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Panel: Customer experience analytics points to process problems

Analyzing feedback on customer experiences can help companies ensure they treat customers like royalty, said participants in a panel discussion.

Nowadays, customers who aren't treated like royalty might take their business elsewhere -- and then use social networks and other online forums to let everyone else know about it. To try to avoid lost sales and the public floggings that often follow, companies such as Northeast Utilities and Stage Stores Inc. are investing in customer experience analytics initiatives aimed at ensuring their customer service processes are fit for a king.

For example, Northeast Utilities is mining social media data and other information about customer interactions to identify issues with its processes that need to be addressed, said Penni McLean-Conner, senior vice president and chief customer officer at the Hartford, Conn.-based electricity and natural gas provider. Customer feedback "is a very powerful thing," McLean-Conner said during a panel discussion on customer experience management trends at the Oracle Industry Connect conference in Boston last week. And technology that lets organizations harness all the available feedback is a "game changer," she added.

The utility holding company still has a lot of work to do to get to where it wants to be, though: "Our customers are way ahead of us in their expectations of what we can do [on customer service]," McLean-Conner said, noting that people "don't want to be in the dark -- literally or figuratively." To give itself a boost, Northeast Utilities is deploying a customer experience management platform that will help executives and other business users pull together and analyze a mix of structured and unstructured data. "I want that platform right now," she said.

Stage Stores, a Houston-based retailer that operates about 850 stores in 40 states, has put a big emphasis on tracking customer satisfaction rates and other customer experience metrics. Tying those metrics to the performance goals of corporate executives and store managers spiked an increased focus on improving the shopping and service experiences that customers have, said Steven Hunter, executive vice president and chief information officer at the company.

Eyes on the customer experience prize

"Before that took place, nobody really had their eye on the customer," Hunter said as part of the panel discussion. Now, Stage can instantly catalog in-store customer complaints via a just-deployed mobile app, do a quick assessment, and decide how to respond. The company can also use analytics to divide customers into higher- and lower-value segments and identify on-the-fence shoppers in order to help better target its marketing outreach efforts.

But the "fire hose of customer feedback" initially was hard to cope with, Hunter said. To take advantage of all that data, Stage had to devote time to figuring out how to prioritize the available information and the types of customer analytics that could be run against it. "That's when we really moved the ball on this," he said.

Group Health Cooperative, a non-profit health care services provider based in Seattle, is facing similar data management issues as it moves to implement more automated customer experience analytics capabilities.

The health system is looking to capture and analyze social media posts, customer satisfaction surveys, and other forms of customer data, said panelist Gwen O'Keefe, vice president of analytics and chief medical informatics officer at Group Health. "But we're trying to figure out how we merge all of that," she said. "Right now, it's pulled together manually. We need get much more sophisticated."

Taking the medicine on customer sentiment

Another challenge for O'Keefe and her team is getting everyone in the organization to buy into the idea of focusing on customer experience issues in a health care environment. Patients expect high-quality care, she said -- "it's the experience that really counts in how they view us." For many medical professionals, though, that's a counterintuitive concept. "At least in my organization, it's an eye-opening experience for clinicians to realize that you have to look at it from the customer's point of view," O'Keefe said.

Delivering a consistent customer experience is a top competitive priority at Two Degrees Mobile Ltd., which operates a mobile network in New Zealand. Chief Information Officer Chris Hall, also a member of the panel, said that about 30% of the company's operational spending is targeted at customer experience management initiatives governed by a cross-functional group.

Two Degrees is still finding its feet on social media analytics: Hall said it has "work to do and investments to make" in order to take its tracking of customer comments on social networks from the anecdotal to the analytical. But mining that information and other available data on what customers think of the company is a must, he added. "To me," Hall said, "every piece of feedback is a gift."  

Craig Stedman is executive editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at, and follow us on Twitter: @BizAnalyticsTT.

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