Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Twitter and all that - Part II - Customer Support vs Customer Experience Intelligence

Don't know if you've all seen this article from USA Today last week. It had some interesting insights:


Basically the article profiled some very creative ways businesses are tapping into social media to get closer to their customers. The article recounted some well known stories (ie when Tweeters learned about a power outage during a Stanley Cup Playoffs game, or about how Dell, Comcast, and others are using Twitter to respond to customer complaints or advertise special sales).

I think all these creative uses of Twitter are fascinating, and can create real value for customers (who now have a means of communicating directly to each other and to companies via a medium they prefer and are increasingly flocking to).

From my vantage point looking at Twitter as a source for Customer Experience Intelligence, I still remain convinced that it is only one data point, and perhaps not the best data point, for comprehensive, actionable intelligence, for a number of reasons:

1) The average "tweeter" posts one tweet. Ever. See this study from Harvard, reported by the BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8089508.stm While Twitter growth has been explosive, basically a very few people are tweeting a very lot. And a lot of what they have to say is not particularly insightful to companies.

2) Companies ARE getting real value in monitoring tweets, and in reaching out to customers to find out what problems they are having, or what suggestions they have. Most companies can count the number of tweets that require an action in the 10s to 100s per day - not much more than a customer support rep covers in a day, and companies who monitor, are finding that the tweets from users are not bad ways to provide support, or an ear for feedback. But looked at this way - this is really just another channel for customer support. Good, but not necessarily transformational. To the extent a support rep has a conversation with a tweeter - the rep is most likely to want to archive the conversation in a CRM system so it can be analyzed alongside all the other channels of support and feedback that are being captured.

3) Call Centers are still where all the action is, and will remain for some time. From the article:

"For perspective, consider the size of call-center operations for major brands. Comcast says it is unlikely to uproot its operations, which employ 25,000 — most of them in the U.S. — in favor of Twitter. "A majority of our customers prefer to contact us by phone," Eliason says."

"Twitter is for basic troubleshooting," says Zsolt Katona, a marketing professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Be careful not to ignore those who rely on the phone for customer support."

4) Every member of the twitter generation is also quite likely to go to review sites, fill out point of sale surveys (online, of course), and even get tech support via online forums (or even use the phone if they have to) - and the information in these sources is richer (contains detailed insight about the experiences, problems, troubleshooting, and problem resolution). These sources also tend to allow companies to "link in" information about the transaction, the reviewer or poster, etc) permitting far more correlation of the user, the product, the experience that generated the feedback, than a twitter post will ever do.

So what am I really saying? In conclusion - Twitter is a good tool for short insights from a random and small community of fervent users. I use it myself, and find it very useful for scanning trends, seeing what people are saying about products and events, and even for communicating with people who have questions about my company or product (a few months ago I even provided some tech support via Twitter to a person who had a question about Clarabridge's offerings).

But it's not a great source of actionable intelligence from a representative segment of a customer base, and it's not a great source for "text mining" insight that can be cross referenced against specific customers, specific experiences, and specific products. The better sources for rich, qualitative/unstructured high volume customer experience insights are (and will remain for some time) call center verbatims, survey feedback (structured and unstructured feedback), and web forums, web discussion groups, web review sites, and community web sites.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Twitter and all that - Customer PERCEPTION or Customer Experience Intelligence?

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the value that Twitter, Facebook, etc brings to companies looking for customer "insights" or customer "experiences" - the thought process is that if only companies could have a live feed to Twitter or Facebook data that they could keep a finger on the pulse of customer experiences, suggestions, issues, fix problems, and ultimately create a happier, more loyal, more profitable customer base.

While there's value in social media tracking, I'm going to take a contrarian position. I believe that web/social media helps identify customer "perceptions" - but it does a poor job helping companies track real customer "experiences" - and thus the social media content is not a good place to track, measure improvements, and ultimately monitor customer experiences.

Why is that, you might ask?
1) the web is largely anonymous. If a person tweets "I'm sitting in Starbucks, my latte sucks" - you don't really know enough to fix the problem. Where is the customer? What store? Who served it? Is the shopper a frequent customer? How often does he shop there? Is the problem endemic at the store or just a transitory problem? You can't determine ANY of those insights from a 'tweet.'

2) the web doesn't generally contain a 'closed loop.' If a customer complains that he/she is having a problem with a product or service, and they get some insight that helps them fix the problem, is the case "closed?" Who closed it? What was the resolution? You can't tell that from a web forum, by and large.

In short - the web does not contain 'actionable intelligence' - it only contains - 'perceived intelligence' - to get to actionability you need more information from the person, details on the problems, and a closed loop from the resolution process that identifies that issues are tracked to completion.

You can track perceived issues, but you can't really use the insights from web content to identify, fix, and ultimately measure the impact of your changes on your customers.

Far better to track the insights, interactions, and free form conversations, chats, and verbatims from:
- customer calls to a call center
- survey feedback
- online chats
- company moderated (or at least participating) forums where you can reach out to a customer directly and work with them to identify, resolve, and track issues and resolutions.