Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My worst customer experience ever

I'll never forget my worst customer experience ever. I was 1 year into my first job after college, working as a management consultant for Ernst & Young. After a nice lunch with some co-workers I stopped in at a local 7-11 convenience store to pick up a pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dessert.

I got back to my desk, ripped open the package, and upon biting into the first cup noticed that the filling wasn't as creamy as I expected. The consistency of the peanut butter was mealy and granular.

Upon review of the cup, I was HORRIFIED to discover little granular maggots embedded in the half eaten peanut butter cup. Upon further review, I was further horrified to discover that the maggots were actually alive and squirming around in the cup, and that the half eaten portion I'd quickly spit out of my mouth contained yet MORE maggots!!!!

I was, you can imagine, disgusted and livid.

After rinsing my mouth with several cups of water, brushing my mouth 3 or 4 times, and chewing through a pack and a half of gum to freshen my mouth - I proceeded to write a letter to Hershey's (manufacturer of the cups), and to delicately wrap up the half eaten portion of the remaining cup. I packaged up the whole disgusting mess and sent it, FedEx, to the customer support address on the package.

Within 2 weeks I received a sincerely worded response from a nice woman in Customer Relations. She apologized for my experience, assured me that Hershey's has manufacturing, distribution, and retail quality controls and the experience I had is both rare and unacceptable.

I was sent coupons for over $20 of Hershey's products, and a box of Hershey's coffee cups, for my trouble, and was thanked for my business.

I have to admit I was impressed by the relatively rapid response (keep in mind the experience happened in the late 80s, before the advent of internet email and the world wide web) - and in spite of the disgusting nature of my experience, I was willing to give my favorite candy another chance.

I remain a loyal Reese's Peanut Butter Cups eater. But I always break open the cups before I eat them now....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Emotion and Trust and Transparency and Text Mining

Gartner just came out with a listing of the Seven Great Concerns for CEOs in 2009 - and it listed one interesting area that touches on issues of importance to the Clarablog (note highlighted area below).

CEO Issue Three: Loss of Business and Governmental Trust
The institutions that were once counted on to safeguard the economy seem to have failed, and the lack of transparency in the economic system has been exposed. There has been a subsequent loss of trust, as well, amid fears that other unknowns are awaiting. Trust is an intangible element in business but is crucial to transact business. IT can help improve transparency in the way business is done through reputation management, e-discovery and business intelligence. Gartner also expects a strengthening of "data driven" management culture as the risks of moving forward with insufficient data become far less acceptable.

They're right, of course. Everyone wants transparency. People are less tolerant of obfuscation, misleading, mishandling, and mis-marketing from the corporations they do business with.

It's in a company's best interest to "come clean" with the facts, and get messages out to the market. It's also in a company's best interest to LISTEN to customers - hear out their issues, concerns, suggestions, and even EMOTIONS.

Text Analytics, driving business intelligence, identifies, issues, emotions, sentiments, and concerns from customers and cost- and time-effectively helps raise corporate awareness of customers' concerns, perceptions, and needs.

Customer Experience Intelligence is primarily an ROI driver to help improve services and products (see earlier blog posts), but it can also serve an important role in helping companies attain and maintain public trust during times when public faith in the institutions of business and government is weakened.

- Sid

Monday, March 16, 2009

Smart Response - a Smart Way to use Text Analytics to Improve Customer Experience

Companies need to analyze customer experience feedback 3 different ways:

1) "What are the 10 things my most profitable customers are most upset about THIS MONTH?" - Answering this question requires the ability to mine through all customer feedback, segment the data by business-definable dimensions like time and profitability, and establish an easy to view "dashboard" that quickly distills the answer from millions of pieces of text-based information to a concise answer to the question.

2) "What's new with my customers TODAY?" - Answering this question requires near real-time analysis of incoming customer feedback to see what's spiking over normal levels of feedback, so that an operational manager can quickly respond to a adverse event, service problem, or other customer experience issue that's quickly developed, to avoid the issue growing into a full-fledged problem.

3) "What should I do for the customer who just complained to me about a bad experience RIGHT NOW?" Unlike the first two examples - which involve analyzing customers in aggregate or by segments or groupings, this last type of analysis is about smart determination of an individual customer's issue, and smart response to that customer in real-time. If a customer had a bad experience, and took the time to complain - smart response is about using text mining to quickly ascertain, and adjudicate the customer experience with a suggested resolution that can be communicated directly back to the customer.

The first two categories depend on text mining large volumes of customer feedback. The last category depends on the ability to use text analytics in real-time. We announced Clarabridge SmartResponse (tm) http://www.clarabridge.com/default.aspx?tabid=136&PressReleaseID=609 as a response to our client demands for the ability to harvest and analyze feedback in real time as well as respond to individual customer communications.

Our clients have been using our Content Mining Platform to answer the first two types of questions for a while now - they've recognized that it's important to keep tabs on their customers' experiences, needs, and suggestions, and realize that ongoing analysis of trends, problems and suggestions can lead to better decisions, better product offerings, and better experiences - all of which lead to happier, more loyal, more profitable customers:
  • Hotels learn what products and amenities customers want, and conversely what they can cut.
  • Airlines can track the preferences and needs of most valuable travelers.
  • Retailers can evaluate the response to new product lines, and track feedback on product quality, safety, and passion.
Smart Response solves an entirely different type of customer challenge. If your customer is tweeting about a bad experience, you want to respond to them immediately. If they send you an email or fill out a survey to describe a particularly bad flight experience, or stay at a hotel, or treatment at a store, you want to quickly assess the problem, determine the best possible response, and communicate back to the customer with thanks for the feedback, a sincere apology, and if warranted an offer of compensation for their troubles. Smart response is about real-time mining of feedback, real-time assessment of the problem, and real-time determination of possible responses for the customer.

Customers want not just to be heard, but to be addressed. Smart Response truly closes the customer experience loop with the customer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

RE: In2Clouds theory about text analytics and Government Transparency

MM in his blog In2Clouds referenced my recent blog on the business benefits and ROI of Text Analytics in the commercial domain, and suggested that it might be useful to be able to use Clarabridge to mash up government information with constituent feedback, suggestions, complaints about programs, producing better transparency and accountability.

I agree - It would be VERY INTERESTING -- and in fact solutions such as MM is envisioning will become reality in 2009, I'm sure.

I see a solution that incorporates:

1) Databases containing funding information ($ granted, per program, over time, over geography) coming from Federal Agencies
2) Databases containing spending information ($ spent, per region/state/jurisdiction, over time) coming from the state agencies
3) Performance Management information (job growth, roads created, educational metrics, energy capacity improvements) coming from a variety of public, private, and watchdog sources.
4) Constituency feedback (anecdotes from citizens on program qualitative benefits, outcomes, problems, observed fraud/waste/abuse) coming from a variety of social media sites on federal, state, local and third party sites)

Put all that information together, and you have truly comprehensive view of the life cycle of the government recovery/stimulus effort, and you have a living, breathing, always on, actionable view of the stimulus in action (or not, depending).

These kinds of data fusion/mash up solution visions highlight the real potential of integrating unstructured data containing qualitative feedback with structured data containing dollars and cents and performance metrics, to truly track the what, where, and WHY of complex programs and systems, and use the information to track, analyze, and improve programs.

In short - text analytics are not just for business. Government can and should also get into the game.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Achieving ROI with Customer Experience/Text Analytics Solutions

Welcome to 2009 – we’re in a recession.

Perhaps you are
-a retailer
-a travel/hospitality company
-a consumer goods company
-a high tech products company (hardware or software)
-a financial services company
-a media company

In short, you’re like one of the many companies that have decided to use customer experience intelligence solutions, like the Clarabridge Content Management Platform, to establish a text analytics-based voice of the customer initiative.

Why, you might ask, should you be looking at such an initiative in 2009 – when companies supposed to be cutting costs, getting efficient, and doing whatever they can to stay profitable, solvent, and alive? Is customer experience a “nice to have,” or a “need to have” solution?

Anecdotal insight from existing Clarabridge customers would suggest that it is very much a “need to have” solution. Text analytics, applied to customer experience management, is an important way to weatherproof your company against the economic storm we’re currently experiencing. A few big reasons:

1) ONLY THE EFFICIENT SURVIVE – and Customer Experience Analytics solutions create immediate efficiency. Most businesses collect and process customer feedback (survey content, call center content, email content) manually, and spend too much money, and too much time manually reading, coding, and analyzing content, particularly unstructured, text-based content. One of our customers reduced a staff function from 25 analysts to fewer than 5 after adopting Clarabridge, and increased its ability interpret feedback from a fraction of feedback to 100% of feedback. Another customer cut market research spending year over year by over 25%, more than covering the first 2 years of cost for the solution, and is now getting actionable feedback from customers within 24 hours of capture, down from process that used to take 30 days from capture to analysis.

2) ALERT DRIVEN INSIGHTS CATCH PROBLEMS BEFORE THEY COST YOU MONEY. Text analytics solutions do a great job of tracking experiences quickly, and quantitative metrics can measure the magnitude of a new problem before the problem causes cost, customer satisfaction, and resource impacts to your business. A leading software manufacturer uses alert driven analytics from Clarabridge to catch the “fast-growing” issues associated with new software releases so they can quickly kill bugs and errors BEFORE they affect the entire customer base – averting millions of dollars of support costs.

3) USE A SCALPEL, NOT A CHAINSAW TO CUT COSTS WHILE RETAINING DESIRABLE CUSTOMERS. Many customer-oriented companies engage in a technique called market segmentation to identify and analyze the buying patterns and preferences of discrete segments of their customer base. Before cutting a product or service expense, our clients use Clarabridge to assess how valuable the product or service is perceived to be. Others run trial cost cutting programs and evaluate the impact of the cost cutting on their “desirable” customers – the most loyal, the most profitable, and the highest net worth – to make sure they’re not engaging in an action that will drive away the desirable segment. Hotels are using Clarabridge to assess which amenities can be cut without adversely affecting business travelers. Retailers are assessing which product lines can be cut without impacting frequent customer loyalty.

4) SAVE BIG BUCKS WITH DATA-DRIVEN, INSIGHTFUL BIG DECISIONS. Over time, companies inevitably have a moment when they have to make a BIG decision. Perhaps it’s to roll out an expensive new product. Or kill a high support cost product. Or tear down a property that seems unfixable in some way. Before making the decision that can impact the company by millions of dollars, our customers use Clarabridge to validate the decision. One customer considered whether to tear down or modernize an old property due to customer complaints about noise levels and the age of the building. Using Clarabridge they were able to determine quickly that customer feedback from the property was not statistically more or less negative than feedback from newer properties, and the company subsequently decided NOT to tear down the property, averting millions of dollars of unnecessary expense.

In short – return on investments (ROI) can be clearly tied to operational, analytical and strategic use of Customer Experience Analytics, and solutions from companies like Clarabridge don’t just generate cost savings in the short term, they allow better decisions to preserve loyalty in the long term – preserving customer relationships, loyalty, and corporate profitability