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KM past and future: It's about the customer

This article appears in the issue January 2014, [Vol 23, Issue 1]
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In January 2013, a Forbes headline announced that mobile devices and customer service would make 2013 the year of the customer. That same week, CMSWire predicted that 2013 would be the year of the customer, with big data being put to work to manage the customer experience. Within another week, Time magazine was asking whether 2013 would (finally) be the year that customer service got better, citing surveys that reported customer rage in response to problems with products or services.

Customer experience management is at the vortex of a set of forces that are driving customer engagement like never before, and KM is there to play its part as organizations strive to incorporate big data, social media, mobile technology and traditional customer relationship management into a smooth-running, customer-centric process. One particular challenge is integrating the plethora of social media sources into traditional strategies and systems. If organizations combine the right strategies with the right technology, the year of the customer may arrive (eventually) after all. 

More effective engagement

After making a strategic decision to better understand and improve customer experiences, Best Western hotels implemented Medallia, which collects and reports feedback from social media and solicited surveys. Krystal Barghelame, customer reference manager for Medallia, says, "Best Western's general managers wanted to be aware of the guest comments being made on social media and review sites like Facebook and TripAdvisor, and also engage with guests through those forums. Prior to using Medallia, managers found it difficult to obtain that information because they did not have time to review each social website." The technology also allows senior management to monitor macro trends on customer experience through summary reports.

Many companies monitor their social reputation at the brand level, but location-specific monitoring is much less common. Jon Sockell, product marketing manager at Medallia, says, "Medallia aggregates guest feedback for each hotel across dozens of sources, which allows Best Western managers to identify problem areas much more quickly." The managers can then respond in the public forum, showing that they are concerned and actively working to improve the customer experience. "Online responses from hotel management tend to have a more personal feel than brand level responses because they originate from the site of the customer's experience," Barghelame says.

Empowering frontline employees to interact with customers is a key goal for Best Western that is supported by the Medallia application. In addition to the alerts about comments, Medallia has native text analytics in its platform, which analyzes comments from websites and surveys. "It's one thing to know a satisfaction score and another to know what the driver behind that score is," Sockell says. "Our solution connects sentiment in free-form text to loyalty drivers, which allows managers to prioritize the most important issues to address." The surveys can be tailored for delivery on mobile devices, and at present, more than 25 percent of Medallia surveys are now taken on smart phones.

Medallia also integrates with call center customer relationship management (CRM) systems and business intelligence (BI) systems, among others. "This integration allows our users to see how operational metrics like first-call resolution and talk time impact customer satisfaction," Sockell adds. That comprehensive view supports better decision-making and helps guide development of strategic initiatives. 

Human-centric processes

"Many organizations forget that customer experience management is not a technology, but a set of strategies and practices," says Irina Guseva, senior analyst for Real Story Group. "While software offers automation, the efficiency really comes when strategy is in place and is working as intended."

Many business process management (BPM) applications are designed to improve the efficiency in customer processes, but they neglect to take a human-centric viewpoint. "It's not just about automating work or re-engineering to take out wasted time," says Russell Keziere, senior director of corporate marketing at Pegasystems, which offers both a BPM and CRM solution. "That's an ‘inside-out' approach, when what is needed is an ‘outside-in' approach that puts the customer experience first."

To do that most effectively, Keziere points out, big data and predictive data should be used to anticipate what the customer is most likely to need and offer it proactively on the right channel. "Agents need to know the next best action for any given customer, which will not be the same for each customer," says Keziere. "It will depend on their buying history, their preference for a particular communication channel and many other factors."

Pegasystems now supports Hadoop and can bring big data into a predictive engine to improve accuracy for tailoring offers to each customer. "We can take all the process data stored in the Pega system and combine it with other data in a predictive analytics database," explains Keziere. In the future, BPM will be ingesting data from "the internet of everything," meaning devices and sensors, to fine-tune customer needs based on an even wider variety of inputs.

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