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Enterprise feedback management: Dead or alive?

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27th Jun 2011
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Is enterprise feedback management outdated or soaring to new heights? Experts including Bruce Temkin and Esteban Kolsky debate.

Are the wheels coming off the EFM wagon?
A term coined by founder of survey vendor Perseus Carl Henning in 2004, ‘enterprise feedback management’ – or EFM – is a moniker that has since been adopted by many vendors. EFM has subsequently grown into a competitive market, valued at around $250-300 million, with strong growth forecast for the future.
But as with any field, it’s not all sunshine and lollypops. The EFM vendor landscape has been described as crowded and immature, while the term itself has been lambasted for being "unsexy". However, recently much more serious criticisms have been levelled at EFM. Specifically, in a blog post earlier this month, customer experience transformist and managing partner of Temkin Group Bruce Temkin proposed that EFM was an outmoded, outdated term that should be consigned to the past.
Bruce’s post inspired a spate of responses around the blogosphere from the likes of Esteban Kolsky, Forrester’s Andrew McInnes and Vovici’s Steve Elliott. So with the debate raging, MyCustomer.com decided to take a look at both sides of the argument.
EFM: RIP?
When ‘enterprise feedback management’ was coined in 2004, it was a "great name" for applications that provided a platform for managing the customer/employee surveys/contacts that took place across an organisation, says Bruce Temkin. However, seven years later and the term is outdated, reflecting the history of the applications but not where they are heading. In his blog, he looks at the breakdown of the words:
  • Enterprise. The focus of these efforts needs to be on the customer, not the enterprise.
  • Feedback. The analysis needs to examine insight across a variety of inputs, not just feedback.
  • Management. The value of these efforts comes from taking action, not from managing surveys.
"Companies with leading-edge voice of the customer programs are getting well past the legacy of managing surveys, which has been the essence of enterprise feedback management platforms," explains Temkin. "Success comes from taking action on insights that include, but are not in any way limited to, survey responses. As a matter of fact, some of the key insights about customers will come from looking at things that aren't necessarily direct feedback - like customer transaction patterns or calls into the call centre. So successful companies won't be managing feedback to the enterprise, they will be taking action based on customer insights."
As such, he proposes an alternative term that reflects the transition from feedback to insight and action – customer insight and action (CIA) platforms. This is defined as: "A technology for automating multi-channel customer feedback, analysis, and response and the related workflow associated with closed-loop voice of the customer programs."
Temkin adds: "You can continue to refer to a car as a ‘horse and buggy’ but it doesn't make it an accurate description. I think that people need to let go of the past and understand that the future for EFM platforms is quite different than their heritage of helping market research groups managing surveys. I think that the next generation of enabling technology, customer insight and action (CIA) platforms, will have a dramatic affect on the competitiveness of organisations."
Alive and kicking?
On the other side of the fence, however, Esteban Kolsky believes that there is no need to introduce a new acronym as EFM was never just about surveys and feedback – discovering actionable insights about the customer was always an explicit part of it. What has clouded this somewhat, has been the fact that vendors such as SurveyMonkey, which are focused on more of the operational aspects, have been included in the EFM category.
"Any Tom, Paul and Peter who is a survey tool wanted to call themselves EFM because they sounded bigger, better and more interesting," says Kolsky. "But they have more focus on the analytics than on the insights. Only a handful of companies had a focus on actionable insights – which is the value that EFM brings.
"If the end result is actionable insight then you are going to be looking at these tools, but if your end result if traditional surveys where you just collect customer satisfaction then it really doesn’t matter, you can go with SurveyMonkey because all you’re going to ever be doing is collecting data anyway."
Kolsky also suggests that the emergence of social – which is a provider of "big data" – is like "fire to the EFM gunpowder" and is propelling the market to new heights. "EFM is having a resurgence because the value of the feedback in social is far more truthful and powerful than the value of the feedback from the surveys and traditional market research," he explains. "The truthfulness of the feedback and seeing the results we can get in terms of actionable insights applied from this feedback in massive quantities is what has made companies go back and say ‘hey don’t we have a tool that actually does this?’ And EFM does this for them."
Implications of change
But if experts are divided over what constitutes EFM, then perhaps the buyers themselves will also experience confusion. If the establishment of a new category could highlight the strides that are being made in customer insight for the benefit of businesses, then couldn’t it resolve the confusion and add clarity?
"At best, a new term for the space could generate a little extra excitement and buzz," suggests Andrew McInnes, analyst supporting customer experience professionals, at Forrester Research. "But the space has strong momentum already (the vendors are growing like gangbusters), and a new term threatens to confuse the marketplace – or, worse, mislead buyers into believing that the space is more developed than it actually is. A new term will just confuse potential buyers in an already murky marketplace. Worse, it could mislead buyers by describing where vendors aspire to be rather than where they are today. I want this market to have the smartest buyers possible, and a new term doesn’t help that cause."
He adds: "I don’t really care much about the category name. I care that potential buyers understand what their getting and how to make the most of it. When a truly new category is emerging, something beyond just EFM redefined, it will be time for a new name. Until then, EFM works better than anything else we have."
Jim Davies, research director at Gartner, is similarly concerned that a new term might cause confusion, rather than resolve it, at this point.
"EFM as an acronym still holds true. But there are all these different overlapping acronyms,” he says. “From a vendor landscape point of view, it is very disjointed and fragmented anyway, because when you start looking at VoC you are not just looking at the classic survey vendors, you are looking at social media monitoring, speech analytics, web analytics, and all sorts of different vendors come under that umbrella. So if we introduce a new term then that is going to cause even more confusion out there as to who does what. Those organisations that are looking at the customer experience and understanding customer feedback wouldn’t know where to start and what vendors to turn to because there would be too many acronyms to make sense of it all."
Temkin, however, maintains that providing that greater understanding lies at the end, a little confusion may not be such a bad thing.  
"Confusion is often the first step towards enlightenment," he emphasises. "Practitioners that continue to operate as if there is long-term value in using EFM platforms to manage their survey programs will find themselves looking extremely outdated compared with more enlightened practitioners. EFM vendors that don't recognise that they are part of a larger and evolving CIA platform market will find themselves blindsided by vendors like IBM, SAP, Salesforce.com and SAS who are already noticing where this is heading. So if some confusion forces people to rethink their strategy, then it is well worth it."
The outlook
So where does that leave us? Certainly there is agreement that there are some exciting developments afoot in this area. But there is also concern that some EFM implementations are focusing more on the survey components than any actionable insights. However, whether a new category will resolve the confusion and provide a platform for more businesses to embrace and leverage customer insight or simply further muddy the water, is up for debate. As Kolsky says: "We’re all in agreement about what it is. It’s just about what to call it."
Whether it will ultimately sit/remain under EFM or break away, leaving EFM as a category solely for more operational side of things, will ultimately only be decided by the users. But whatever the name, there will definitely be great demand for it.
"The debate around the relative health or terminal decline of EFM will drag on for the next 12 months with various proponents arguing over the semantics," predicts Keith Schorah, CEO of Syngro. "Let’s be clear. Irrespective of the label or acronym, the days of organisations solely relying on market research or multi-channel EFM surveys and analysis are over. For businesses wishing to truly improve their customer experience the direction is clear.
"Whether we refer to it as Temkin’s CIA Platforms or Jim Davies of Gartner’s VoC Hubs, the focus for organisations wishing to lead the way in customer experience is unequivocal. The market is at the cusp of its next capability jump. Already the leading companies require more than closed loop responses to customer insight. The ability to combine customer insight from any channel in real-time with operational data such as financials and CRM will drive focused improvements and will reshape the leaders’ internal processes."
Kolsky adds: "In my experience, acronyms, solutions, technologies and strategies never die – they just keep reincarnating." He predicts: "It is hard to tell but I think there is going to be some noise for a while, you’re going to see support coming out on both sides of the aisle, and then eventually it is going to be decided by the end users, who are going to figure out that something that gets data and gives them insight is everything they need - without caring whatever they call it."
But the final word should of course go to Temkin, who set this whole debate in motion. "My ultimate goal with this discussion has nothing to do with the name of the platforms," he concludes. "There are some significant changes coming to business practices and technology that will allow companies to more dramatically tap into customer insights. My goal is to help companies understand those changes and to thrive in the future. If they are prepared for those changes, then I don't care if they call these platforms ‘EFM’ ’ CIA’ or anything else."

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Claire Sporton
By Claire Sporton
13th Jul 2011 16:13

What a great debate. Personally I don't get too hung up on a name, but it can help to ensure that we are all aligned and provides clarity around what we are attempting to achieve.  For me, EFM is a relatively bland moniker for the platform underpinning a customer/employee engagement programme. However it is only that - a platform. The magic happens when, as Bruce says, the organisation uses the platform to support and enable action and therefore growth. As long as the technology platform does what it says on the tin and manages the feedback effectively, we can be confident that knowledge is being driven across the enterprise. With hygiene factors now addressed, we can concentrate on the important and exciting stuff - driving cultural and behavioural change.

Claire Sporton, Confirmit

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By hjussila
13th Oct 2011 08:31

This is an interesting read on enterprise feedback management. Took me some time to read all of it, but it is definitely an informative article. Thanks for sharing!

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