Photo of a finger on a tablet showing digital transformation

Finding the Voice of the Customer in the Digital Economy

28 Jul 2017 by Claudia Hrynyshyn

Today’s customers are talking — and their voices have crescendoed to a roar. Over the last decade alone, they’ve been given a colossal platform to be heard and to influence others. Through social media and online review platforms, customer sentiments manifest through pictures, videos and blog posts that go viral daily. And in seemingly snap decisions, the digital economy gets behind certain brands and abandons others.

So, how loud is it?

58% of consumers say they’re more likely to spread the word about their customer experiences today than they were 5 years ago, according to a Zendesk study. 45% of them take to social media to leave specifically negative reviews. And 88% say they have been influenced by online reviews when making buying decisions, showing just how high the stakes can be when customers have subpar experiences.

What's more, a study from BrightLocal found that the majority of customers only needed to read 4-6 online reviews before deciding to trust a business last year — proof that just a few customers can tip the scale in favor of or against your brand.

To demonstrate the real estate that consumers occupy in today’s digital economy, here’s a look at how many Americans are using social media outlets in 2017:

A bar graph showing the percentage of the U.S. population who currently uses any social media (from 2008 to 2017)
Figure 1

Figure 1 shows social media usage trends from 2008-2017. 81% of the U.S. population are currently using some form of social media, a dramatic increase from 24% just 8 years ago.

In this new maze of constant sharing on numerous outlets — so many voices at one time — businesses are now challenged to not only pinpoint what platforms they're coming from and what's being said, but also to lasso all information into a central location to glean insights. Finding the voice of the customer in the digital economy and knowing how to make this data meaningful will change the way businesses compete to stay alive.

Voice of the Customer: Tradition and disruption

The voice of the customer, or VoC, is a process by which feedback is collected about the experiences customers have with products and services, as well as their preferences for future interactions. VoC collection through surveys, customer interviews and the like has always been a traditional way of starting a dialogue with customers, and the majority of today’s businesses have VoC programs in place.

So if the majority of businesses are listening to the voice of the customer, they must be using that voice to make improvements, right?

Guess again. According to research from Temkin Group, while most companies report that their VoC programs are successful, less than one-third of actually consider their programs to be effective at driving action.

Sorting through the noise with data

To capitalize on this opportunity, businesses should build a data strategy team dedicated to gathering and interpreting data. The best teams will arm themselves with industry trends, the organization’s past performance and customer feedback.

And technology is ripe with opportunity. Social media data from a cloud-hosted location can be populated to custom analytics dashboards and built on top of data visualization systems like Microsoft Power BI. This would enable teams to see and interpret customer sentiments as well as identify new patterns.

The competitive landscape for data intelligence will widen. Research from Harvard Business Review reveals a massive upsurge in predictive analytics and other analytics tools in just a two-year span.

A bar graph depicting what analytics tools organizations use currently or intend to use in two years' time
Figure 2

Figure 2 shows business’ usage of data analytics tools in 2015 compared to expected usage in 2017. Predictive analytics and data discovery and visualization will soar to 70% and higher. While respondents indicated that usage of dashboards and reports will lessen, at 78%, it will remain the most commonly used analytics tool compared to the others.

Turning insight into innovation

“Digital transformation revolves around a relentless focus on customer engagement and designing your products around customers’ needs,” Says Raheel Retiwalla, executive vice president at Productive Edge. The key takeaway here is that the data isn’t enough. Even with the most robust data, businesses will only succeed if they have the internal ability to change or innovate parts of the business to meet customer expectations.

“If your customer wants to go to Mars, you’d better be able to build a spaceship,” he adds.

Businesses should consider a few key factors when innovating their products and services:

Self-service and convenience – If customers are displeased with long wait times or too many steps to obtain a product, self-service is a great way to innovate the customer experience. Self-service kiosks at places from airlines to grocery stores have eliminated long lines and created cost savings for in the process. Convenience is another driving force for change. A mobile app, “ParkChicago,” enables users to pay for parking throughout the city and even extend time remotely, eliminating the need to sift through change at parking meters or add more quarters when time runs out. 

A screenshot of the ParkChicago app being used
Figure 3

After selecting previously logged vehicles or adding new ones, users can track their time parked down to the second and easily extend their time with the tap of a button if needed, as shown in Figure 3.

Personalization – Like a good friend who knows our interests and likes, creating personalized experiences through recommendation engines strengthens the “bond” between customers and businesses. Amazon is one of the most notable success stories in this regard, leveraging recommendation engines and the “wisdom of the crowds” to create a fine-tuned shopping experience.

Entertainment – It’s no longer enough for products and services to deliver on the bare essentials. The customer experience is colliding with the entertainment industry, and the more customers are amused and entertained by the digital economy (while benefiting from it), the more likely they’ll be to share their experiences with others. Ninantic’s mobile app Pokémon GO, which uses augmented reality and GPS coordinates of real locations — was the most downloaded app of any other in its first week of release.

Predictive ability and proactivity – This goes beyond identifying customers’ interests based on the preferences of others. Being predictive and proactive leverages real-time analytics to track usage and behaviors, then provides intelligence to create continuity in the customer experience. For example, if wireless providers could track mobile data usage in real time, they could suggest timely data upgrade offers the minute a user reaches his or her data cap, creating a non-disruptive experience.

How will you answer your customers?

Your success in the digital economy will hinge on how well you understand the voice of the customer — and how you innovate your products and services to adapt. No matter how digitally evolved your business is, changes can be made.

“I don’t think of flaws in the customer experience as ‘gaps’. They’re simply friction points that were created by outdated processes,” Adds Retiwalla. “The sheer nature of digital has allowed us to peel away at all of those layers of friction — all with the sole purpose of improving the customer experience.”

The customer is at the center of digital transformation, but it’s only one of many catalysts on the journey to dominating your industry. Our ebook outlines 5 keys to true digital disruption and provides an execution framework for how today’s digital leaders can drive real change.

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