Listening to the Voice of the Customer

It's time to gather customer feedback in one place so you can take action.

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Indeed, businesses are recognizing the value of customer input for a growing number of strategic areas, including marketing, product development and quality assurance. Moreover, VOC systems can also be used to collect comments and criticisms from industry pundits and the general public.

VOC Gets Social

Another driver for VOC programs is the social Web's growing clout as a consumer sounding board. In a first-quarter 2011 consumer survey by Temkin Group, about 20% of the respondents said that they had used Facebook to report a bad experience, while 13% said that they had used it to report a good experience. Moreover, 11% had reported a bad experience on third-party review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and 7% had used such sites to report good experiences.

Still, many business leaders remain wary of data garnered from social media, which can be less than accurate or reliable, to say the least. Temkin Group's third-quarter 2010 survey found that only 22% of VOC programs were currently using social media sources, although 35% were considering doing so.

Business executives and business analysts want to ensure that the quality of the feedback data they incorporate into critical decisions is comparable to that of the internal data they've been using. And IT executives need to ensure that their staffs and systems aren't overwhelmed by a flood of irrelevant or low-quality data.

That isn't stopping some companies from incorporating valuable social media data into their VOC programs. But rather than try to "boil the ocean," as one analyst put it, they are limiting their range to sources that are specific to their products and customers. Charming Shoppes, for example, is looking to monitor its Lane Bryant customer community site, known as Inside Curve, and its Facebook fan pages, Liss says. "Our customers tend to be vocal and active on plus-size women's blogs," he adds.

During the past few years, customer intelligence professionals, such as marketing and brand managers, have increasingly turned to social media intelligence services like Radian6, Scout Labs (now Lithium Technologies) and BuzzMetrics, which gather customer feedback from the social Web. The service providers then analyze the data for relevance and sentiment and present the resulting intelligence in prepackaged reports, charts and "social dashboards."

Such services can cast as wide or as fine a net as customers want; they also offer some degree of quality control. Dow Jones Insight, for example, "selects social media based on how influential it is, how frequently it was updated in the last 90 days, and whether it is free from spam and porn," says Martin Murtland, managing director for the service. It can also add targeted sources at a customer's request, such as Twitter feeds focused on specific subjects, he notes.

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