In Praise of a Multi-pronged Approach to Gathering Customer Intelligence

Mapping the full character of your customer experience landscape – from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks – doesn’t require the specialized skills of a cartographer or the steely will of an intrepid explorer. In fact working with a full toolkit, anyone can produce the kind of customer intelligence that will help their business forge a path to success.

The gold standard of customer intelligence tools, the customer experience survey takes a very direct route to information gathering. But as you may have encountered in your own interactions with brands, lengthy surveys that lack direction can quickly sour the entire experience and turn it from an exercise in democracy to an exercise in futility. And an exhausting one at that.

As in most forms of communication, brevity and conciseness in a customer experience survey are your best friends – keep the length and number of questions down to the lowest possible point at which you can still expect to receive useful data. In other words, don’t overload your surveys with long, drawn-out questions with no real focus, since they will either skew the data (producing a negative opinion where a positive one was forthcoming) or cause the individual to associate your brand’s outreach attempts with spam.

Gone fishin’ for compliments

Although many businesses continue to rely on the customer experience survey as a way to gather customer intelligence, there is worry that consumers will eventually feel bombarded and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of feedback requests. On the flipside of this coin, a direct approach shows the customer that their opinion is valued, while also keeping the information flowing. The key, then, seems to be soliciting feedback regularly enough that customers will know you care but keeping surveys short and sweet each time; for example by giving the survey a tight focus and allowing consumers to fill them out easily and quickly.

Sometimes a little incentive doesn’t hurt either. Many businesses offer free entry into prize draws simply for doing something that consumers regularly do anyways.

Customers are also most likely to provide feedback when they’ve recently interacted with a business, the experience being top (or less far down) of mind. By soliciting customer intelligence or feedback at the point of interaction, you ensure a higher likelihood of response, especially if the experience stirred a strong emotional response in them.

A deeply engaged customer base, as opposed to one that holds only a loose bond with a brand, will generally be more eager to voice opinions. Brands that arouse passion in customers and have carved out a niche for themselves also cultivate a greater sense of loyalty among those customers; suddenly, the decision whether to fill out a survey takes on a greater significance.

But in all likelihood a good number of your customers will pass on your survey request – not necessarily because they don’t care or can’t be bothered, but because time just doesn’t allow it. (Consider, too, how many other businesses make the same demands on a consumer’s time.) So view the customer experience survey as one tool of many at your disposal.

Social isn’t just good fun, it’s good business

Social media channels offer a more informal setting for the airing of opinions, and their ubiquitousness ensures that the vast majority of customers can easily join the conversation. If you’re relying solely on surveys for your customer intelligence, you’re simply not getting the full picture.

Social media platforms allow customers to chime in on their time; whenever it may be that something grabs their attention and inspires a response. In fact Target Canada recently drew a tidal wave of criticism online after the company opened the doors at a handful of its new stores, with prices that quickly took the air out of the celebratory balloons.

Taking the mystery out of the customer experience

Opening a window into the mindset of the customer, mystery shopping services provide an informative but not always rosy assessment. When combined with a thorough and focused report, this form of customer intelligence can prove invaluable, especially if you’re overseeing a series of locations and want to ensure each one is performing up to the same standard.

Mystery shopping is most closely associated with the retail industry, but these services work equally well across many other industries, including finance and hospitality. If your advertising approach has proven successful enough to attract customers, why squander that victory by offering a sub-par in-store experience?

As yet another method of gathering data, mystery shopping tells you why a customer might be turned off even after being enticed by a slick advertising campaign or irresistibly low price. Now you can better decide how to allocate your budget, whether it means pumping more into advertising, beefing up employee training or rethinking your product offering.

Talk is cheap, considering the return on investment

In the world of customer intelligence gathering, there’s little substitute for the direct and personal approach of a live-agent call centre. Speaking with an individual literally brings the customer into the conversation about your brand, letting them voice their opinion. But a call-centre service should do more than just collect data: by arranging and formatting that data in an easy-to-read manner, the service provider helps you act on that information. Automated interactive voice response, or IVR, streamlines the intelligence gathering process, while at the same time allowing customers to immediately connect with a live agent should they prefer that road.

Taken together, a customer experience survey, social media monitoring, mystery shopping and live or automated calling create a fuller picture of how consumers perceive and interact with your brand. Equally important, you get feedback that isn’t clouded by your personal bias or interpretations.

GoalLine Solutions offers a wide array of tools for mining customer intelligence, each of which can be used on its own, or together as part of a more ambitious approach. Explore GoalLine’s products and services to start gathering intelligence you can rely on.

Apr, 03, 2013