Advice From Effective Voice Of The Customer Leaders

Every year, the Voice of the Customer (VoC) Awards process gives my fellow judges and me the opportunity to explore the inner workings of the day’s best VoC programs. I’ve already documented many of the best practices we’ve uncovered on my blog and in Forrester reports. Now I want to let you behind the curtain.

Here are the pieces of advice that this year’s nominees provided for other organizations to learn from, grouped into common themes. Straight from the horses’ mouths…

1)  Do pursue executive sponsorship:

  • When the leader of the organization is paying attention to the customer and taking time to be educated by the customer, the rest of the company notices and emulates that behavior.  – Mid-size B2C software maker
  • We believe involvement at the top executive level has been a main driver of our success so far. – Large retailer

      Don’t wait for executive sponsorship to get started:

  • Don’t wait for executive sponsorship to begin your VoC measurement and insight program. Much of your program’s success will be driven by bringing tangible proof points to the table that serve to accelerate executives’ appetite for more. – Mid-size B2B services firm
  • Start small, and create advocates to helpexcite others throughout the organization. – Large retailer
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I’m Happy To Say We’re In Good Company

When you follow the market insights industry as closely as I do, it’s easy to get submerged in the doom and gloom of our role. Of course, there are great presentations and case studies at conferences on emerging methodologies, and we have the awards ceremonies — like Esomar’s Young Researcher of the Year or the AMA 4 under 40 — that highlight the talent in our industry. But in many cases it feels a bit like an in-crowd to me — like we’re the last of the Mohicans.

But I’ve come to realize that market research is still a very interesting profession for many (young) people, who see it as a great career and put their heart and soul into it. I’ve been hiring market insights professionals for my team for close to a year now: first a senior analyst, then a junior position, and finally two consumer insights analysts (one of which is still open). And it has been a great experience!

I’ve met a lot of smart people and I’ve been impressed not only by the candidates’ passion for data and how to link it to business issues, but also with the type of projects they have been working on at their organizations and their interest in new ways of doing research. Most of these projects never get presented as case studies at conferences, and not many people are sharing this knowledge via social media (yet), but the hiring process has left me with a good feeling about the state of our industry. There are plenty of smart young people out there that love doing market research and are very good at it!

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Decoding A Complex Social Gaming Landscape

If you're a marketer looking to tap an audience of 340 million consumers (and growing strong) through social games, you may find the developer and publisher landscape a bit confusing.  Don't worry, I did too.  After my first social gaming report published, Start To Play With Social Gamers, I received a lot of questions from marketers looking to decipher the differences between leading developers and publishers.  After 2 months of in-depth research, I discovered that this provider landscape was quite confusing.  In fact, several leading developers- those with high monthly and daily average users- don't even offer opportunities for brands in-game.  Moreover, some developers throwing their hat in the ring (due to a sky-rocking industry forecast) don't even develop social games.  And there’s more!

In fact, last week an entirely new platform emerged- Google+.   With Zynga and PopCap publishing games on Google+, opportunities for marketers will continue to grow in parallel with the industry's complexity.  In my upcoming report, Interactive Marketers Guide To Social Gaming: Decoding A Complex Landscape Of Developers And Publishers," I’ll guide marketers through these muddled waters.  Stay tuned.    

Content: The Engine Of Social Media Marketing

At this point, you've most likely set up shop across the social media sphere: a branded Facebook page with multiple tabs, at least one Twitter account, a YouTube channel, a LinkedIn page and a few groups, possibly a community you host on your site, and maybe you've even tested other things like Foursquare, Tumblr, and Groupon. You're waiting to find out just what you can do with Google+. You've probably spent the last few months in what we call the "collecting" stage — using a wide variety of tactics building up your fans, followers, likers, etc. And now that you've built up your communities, you've run into one big question: Now what? If you've done things right, you essentially have an interconnected solar system of owned media in which you can engage your customers and audience over a long period of time — not just during one campaign. The value of this is similar to your email database — but much more dynamic. Because now you can use this community for market research, product development, product launches, brand awareness & support, direct marketing, and loyalty. And this community will act as your advocates, sharing relevant content and experiences with their friends. But people are fickle and unless you continue to be relevant, you won't get much of their attention.

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When A Customer Experience Ecosystem Fails

Oh, look what came in the mail yesterday: The order I tried desperately to cancel last week. But, no, UPS dropped it off, and the packing slip said nicely, “Thank you for your order! We are committed to ensure [sic] your experience exceeds your expectations.” Well, you failed.

Let me start from the beginning.

You see, I’m working on reviews for the latest “Best And Worst Of Website User Experience” report (check out last year’s report if you’re curious), and this year we’re evaluating the user experience at the top four tablet manufacturers’ sites. Instead of actually ordering brand new tablets, we are substituting an inexpensive accessory, completing the checkout process, and then immediately canceling the order so that nothing ships and no cards get charged. All went fine in canceling three of the orders, but the fourth, from a company that shall remain nameless, proved more difficult.

Here are all the steps I took to try to cancel the order:

  • I tried chat. I went to the “Help” page on the site and found listed in the contact info section a link to chat and a phone number. I initiated the chat and reached an agent, but the conversation was very slow (about 20 lines of communication in 15 minutes), the rep was hard to understand, and she couldn’t help me. She told me to call 1-800-[company].
  • I tried the website itself. I could check order status very easily on the site, but the info just told me the status (“In process”) and provided no contact information in context for order questions.
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The Widening Divide: Two Points Of View On The Value Of Sales Training

Over the past several months, I’ve had conversations with a lot of technology vendors about "overcoming sales training challenges."  While all of the people I talked to fall into the Sales Enablement function, (meaning they come from product groups, marketing groups, and sales groups and are working to support the conversations that salespeople have) only 2 of those  people were actually from within the sales training function at their company.  In other words, there seems to be a lot of concern about sales training and a lot of work going on in the name of sales training but the discussion is happening outside the sales training group!

This finding led me to ask, "Is sales training strategic or tactical?" over on LinkedIn [check out some of the answers]. Taking a step back and looking through those answers in light of the conversations I've been having, I found an interesting pattern emerging. 

 Most of the people involved in sales training initiatives have a specific view on the role, scope, and value of sales training. This view biases the ways these people approach solving these sales training challenges or leverage training for solving the sales challenges their organizations face. At a macro level, these differing views, or paradigms, can be broken down into two camps which are often in direct conflict with one another. These competing mindsets can end up pulling in opposite directions, creating a sales training stalemate with noting really being solved and lots of money being wasted. 

Here are a few examples of these different, often competing views: 

1. Regarding the Scope of Sales Training

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My Early Take On HP's PC Spinoff: A Product Strategy Driven By Post-PC Imperatives

Minutes after the Wall Street Journal reported that HP plans to spin off its PC business, I'm already getting press inquiries. There's still a lot we don't know, and I hope we'll learn more on the earnings call tonight. Based on what we know now, here's my take on what product strategists at HP are thinking:

HP's PC product strategy is squeezed by two macro-trends: The commodification of the PC market, led by Asian manufacturers like Asus, and the transition to a post-PC era, led by Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer). HP is the biggest PC manufacturer in the world, but its position will rapidly decline if it can't adjust its product strategy to combat both trends.

It makes sense that HP shareholders don’t want its low-margin PC business dragging down its high-margin enterprise services business. As for HP’s chances as a standalone PC manufacturer, it’s tough to be a PC maker in a post-PC world. HP’s competition is Apple on the high end, which has justified higher margins based on non-hardware offerings: service (Genius Bar, Apple Store reps), channel (Apple Store), and software (iTunes/App Store). On the other end, all of HP’s competitors, other than Dell, are based in Asia and have very different manufacturing and labor economics. HP has been caught up in a race to the bottom as the PC market has commodified. Now it needs either to become comfortable with commodification or to build out the elements of an ecosystem to enable true competition with Apple.

Participate In Our 2011 Social Data Survey

Do you use a listening platform? Maybe a social media monitoring tool? Or work with a social analytics vendor? All of the above? Well if you do, we need your help. Today we're kicking off the second annual report covering the many ways businesses use social media data. Our goal is to find out who uses social data, how they use it, and for which business purposes. To answer these questions, we've created a survey (available here and below) that will ask you about your experience with social listening tools.

Our survey last year created this report, and I'm eager to see how the market has changed over the last year. For example, last year we learned that most listening platform users conduct fairly basic tasks with the tool — such as brand or competitive tracking, or quick market research, as seen in the graph below. Now I want to see if, a year later, an increased percentage of companies use social data for more interactive tasks — such as sales or customer support.

This is a big annual project for us, and it's great fuel for my ongoing research, so please help us out and take this short (5-10 minute) survey on your use of social listening tools. In return, we will send you a free copy of the research — hopefully publishing in early October — with which you can benchmark your current work against the rest of the market, learn about new ways to use listening tools, and get an understanding of how to improve your social data practices.

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Give 10 Minutes, Get Free Customer Experience Data!

Are you a customer experience professional? Do you have 10 minutes to spare? Would you like some free data about the current state of customer experience?

If you answered “yes” to these three questions, please be a lamb and fill out Forrester’s Q3 2011 Customer Experience Survey.  (We’ve designed this to be super speedy for you to fill out 10 minutes at the maximum. We promise!) We’ll ask you a few questions about:

  • How people throughout your organization get involved with customer experience efforts.
  • The intersection of marketing and customer experience at your company.
  • The interaction of social media and customer experience at your company.

The info you provide will help shape several reports that we’ll be publishing over the next few months. 

The survey closes Wednesday, September 14th. After that date, we’ll analyze the data and send you the aggregate responses to each question — even if you’re not a Forrester client.

So give some, and get some! And thanks in advance for helping fuel our research.

(By the way, this survey is for customer experience professionals who are working to improve customer interactions with their own companies. Agency folks, tech vendors, and consultants: We’ll hit you up another time.)

What Signal Does The Google-Motorola Marriage Send To Product Strategists?

It’s a couple of days after Google announced its intentions to jump headfirst into the hardware business. By now everyone — including my colleagues Charles Golvin and John McCarthy — have expressed their thoughts about what this means for Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and all of the Android-based smartphone manufacturers. This is not another one of those blog posts.

What I really want to highlight is something more profound, and more relevant to all of you out there who might classify your day job as “product strategy.” To you, the Google/Moto deal is just one signal — however faint — coming through the static noise of today’s M&As, IPOs, and new product launches. But if you tune in and listen carefully, two things become crystal clear:

  • The lines between entire industries are blurring. Google — and some of the other firms I mentioned above — are just high profile examples of companies that are diversifying their product portfolio, and the very industries in which they play. There are several instances of this over the past "digital decade." What's different now is the increased frequency of the occurrences.
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