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The hybrid hub: Seven steps to a single view of the customer voice

19th May 2011
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A single view of the customer voice across all channels would be hugely valuable but no centralised VOC hub is yet available from vendors. So how can firms implement a hybrid approach to get the next best thing? Gartner's Jim Davies explains.

Every organisation has a voice of the customer programme these days – in fact, the chances are they’ll have several. The problem is that for the most part these programmes will probably be perfect strangers. One team will be surveying its customers with a survey platform, while the marketing team is deploying a tool such as Radian6 to monitor social media, and at the same time a team in the call centre is using some speech analytics tools. All will be satisfied that they are doing their bit, deploying a solution that the vendor markets as a VOC tool, and collecting voice of the customer data for analysis.
However, in most cases these technologies – and departments – are siloed, so that while individual value is being accrued from these projects, the joined-up view is going begging. "That is the problem," says Jim Davies, research director at Gartner. "If they can put those worlds together, if they can see the customer Tweeted something and then spoke to someone in the call centre which was picked up by speech analytics, and then said something completely different in a survey they completed next week and put a comment on the website, then you have all of these working together to get a better view of what that customer’s real perception and challenges are. But at the moment nobody is really doing that – they all exist in separate worlds."
Clearly businesses need to be able to pull these channels and voices together so that the information isn’t being analysed in isolation. This requires a voice of the customer hub that can collect the three VOC types:
  • Direct – information consciously given to the business by the customer, such as a survey.
  • Indirect – where the business listens into conversations about the business, as with social media monitoring.
  • Inferred – where the business makes an inference on the customer’s voice based on all the operational data and customer experiences.
Once these sources are combined, then the information is analysed and acted on accordingly. And by putting these together and getting the single view of the voice of the customer, the VOC hub is achieved, says Davies. But there’s a problem – no one vendor can provide such a tool at present, with the market made up of vendors who have expertise in one or two of the VOC areas, but not all. As a result, even if the prospect of pulling out all the existing systems and buying a system that does it all would be appealing, no such system exists. The two barriers at present are time and money.
"This is a relatively new concept and the vendors in this space are not huge," explains Davies. "Let’s say there are 10 different voice technologies, fro speech analytics to social media monitoring and surveying and so on. The vendors in this space aren’t big enough to go out and buy all the others and say right we have got it all now we are a super vendor. So what they are having to do is build out what they have got and then rely on partnerships or rely on integrating to whatever their customers have got to do the other stuff. So it is just a matter of lack of maturity."
Voice of the customer hubs
Companies like ClickFox, Nice Systems and Attensity are taking just this path, positioning themselves as ‘hubs’ of a kind, while not possessing expertise in all things.
Davies continues: "They don’t claim to be experts in surveying and social media and speech analytics and so on, but they have normally got a core competency in one or two of those – so they may be a leading survey vendor and can deliver highly personalised event-based surveys. However, they have built their data architecture so they can integrate into all the other systems (whether it is their system or another vendor’s), take that data from those systems, store it and mine it, associate it with individual customers and analyse it and then act upon it.
"They can align it so that they know that Jim did this, Jim said that, and when the analysis is right, we need to call Jim up because he’s unhappy or we need to train this agent, or we need to send this as a lead to somebody in sales, or we need to give marketing this feedback that the campaign wasn’t well received. So a combination – the collection, the storage and the analysis and then the insight they get from that, feeding it to the relevant people across the entire business. And that is what the VOC solution vendors are trying to position themselves as. But it is very early days."
While Davies believes it is likely that once the market gains more momentum the mega vendors will start to buy up the pieces and position themselves as VOC hub vendors, this hybrid approach will emerge as the "default model" in the marketplace for the foreseeable future. "In most case studies that tends to be the model," he adds. "There are three, four, five, six different vendors that they are using to do the collection based on that individual channel and then one of those channels is the hub and they feed all that data into that one central environment."
Tips for the hybrid hub
Of course, with the different vendors, channels and departments involved in such a project, adopting the hybrid approach may be the model to gain a competitive edge, but don’t expect it to be without its challenges. As such, Davies provides the following advice to get the hybrid VOC programme off the ground – and start benefitting from the single view of the customer voice.

1. Recruit a chief customer officer or similar cross-departmental role

"You can’t go down this path without having budget, so there needs to be a top-down commitment. And because the insights and the actions span across the entire business it can’t be driven by a particular department, because there is going to be no willingness to feed the information to other departments. Furthermore, because it is so customer-centric – it is customer experience and customer voice – it needs to be someone that has a customer-type role. That is why the chief customer officer or VP of customer experience, are perfect for this – they can sit above all the departments and say which insights should go to marketing so that they can feed it into the marketing manager, which insights should go to sales because these 50 customers look like they are going to buy something, and which should go to customer service because 25 agents don’t seem to know enough about the product and need training. It only really works when they can sit above all the operational departments then feed the relevant insight into them."

2. Install a virtual team below the chief customer officer

"Underneath that role there is almost a virtual role as well. So there will be a VP of customer experience or the chief customer officer, but reporting into them will be head of sales, head of marketing, the CIO, head of customer service, those roles in more of a hybrid architecture. They don’t sit beneath him in the hierarchal tree of the business. But they are in a kind of virtual team. So that chief customer officer can talk to and have once a week meetings with all the heads of departments. The head of sales doesn’t report to the chief customer officer but they work together in this side team to get the job done."

3. Undertake a technology audit

"Try and do an audit of what are the different technologies you have got across business at the moment that are capturing some sort of customer voice. Where are you doing surveying? Have you got any social projects? Are you doing speech analytics? What are all the different projects you have got going on, even technologies that are already deployed, that are giving a view or perspective on the customer voice. Stock take that first of all."

4. Identify the gaps

"If you’re capturing all these different types of voice, where are the gaps? Which types of voice are you not capturing that you think will give you a great insight into the customer? And then plug those gaps via pilots to start off with, to see how rich that voice is. You might not be doing social media monitoring now so maybe that is the channel you might want to exploit, but there is no point spending hundreds of thousands of pounds going down that path until you know that people are actually talking about you. So doing small pilots in those holes – is this voice that we’re not capturing worth capturing in the first place. So spend a little bit of money, do a pilot, see how rich that voice is, how useful it is, and if it is important then you can start collecting it properly."

5. Establish the best architecture

"Spend a lot of time looking at this centralised hub approach in terms of what is going to be the best bed or architecture for you? Which vendor are you going to choose to be the core hub? Or are you not going to choose a vendor to be the core hub? Do you use your own BI platform and internal IT expertise to create your own hub? Do you just buy a big Oracle database and throw it all in that and do the analysis yourself? So spending a lot of time looking at the architecture, the data storage, the vendor landscape, their scalability, their robustness - that is a key stage."

6. Establish how you will facilitate the movement of insights

"The next big thing to focus on is how you can facilitate getting the insights to the right people. it sounds easy to say it, but it is actually an extremely difficult thing to do to send a tweet to a sales guy, to send a comment made in a phone call to a marketing person, or a response in a survey to a call centre agent, because you have got different collection channels, different departments, different individuals, and knowing what to send to which person when, is a very complex thing to do."

7. A final word of caution

"The only caveat I would say to all of this – and this is a word of caution - is that there are hundreds of vendors that say they are voice of the customer vendors, but they are so siloed in what they actually do that they are almost doing a disservice to the acronym. And that is one of the biggest challenges, because if people think they need to jump on voice of the customer, they could almost take the wrong path because they are not looking at it holistically, they are looking at it from a single channel point of view. I have got a voice of the customer presentation that I gave in London and that was one of the biggest takeaways I got from that. Because a lot of people would turn up to with this perception, so they would sit there thinking they do voice of the customer and maybe because they are doing a really good job of surveying, they think they’re just going to pick up a few tips just to make sure they are on the right track. And it’s only after the presentation that they realise that actually they are just doing a tip of the iceberg and they have missed all this opportunity. So it is a bit of a wake up call for companies who have got their own definition of VOC when it is by no means complete."

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