This is a guest post by Bill Inmon
Bill Inmon is an American computer scientist, most often referred to as the father of the data warehouse. Inmon wrote the first book, held the first conference, wrote the first column in a magazine, and was the first to offer classes in data warehousing.
Trans World Airlines (TWA). Pan American Airlines.
Sports Authority, Staples, Woolworth's, and Banana Republic.
Aside from some minor similarities, these companies are all very diverse.
Yet, they all have something in common: there was a time when all these businesses were thriving — the best in their respective industries — and today they've either changed direction entirely (think Staples emerging as a B2B powerhouse, or Banana Republic closing stores and a embracing a primarily Ecommerce footprint) are on their way out of business, or they've already shuttered their doors permanently (while still profitable in Mexico, Woolworths is no longer in the United States).
Other companies, such as Staples, have come radically close to losing everything a few times in company history. While they're on more solid footing these days, with over 1,000 stores still open in the United States, revenue has declined every year since 2019. The company's focus today is on the B2B sector.
And how does this happen to a once-prosperous business? How does it happen that, one day, a business turns off its lights for the last time? The most recurring theme among businesses that have closed their doors to customers is this: they didn't listen to those customers.
Some of these companies, such as TWA, didn't have the benefit of social media platforms, actual real-time conversations, and social listening tools — but even for those that did, it couldn't save them.
If these companies had listened carefully to their customers, they'd have seen and been able to respond to changing market conditions and consumer tastes. Armed with that information, they could have adjusted sales and marketing strategies.
But as long as these companies remained deaf to their customers, failure was bound to happen.
HEARING THE VOICE OF YOUR CUSTOMER — ONCE UPON A TIME
There was a time that listening to customer voices wasn't easy. Technological barriers existed aplenty:
- Technology cost too much.
- Data was everywhere, in abundance.
- There was no way to gather the data.
- Most data was text-based and complicated, and it didn't sync with the technology available.
Once upon a time, just to attempt "listening" to the customer's voice was expensive, random, and messy.
But technology and the economics of technology have radically changed. Today it is both technologically and economically possible to hear the voice of the customer.
There are some critical reasons why listening to the voice of the customer is important. On an immediate basis, online sales reach around the globe, and the proceeds are immediate.
THE REACTIVE CORPORATION VERSUS THE PROACTIVE CORPORATION
"What are my customers interested in today?" is a really important, valid question to answer.
But listening to the voice of the customer over longer periods of time is also extremely important — it's how you unlock long-term trends. In a world where corporations listen to the customer, the corporation can be proactive. The best a corporation can do when they don’t listen to their customer is react. And positioning a corporation to act rather than react separates the winners from the losers.
So, at the very TOP OF THE LIST of corporate best practices should be listening to the voice of the customer. In other words, if you do nothing else, listening to the voice of your customers is a MUST if you want to remain in business and not follow in the footsteps of once-great names like TWA.
WHERE IS THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER?
So, where can you hear today's customers' voices? Unlike the late '80s, early '90s, and even a good portion of the late '90s, today you have plenty of places to listen to your customers. The internet offers Google reviews, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Yelp reviews, and more. Inside the corporate walls, you have email, surveys, social polls, and several other sources.
Most of today's businesses receive ongoing feedback from customers. This feedback can be a tweeted reply to one of your posts, a poll vote and comment, comments on your Facebook posts, and even posts on your customers' own pages in which they "tag" you. Some customers might post this feedback publicly, while others choose a more private forum, such as the direct message (DM) service on most social media apps today. No matter where your customers say what they want to say, they're hoping and waiting for you to hear them and respond.
WHAT IS THE CUSTOMER SAYING?
What do you find the customer talking about when listening? You find the customer wants to talk about every subject imaginable, such as:
The customer wants to complain, offer suggestions, and tell you what's wrong and what could be fixed.
The customer has questions about installation, assembly, longevity, packaging, and delivery.
Occasionally, you may even receive compliments on products, services, or treatment.
Remember — a satisfied customer might bashfully tell one or two friends or neighbors about how well a product or service performed. An unsatisfied customer will go out of their way to tell everyone they know — and even some people they don't.
In other words, the voice of the customer can literally talk about anything, and everything they say is important — at least if you want to stay in business.
HOW DO YOU HEAR THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER?
So how does a corporation go about hearing the voice of the customer in today’s world? The direction of this exchange often looks like this:
No matter how customers arrive at the corporate desk — either public or private — their voice typically enters the discussion in the form of text. Text has long defied the computer technician. Text does not fit comfortably or well into the classic corporate database. In order to make text fit into the corporate database, the text must be fundamentally transformed from its unstructured format into a structured format.
This fundamental transformation is done through a technology called “textual ETL.” Once transformed, text fits comfortably and naturally inside a standard database.
The process is much like the ETL, or extract, transfer, load process that takes place for any other type of data transformation in your company. Integrate.io offers lightning-fast no code/low-code ETL transformation no matter what language you're deciphering — the code between two different software programs or the many different voices of your customers.
One of the essential components of the transformation process is taxonomy. Taxonomies are just types of text classified into like types of text. When putting your text through ETL, taxonomies help your programs break down exactly what the customers' voices are saying — but that's not quite enough, is it?
Think of the many different ways someone can say the phrase "I'm happy." The words alone, well — there's pretty much just one way to understand that — but in speech, it all depends on how it was said, where it was said, when it was said, and what it was said about. Untangling all of those nuances helps you discover customer sentiment. But to arrive at any answer, the spoken text must be sent to and organized within a database for sentiment analysis.
THE VOICE OF YOUR CUSTOMER AND SENTIMENT ANALYSIS
There are multiple ways you can perform sentiment analysis.
One way you can perform sentiment analysis is by organizing the sentiment around the major subjects of the corporation. There's sentiment about products, places, people, prices, and so on.
Once you organize sentiment into its major subject areas, the actual sentiment can be classified with finer granularity. There is positive sentiment, and there is negative sentiment. There is strong positive sentiment, and there is strong negative sentiment.
And knowing the object of the sentiment is just as important as the sentiment itself. The object of the sentiment provides the context. Both the sentiment itself and its context are important for hearing and understanding the voice of your customer.
THE POSITIVE/NEGATIVE COMMENT RATIO
At this point, it's important to review how to interpret the positive-to-negative feedback ratio of comments you receive. To the uninitiated, it's really easy to misunderstand the significance of this ratio. More positive comments equal great customer satisfaction, right? No, and here's why.
Suppose a customer goes into a store and has a positive experience. That is what the customer expects. The expectations are met, and no further mention is made. But suppose a customer goes into a store and has a negative experience. That customer might complain directly to you, but also in public and private arenas.
When you analyze sentiment, you have to realize that you should expect a larger number of negative comments than positive comments. The exact ratio depends on the business and the industry. But people do not expect a negative experience. Not meeting their "positive experience" expectations is what stirs the negative comments pot.
The chart seen here shows a high degree of negative comments. This ratio is COMMON and NORMAL and should not raise alarms.
On the other hand, a very well-run business will exhibit a very different pattern ratio of positive to negative comments.
WHAT IS A PRODUCT?
Think about "product." A product of a luxury hotel is the luxury hotel room. The product at a car dealership is a new or new-to-you car. These differences of definition create a challenge when interpreting sentiment. For instance, a luxury hotel most likely has more positive customer sentiment than a car insurance company.
Each industry has its own interpretation of what product means, and each interpretation is different.
WHY ARE NEGATIVE COMMENTS IMPORTANT?
Positive and negative comments made by customers are important. Of particularly special interest are the negative comments because the negative comments tell management how you can improve the customer experience. This emphasis is true for all companies, even well-run companies where there are relatively few negative comments.
DRILLING DOWN ON THE NEGATIVE
Once the negative comments are named and classified, drill down on the negative comments by classification, such as "product." To drill down on product, an analyst chooses the product category:
When the product category is selected, the different components of that product appear. You can see some of the components of a product (this is for a hotel) include:
The hotel room
The hotel itself
The employees of the hotel
The reservation process
and every other touchpoint a customer may have contact with.
After you identify the specifics of the product, the analyst selects hotel room and then further selects the negative comments made about hotel room. In doing so, the drill down process continues.
When the analyst drills down on the negatives customers are expressing about hotel room, the analyst finds what the issues with the hotel room were. In this case, the issues with hotel room included the cleaning of the room, the view from the room, the balcony of the room, the shower in the room, and so forth.
Note that the issues get sorted in the order of the number of appearances made by the negative comment.
KNOWING HOW TO IMPROVE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: HEAR WHAT THE CUSTOMER IS SAYING
The value of listening to the voice of the customer is that management now knows EXACTLY what they have to do in order to improve the customer experience. The drill down process produces a very clear, very concise road map as to what must be done to improve the customer experience.
If there is any doubt as to what is being said, management can complete the drill down process and go all the way to the actual comment itself. The manager — if they are really interested — can go from the graphic that states that there are negative comments about the cleaning of the room to the actual comments themselves.
The example shown is for hotels. The product of a hotel is the hotel room. Of course, the analysis will be different for other industries, such as airlines, banks, insurance companies, auto manufacturers, and others. But the process you follow is the same.
SIMPLE STATEMENTS IN THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER
While sentiment is of immense value in understanding the customer, it is hardly the only thing of value in the public and private comments made by customers. In order to understand what other valuable information there is in a comment, consider a typical comment:
When you look through the comment you see that there is a combination of sentence types. There are sentences that contain a statement of sentiment. Then there are sentences that contain simple statements, that do not express a statement of sentiment:
Customers' comments can be broken into these two basic categories of sentences. In doing so the stage is set for a different kind of analysis. By examining non-sentiment sentences, the analyst can tell what's on the mind of the customer. An entirely different kind of analysis can be done on customer mindset.
This then is how you capture customer comments — both private and public — and turn the comments into an understanding of the voice of the customer. If you want to understand your customers, try a 14-day demo of Integrate.io for yourself.
CALL CENTER VS. THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER: DO YOU HEAR THE SAME THING?
An interesting question arises here — is hearing the voice of the customer the same thing as call center analysis? Or even the same thing as reviewing social posts and using emojis to gauge sentiment?
There are some very real and some very distinct differences between these types of analysis. Is call center analysis the same as the voice of the customer?
The differences between the two types of analysis are these – call center analysis depends upon voice transcription technology. Voice transcription technology is not nearly as accurate as the written word, even today with many transcription programs using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to "learn" text over time. Because of the inaccuracies, doing sentiment analysis on call center data is a very risky proposition at best (and impossible to do at worst). Instead of doing sentiment analysis using call center data or the text from social posts (even though social media is a bit closer to actually "hearing" your customers), you can do “red flag” analysis, which is less dependent on the accuracy required for sentiment analysis.
When talking, people are much more casual in their language. But when people write, they have to write in a much more structured, much more rigorous manner. Because of this difference in language, call center analysis is different from hearing the voice of the customer.
Integrate.io’s platform allows organizations to integrate, process, and prepare data for analytics on the cloud. By providing a coding and jargon-free environment, Integrate.io’s scalable platform ensures businesses can quickly and easily benefit from the opportunities offered by big data without having to invest in hardware, software, or related personnel to operate it. With Integrate.io, every company can have immediate connectivity to a variety of data stores and a rich set of out-of-the-box data transformation components. Are you ready to not just hear but really listen to the voice of your customers? After you sign up for your 14-day demo, schedule your ETL Trial Set-up Meeting so we can go over everything you can expect during your trial.
Bill Inmon, the father of the data warehouse, has authored 65 books, and was named by Computerworld as one of the ten most influential people in the history of computing. Bill’s company is Forest Rim Technology in Castle Rock, Colorado. Bill Inmon and Forest Rim Technology provide a service to companies in helping companies hear the voice of their customer. See more at www.forestrimtech.com.