Q&A: Closing the Customer Feedback Loop

Feedback management software promises quick returns, but what can it deliver?

Feedback management software can help companies collect information immediately from customers -- as quickly as at the completion of a transaction. It thus offers a fast method of collecting and analyzing customer reactions to a company’s products and services. It can also eliminate the traditional wait for customer response data to be collected later via a survey, then analyzed and acted on.

The challenging economy is deepening the focus on customer needs within companies, according to Gary Schwartz, senior vice president of marketing at Confirmit. In addition, in areas such as fraud detection in research surveys, feedback management software is increasing in importance. Schwartz discusses trends in capturing customer feedback more immediately and how those capabilities can help the business react faster to customer sentiment.

TDWI: What sorts of challenges are your customers wrestling with currently?

Gary Schwartz: Companies today are more infused with the idea of listening to their customers. This is probably due in part to the recent financial turmoil, in which customer retention has become a key enterprise strategy. Organizations recognize that it costs less to retain customers than to acquire them; they are also realizing that often, customers are not defecting to the competition but are simply no longer spending.

The enthusiasm with which companies are now listening to customers is also a result of the rapid development of technologies that enable businesses to capture customer feedback and understand customer sentiment.

What does feedback data indicate in terms of the need for quick responses and more rapid software development cycles?

Customer feedback indicates an increasing need for rapid development of additional features. An agile development methodology called EVO (see for more details) focuses on product qualities and working closely with key stakeholders, especially customers, during development. While EVO allows for the shifting of priorities during development, it still does not offer the ability to quickly add and release product features in the middle of a development cycle.

When it comes to feedback software, what about fraud detection in market research? Is that a key area right now?

Quality of data has always been a key issue for market researchers. In the days before online interviewing, researchers had no trouble identifying the people they spoke with, since they talked either over the phone or face-to-face. The advent of online interviewing has forced researchers to trust that people are who they say they are. There are problems with that, though. The survey incentives that researchers offer provide incentive for people to fabricate multiple personas. In some cases, respondents actually create an income stream simply from responding to as many surveys as possible. More enterprising individuals have been known to create bots to automate and speed up their responses, thus increasing the number of responses -- and their income.

This phenomenon creates huge problems for researchers, who can no longer rely completely on the quality of the data they receive. Therefore, it’s imperative that we develop the technology to identify fraudulent respondents (those who aren’t who they say they are) and eliminate them from the data set.

How else do you see the economy affecting customer needs?

As noted above, we’ve seen businesses increasing their focus on listening to customers. Of course, companies must also focus on their own expenditures and bottom line while tending to the value of their customer relationships and customer loyalty.

Not all companies have been through this process, however, so they may need help determining the best implementation for the business. It’s possible to reduce the risk of implementing a voice-of-the-customer program by focusing on best-of-breed technology while searching for a world-class solution that has been implemented -- and proven successful -- by other, similar businesses.

Speaking of customer feedback, what are the particular challenges you see in the contact center?

One of the biggest challenges in the contact center is the mindset that internal contact center metrics accurately measure customer satisfaction and agent performance.

These metrics include call abandonment rate, the time it takes to speak to a live person, and average call-handling time. All of those are really measures of the cost of handling calls. In particular, there is constant pressure to reduce call-handling time, which both lowers costs and allows agents to speak to more customers in a shorter period of time.

However, our clients have found that from their customers’ point of view, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to a live person nor how long the call itself lasts. Just one thing matters: was their time well spent? In other words, was the problem resolved?

First-call resolution -- whether a call center resolved its customer’s problem during the first call -- is therefore another frequently used metric. Although laudable in principle, the fact that the agent who handled the call determines the result tends to bias the numbers in an unrealistic manner.

For that reason, a customer’s perspective on the first-call resolution question would provide much more accurate, valuable information. It’s difficult to capture customer feedback in the contact center using online survey vendors, however, because many companies don’t have their customers’ e-mail addresses. Also, the absolute best time to capture such feedback is right then and there -- while the customer is still on the phone.

What has Confirmit developed to address the issues we’ve discussed here?

To support the trend towards rapid technology development, Confirmit has developed a framework that allows the creation of extensions to the Confirmit platform. Here’s just one example: We created a geolocation application that determines a survey respondent’s location. This application helps market researchers improve the quality of their data, since geolocation allows the researcher to exclude those who are actually responding from locations outside those regions, irrespective of what they’ve told the researcher.

Additionally, in our Confirmit Horizons product release in January 2010, Confirmit has moved well away from a strict focus on online data capture, evolving instead into becoming a true multi-channel platform. Confirmit offers interactive voice response (IVR) as one of its available data capture channels; call center agents can ask their customers to remain on the line once they complete a call so customers can provide instant feedback using the Touch Tone buttons on their phones.

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