Digital Darwinism and Customer Feedback

We’re living in an age of massive change.

The word “recession” has gone from describing a quarter over quarter decline in GDP to describing the “new normal” ongoing economic outlook.

At the same time, a group of new technologies has gone from novelty to pervasive in the blink of an eye. It was only a few years ago that the original blue Blackberries were the symbol of being a high powered executive. Today everyone from teenagers to seniors are lining up to get their hands on the latest iPhone or Android devices. How everyday people are using these devices to connect and communicate has also gone through a massive change. Facebook has in just a few years gone from a novelty for college kids, to a Hollywood blockbuster, and has now amassed a user base exceeding 1 billion people.

These trends have left many brands reeling.

In fact, the past few years has even seen the demise of some of the most storied brands in business. Changing consumer sentiment and a challenging economy has in some cases caused core customer bases to drift away.

A term that’s emerged to describe this phenomenon is “digital Darwinism”; an age where technology and society have been evolving too quickly for some brands to adapt. The list of casualties is an impressive one. Borders, Blockbuster, Polaroid, Kodak, HMV and others have been unable to keep pace with rapidly changing consumer behaviors and expectations.

An argument could be made that the inability to keep up with drifting customer needs could have been avoided with an increased focus on keeping current with customer sentiment. Dealing with that particular challenge has always been the core objective of any customer feedback program.

However, customer feedback programs themselves must evolve also.

Lead the conversation…

Surveys will always be a key touch point for soliciting feedback from customers.

When it comes to surveys, the feedback you get from customers is only ever as valuable as the questions you ask them. The challenge with gathering the right kinds of data and insights from customer feedback is asking the right questions in the first place. Subtle changes in wording and structure can have a big impact, especially when it comes to driving the focused actions and behaviors that lead to a great customer experience. Often this requires going beyond generic functional questions to more nuanced emotional questions that seek to differentiate the experience from competitors.

Pointed questions can get to the heart of what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. These types of questions provide specific, structured feedback that provides brands and locations with valuable analytical insight into customer feedback. This pool of structured feedback can be applied against various algorithms to produce a wide variety of specific performance scores. This scoring can act as a baseline to measure past success and forward-looking performance targets.

Follow the buzz…

Customers themselves have driven the growth of a new channel of feedback as well.

In contrast to the structured data provided by customer surveys, unstructured text comments can provide a qualitative view into customer sentiment. On the surface, these qualitative comments may appear more difficult to decipher than structured scored data but by applying appropriate analytical tools, these customer comments may uncover upcoming or unseen trends before the structured feedback. In addition, these customer comments can serve to validate scored data by providing additional qualitative insight.

Understanding these comments takes more than just reading through them one by one.  Natural language processing tools help to decipher what is happening across the full spectrum of feedback by categorizing and analyzing what topics are being discussed, which topics are most positive or negative and what co-occurring topics are being mentioned together.

Keeping pace with your customer’s needs should be a fundamental of business. It’s been said that any business that defines itself by product rather than by customer benefit has a limited lifespan. However, acting on that objective becomes harder and harder every day. A well executed and thought out customer experience management program could be the missing link in achieving that objective.

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