional data history. Don't wait to issue the survey. If somebody had an interaction with your company, don't wait a week to issue a customer satisfaction survey to garner feedback. Issue the survey while the experience is still fresh in the customer's mind. Don't bombard customers with multiple surveys. This problem is as much a business process issue as it is a technical one. EFM solutions are designed to consolidate your surveys into a single framework so separate departments aren't surveying the same customers. Make sure every survey garners information that every department can leverage. Make sure the company is clearly identified in the survey. Customers are bombarded today with mass marketing via phone, TV, email, and the Internet. The company's name and brand should be identified early and often when you contact the customer so that he doesn't delete the email or hang up the telephone. Take advantage of natural interactions. Issuing surveys at the end of a field service interaction or while the customer is waiting on line in the store is a great time to ask a few questions. Customers will be more willing to participate and answers will be more accurate. Show customers the results. Customers enjoy seeing how their answers measure up against the rest of the pack. In addition, let them know what the results will be used for. --C.B.
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