Why Curiosity Will Keep You Young

“Don’t act like a child,” used to be an admonishment.

I always liked acting like a child.  Being childish means being fun, spontaneous, and energetic.  It is striving to look at things like a child unclouded by the anchors of experience.  But most of all, being childish means remaining curious about even the most minute details of life. New multi-discipline research now is revealing that quiet possibly the Eldorado of youth can be found in just staying inquisitive…

Stay curious my friends.

Read more here.

A History of CX Tech

This article is third in a three-part series on the past and future of CX with a focus on role of technology in customer experience. Read the first and second pieces on ama.org. The series is a partnership between Dave Fish, Michigan State University visiting professor and founder of CuriosityCX, and Brian Keehner, a candidate in the master of science in market research program at Michigan State University.

The term customer experience (CX) has taken on a much broader meaning than it once did. Initially relegated to post-purchase engagements and viewed as a cost of doing business, CX is now regularly interpreted to encompass the entire consumer journey. It has emerged from the backrooms of customer support to the forefront. The world of customer experience has progressed from a collection of unrelated disciplines that vary by department and company to a coordinated effort with resources and authority.

Origins of Customer Experience

We did not arrive here overnight or even in the past few decades. CX originates from sources as disparate as call center technology and marketing analytics. Clearly, CX will continue to adapt, grow and change in the future. But its origins can help us understand where it is going.

Market Research

Market research emerged in the 1920s as a way of testing and improving advertising. Psychologists such as Dan Starch and George Gallup advanced the fledgling field of market research through the application of scientific principles. Following the post-WWII consumerism boom, market research began to truly emerge as a field of its own. Rooted in advertising and marketing, demand for market research expanded to almost every sector by the 1970s.

Total quality management (TQM) and other customer-focused initiatives rose to prominence by the mid-1980s, and the concept of customer satisfaction subsequently took off. Since customer satisfaction looked like the typical “frame-measure-report-action framework” found in traditional market research, many agencies jumped into customer satisfaction.

One early adopter was Rogers Research, which was acquired by Maritz in the mid-70s. Maritz, a company founded on incentivizing employees to improve performance, used customer satisfaction scores as performance indicators, marking the start of a long and tumultuous marriage between scores and performance. The firm soon started conducting large-scale customer satisfaction studies in Detroit and still does today as MaritzCX. At around the same time, as legend has it, JD “Dave” Power knocked on the doors of Toyota Motor Industrial Equipment and soon started what was to become the quality syndicated business JD Power and Associates. While JD Power initially focused on product quality, it made the jump into the service side of the business in the 1980s.

Process reengineering and quality initiatives increased during the mid-1990s, abetted by a considerable amount of academic squabbling, and created what is often hailed as the “golden age” for traditional market research firms conducting customer satisfaction-focused work. Bradley Gale, author of Managing Customer Value, and others were shifting the discussion from customer satisfaction to customer value. Their theory was that merely ensuring customer satisfaction is not enough, but rather value had to be better demonstrated. Customer value management (CVM) expanded the world from just examining post-purchase aspects to looking at quality, pricing, communication and other aspects of the experience that drive customer value.

Maritz and JD Power became key players in the customer experience arena and were joined by other firms including Gallup, Burke, iSky and Walker Research. At the same time, titans of market research such as Synovate (later acquired by Ipsos), TNS and GfK began gobbling up smaller firms around the world.

In the early days, customer experience research was largely conducted via phone or direct mail. Paper reports were initially used to present findings. With the advent of the internet in the mid-1990s, research companies began transitioning to outbound e-mail and built tailor-made reporting portals. These portals were largely customized for individual client needs and moved paper reports to tabular, web-based reports, which proved to be an easier and more cost-effective way to disseminate data.

Clients quickly became interested in customizing their web reporting sites, and research companies, who were used to accommodating ad hoc requests, happily obliged. This practice resulted in each client essentially having its own highly customized personal reporting website; but these sites were expensive to build, initially plagued with quality issues and required perpetual care and development as new technology and security concerns emerged. It also effectively locked out smaller client organizations that could not afford the hefty price tag associated with these large custom enterprise systems.

It was around the late-1990s when new competitors began appearing from other ad agencies and applied a new approach to the problem of capturing the voice of the customer. The industry leaders were initially dismissive of these new upstarts, as is all too common in industries facing change. Little did they know how this emergence would foreshadow disruption.

The Tech Startups and EFM

In 2001, Esteban Kolsky, then a Gartner analyst, began writing about customer feedback systems, which soon became known as enterprise feedback management (EFM). In the mid-2000s, several tech startups began appearing in Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Toronto and parts of Europe.

Early players included Service Management Group (1991), Confirmit (1996), Mindshare (1997), Empathica (2001) (now part of InMoment), Medallia (2001), Qualtrics (2002) and Allegiance (2005) (now part of MaritzCX). While their approaches all varied slightly, the common value proposition was this: We can deliver 80% of your needed functionality in near real-time for a fraction of the cost of bespoke solutions, and we are able to integrate multiple data sets.

Most were able to deliver on the promise of a fast, basic approach to customer feedback gathering and dissemination, but the boom of customization came at a cost. Early players set the stage by creating the demand for ad hoc programs. Firms found the high price of building customized platforms less fiscally prudent than repurposing existing programs that could produce a similar end result.

For a while, large traditional research players were selling high-end custom solutions tailored to large enterprise clients. The new EFM upstarts, in contrast, were selling standard solutions out of the box to small and medium-sized businesses. These differing approaches allowed both to occupy their own respective niche.

Each player seemed to follow the practice of picking their own area of specialty and largely preoccupied themselves with pursuing dominance of that respective vertical. Beyond tradition industries like travel, hospitality and business services, EFM systems have been applied to human resources (e.g., Namely, Workday and ADP), health care (e.g., Access and Perigen) and the nonprofit sector (e.g., Vovici and Ruffalo Noel Levitz).

This started to change dramatically in the mid-2000s. The EFM firms now became mortal threats to the entrenched research firms. But it wasn’t just the EFM players who sensed opportunity and wanted a slice of the action.

Call Centers

Call centers were logical places for customer satisfaction feedback systems to take root and flourish. With large transactional volumes, typically younger and/or less experienced agents, and a strong emphasis on performance metrics and coaching, call centers were aching for the insight voice that the customer could provide. Companies like ResponseTek and others sensed this desire and offered a platform that could handle the complexities of systems with many agents and organizational hierarchies that changed almost daily. It was only a matter of time until call center software companies would design their own EFM platforms.

Sensing opportunity, call center software providers added value to their existing technology. Verint is a very large call center, customer engagement and surveillance technology provider. With sales surpassing $1 billion in 2017, it has also created customer feedback software systems that many of its customers use in addition to their own EFM software application.

Born out of the Israeli intelligence community in 1986, NICE systems now has revenues more than $1 billion as well. With a pedigree for security, surveillance and call center software, NICE built its own EFM software initially for post-call center satisfaction. NICE recently acquired Satmetrix to further establish itself in the CX technology space. Another player of note is Convergys, who also operates in the EFM space and has a call center technology heritage.

The NPS Effect

The seminal work of Fred Reichheld, Bain, and Satmetrix appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2003. Called the Net Promoter Scores (NPS), it was a simple way to take on two major problems in the CX world at the time: complexity and ROI.

First, many of the voice-of-the-customer systems at the time had complicated weighting systems and indices which were difficult for users to understand. In contrast, NPS was understandable for executives and front-line employees alike. It is a simple, 11-point scale that subtracts brand “detractors” from brand “promoters.” As is the case with many popular ideas, the simplicity of the idea made it appealing and aided in adoption.

Second, client companies were investing millions in CX, often seeing little in return for their efforts. While others have demonstrated the link between customer experience and business outcomes, none did so as eloquently as NPS.

While there is still much controversy around the NPS concept, no one can debate the impact it has had on the industry. When asked whether it helped or harmed the industry, Customerthink editor Bob Thompson said, “I have to edge to ‘helped’…NPS is a key reason that people are interested in CX and why it’s become a boardroom issue.”

Not long after, in 2011, the CX discipline was further advanced with the founding of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) by Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss. This created an intellectual home for people from many different disciplines and reinforced the legitimacy of the field of CX.

Where We Are Today

Despite repeated claims of EFM’s death, both the term and the application are very healthy and growing, albeit under alternative acronyms, such as CFM. Likewise, CXPA appears to be healthy and growing with close to 14,000 followers on LinkedIn.

Today, the definition and purview of customer experience continues to grow, with many looking at the “C” in CX and wondering if it does not capture an end-to-end experience. After all, the CVM work of the 1990s was looking at aspects of the experience outside of post-purchase (to a limited degree), but never really established a beachhead into acquisition, the traditional province of marketing. Today, with a call to “bring down the silos” inside organizations, CX is finally starting to break the bonds of post-purchase experience to be more inclusive of the entire journey, from catalyst to disposal.

While there are many different types of organizations in the CX space, the EFM firms who have infused technology into domain expertise form the basis of the industry. Their increasingly large footprint in the CX space has them poised to continue to redefine the industry. These firms vary considerably in the size of their business and the scope of their CX management solutions, but they have a wide global reach. This global presence is supported with myriad office locations, predominantly throughout North America and Europe, which support customers in more than 50 countries across the world. Who will be on top in five, 10, or 20 years is anyone’s guess, but here are today’s key players (listed in alphabetical order).

Reston, Virginia
Clarabridge is an experience management and text analytics software provider.

Oslo, Norway
Confirmit is a provider of voice-of-customer and market research software.

Seattle, Washington
Customerville is a customer experience-focused survey software provider.

South Jordan, Utah
InMoment is a customer experience-based management company.

Market Force Information
Norcross, Georgia
Market Force Information specializes in CX management solutions that are designed to deliver location-level customer feedback.

Lehi, Utah
MaritzCX is a customer experience-focused company.

San Mateo, California
Medallia is a provider of SaaS customer experience management solutions.

Oslo, Norway
Questback is a provider of online survey and feedback management solutions.

San Mateo, California
Satmetrix specializes in customer experience management software.

Provo, Utah
Qualtrics is an experience management software company.

Vancouver, Canada
ResponseTek is a provider of enterprise customer experience management solutions.

Service Management Group
Kansas City, Missouri
SMG (Service Management Group) is a CX technology and insights company.

Cooking With Gas: Leveraging Social Intelligence to Ignite CX

A short story:

As the car snaked through another winding northern Arizona canyon, my trusty pack swelled with the necessities of the camping getaway ahead, and my mind wandered to dreams of fire-roasted s’mores at camp. The campsite was just coming into view, nestled in a cove of juniper and sandstone against a blue and babbling brook. The sign just ahead read…wait, what? “Fire Ban. No Campfires.” (Can you say buzz kill)? Fast forward a few hours. After driving what seemed like 100 miles to the nearest town while pining for a campfire, I was finally back at the campsite with a new propane stove, hungry and tired.

Enter the Coleman camping stove, some chicken sausages and boxed mac & cheese (the fuel station’s finest). The non-campfire meal was reluctantly cooked, and then (surprisingly) thoroughly enjoyed. The delicious meal was cooked in less than 15 minutes and cleanup was minimal. While it wasn’t a campfire s’more, it filled a need and did it well. What at first was a huge frustration, became the weekend’s MVP. Many others in this camping area had similar experiences, as propane was the only option for cooking a hot meal and getting a hot caffeine fix the next morning (enter influx of artsy stove photos on Instagram).

That micro experience at my campsite compounded into a sizeable social media spike for Coleman, presenting a golden opportunity for the brand to harness campers’ conversations online, and to identify a relatively captive audience segment – weekend warrior car campers with no traditional fire option for hot meals, specifically those in this year’s widespread “fire ban” geographies. Alas, no evidence of an understanding of this audience on social media. Instead of a CX fail – this Coleman scenario highlights the opposite problem – while it provided a great product experience, it failed to understand (or acknowledge an understanding) of publicly available online chatter from customers. The point is this: Across all industries, opportunities to learn from unsolicited conversations abound, but companies too often leave untapped terabytes hanging out there in the social sphere, heavy with the weight of missed opportunity.

Why social matters:

As part of the broader CX ecosystem, harvesting and understanding unsolicited, publicly available social data can help us get smarter about customers, better serve their needs, and drive our businesses forward by:

  • Casting a wider net: Integrating social data into our CX ecosystems broadens audiences and extends our reach into true customer understanding
  • Enriching insights: Social adds a qualitative component to quantitative CX data, bringing insights to life and adding texture to CX programs. Imagine the power of unsolicited, customer-generated insight alongside survey data, augmented by inferred data like location
  • Informing intelligent conversations with customers: Social channels give customers an ability to share pain and joy, at any time, with very limited restrictions. Companies can leverage this unsolicited insight to inform survey design, marketing campaigns, and deeper market research projects, without guessing where to aim (e.g. in my Coleman stove example, imagine a flash sale of accessories for the propane stove in the fire ban region, or a donation and nod to local first-responders for the wildfires…)

The big idea is this: by leveraging online sources like Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Yelp and others, in harmony with broader CX efforts, companies can tap into the conversations of millions without conducting long, expensive, and laborious formal research. Integrating social data is low-hanging fruit for brands dedicated to further understanding the hopes, pain and dreams of customers (A.K.A: every leading brand in the world). Alas, for many, effectively harnessing unstructured social data as part of a broader CX plan is today’s elephant in the room. Generally speaking, alignment around the issue has yet to be reached and is a common struggle in board rooms everywhere.

The fundamental challenge:

Considering the vast expanse of internet data, even the most sophisticated brands often lose their grip on unsolicited online feedback. With tens of billions of data points floating around, it is understandable that some insights float on, untamed. The tricky part is not in merely data collection but turning those hordes of data into something intelligible and actionable (key word: actionable) and integrating seamlessly into the broader CX landscape.

In many cases, brands are hamstrung by traditional research methods that need to be turned out to pasture. Many brands have spent so much time peppering customers with long surveys and laborious research initiatives that they’ve have lost sight of the fact that these same customers are likely providing rich unsolicited feedback online. While there is a widespread nod to the general importance of harvesting unsolicited social data, the challenge comes in effectively harnessing those billions of data points and translating them into intelligence to inform and ignite CX insights.

While there is undoubtedly a time and place for deep (and sometimes even traditional) research, a CX ecosystem can work harder by leveraging the low hanging fruit that social channels have to offer, to convert the conversations of millions into actionable insights, and to inform research to make brands better. Read on for a few quick tips about integrating social into your CX vision.

Three tips for getting smart about social data in CX:

1. Align on the end goal of integrating social (back to CX basics)

  • Social initiatives manifest in several different ways, all pointed to a different end game. Decide if focusing on social monitoring, engagement or intelligence is most important for your specific business needs.
  • No single firm can meaningfully execute monitoring, engagement and intelligence concurrently, so choose the right partner that will help you move toward specific goals with social. A few leaders in this space include Infegy, Crimson Hexagon and Brandwatch, each with their own unique take on social.
  • As a best practice in CX strategy, I encourage clients to focus on social intelligence as a best practice as opposed to simply monitoring the social sphere, with the goal of gleaning deeper understanding, not simply adding another dashboard to the CX arsenal.

Where to start: learn basic definitions within the social sphere before goal-setting; Here’s a succinct and helpful resource written by leading social intelligence company Infegy about important distinctions to be made when determining your goals with social.

2. Don’t stop with data collection

  • It’s easy to harvest customer-generated data from companies like Gnip and Webhose, which provide high volumes of data in a commoditized form and are frankly useless without a means to understand the data. Simply collecting the data is table-stakes; the real value comes in the analysis and conversion of numbers on a screen into a meaningful action-plan.
  • The sheer volume of social data is incredibly overwhelming. This is why it is critical to leverage sophisticated social analytics software to comb through the noisy landscape of jargon to ensure action (this can’t be stressed enough).
  • Context matters, and social data is only as good as the NLP (Natural Language Processing) engine analyzing it on the back end to ensure contextual relevance, accuracy and recall.
  • Still stuck on a tired NLP engine? Upgrade to ensure the engine driving your social analytics is sophisticated and built for high volumes of text. Be sure to ask your provider about their sentiment analysis score (ensure this score includes precision/accuracy and recall).
  • Social data without a sophisticated text analytics capability is a nightmare and leads to confusion. Ensure you’ve employed a well-oiled text analytics machine before you invest in social as part of CX, otherwise you’ll end up with just more big data sitting on a screen, with no purpose but to cost you time and money.

Where to start: Back up. Breathe. Ask yourself why you’re collecting social data and how you plan to use it to reach your CX goals. If you don’t know the answer to either question, push pause on the social data drowning and recalibrate to ensure social is working for your customer understanding effort, not against it. Then, engage your trusted and independent advisor(s) to help you curate the right NLP engine to fit your specific business needs.

3. Leverage social to augment other research

  • Leveraging social data, including imagery from sources like Instagram and Pinterest, companies can add a rich layer of insight to more traditional research.
  • Using unsolicited feedback, video, and images from the social sphere, CX teams can create more engaging internal materials and garner deeper buy in from stakeholders across the business.
  • Flip your annual analytics plan on its head and allow customer-generated data to guide your strategy, for a customer-centric approach to research.

Where to start: As an inexpensive test and quick win, collect a few publicly available customer videos or images from social channels and put together a simple highlight reel (you don’t need anything fancy, just your smart phone). Next time you host an internal CX planning meeting, share the reel with your colleagues and CX program stakeholders to drive engagement and buy-in for the broader initiative. This exercise is particularly useful for journey/experience mapping.

In sum:

While social media will never completely replace market research or surveys, its ability to augment efforts to understand customers is undeniable. Its impact on the relationship between brands and customers is a dynamic any company that wants to succeed should take seriously. It is time to embrace the reality that customers are having loads of important and unsolicited conversations online; conversations that leading brands leverage, and lagging brands ignore. Harnessed and synthesized in a meaningful way, unstructured social data can fuel your next “ah-ha” CX moment. One such moment for Coleman, perhaps, could have started in that Arizona campsite.

CX leaders, I encourage you to reflect on your current efforts to pull social insight into the CX ecosystem and go to work architecting a smart framework for weaving social with surveys and other market research data. EFM platforms, keep driving toward CX solutions that provide a 360-degree view of customers, harmonizing the unsolicited with the solicited, for a holistic view and actionable path forward. Social can be the spark that lights your CX fire – now, go ignite it!