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You Can Hear Them Now

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It’s been proven time and again: Disgruntled customers will go to the loudest platform available to express their unhappiness if a direct channel is not made available to them. And these days, that means negative publicity through tweets, blogs and more.

OpinionLab, however, aims to help companies develop that direct channel — and the solution provider’s latest offerings include multi-channel feedback, letting customers opt-in from virtually anywhere at any time.

“If you open up these channels, you will mitigate your risks on the social web,” says OpinonLab CMO Jonathan Levitt. “Today’s customer has a voice. They know that their voice can be heard — and they expect brands to be listening.”

OpinionLab is a pioneer in Voice of Customer (VOC) feedback. The company behind the familiar [+] feedback symbol, OpinionLab already offers VOC insights to nearly half the Fortune 50. But OpinionLab has begun providing mobile capabilities that allow consumers to share voice memos and instant photos with companies, as well. These developments bring brands and consumers “closer than ever before,” Levitt says.

“In my opinion, we’re getting closer and closer to the unmediated voice of the customer.”

According to OpinionLab, these photo attachments and audio recordings might be used to, say, show the state of a bathroom or commend a particularly helpful employee. Plus, audio recordings cut out the guesswork of tone and sentiment in comments that could previously only be spelled out. It’s about “talking directly to the brand” in fresh ways, Levitt says.

“The idea of customer empowerment is only increasing,” he says. “Those that aren’t listening will seriously suffer from a brand-equity perspective. Capturing VOC will become a requirement.”

Levitt mentions his own year-old daughter as a peek at the future; she already swipes at the television, expecting to interact with it as a touchscreen, he says, and growls when it doesn’t respond.

“That same pattern of expectation is permeating everything,” he says. “I remember, in the late ’90s, when I started using e-mail, you really had about 48 hours to respond. But today, the question is, ‘What do you mean you’re not answering me right now?’”

It only makes sense, then, that customers would want immediate access to the companies with which they do business. Some element of that is available through social media, Levitt says, but the difference is that one channel is closed and the other is open.

“The trick for us is in understanding how the two go together,” he says. OpinionLab also offers social media monitoring; ideally, the two are weighed against each other to see the areas in which a problem is gaining momentum — and to what degree. “It helps us make the argument that the open VOC channel should come first,” he says. “It may be self-serving, but intuitively we believe that should be the flow of communication.”

Information dissemination
There’s long been an emphasis on listening to the customer at The Container Store, and a three-year partnership with OpinionLab has helped that continue. In addition to offering that [+] feedback symbol on every page of the company website, The Container Store began offering the same to its mobile customers in April.

“Our customer has always expected a very high level of service, because that’s something we continually strive for,” says Catherine Davis, The Container Store’s direct marketing director. “We’ve always given customers the opportunity to provide feedback at our stores or at the website through a ‘contact us’ form. But on the website, the OpinionLab tool has enabled us to make a more prominent presence.

“As an organization, we’ve always put a lot of care into reading and responding to that feedback,” Davis says, “and the OpinionLab tool has made it much more convenient and a lot easier to disseminate across the organization.”

Clicking on the feedback link leads to a comment card with a rating system for the site’s content, design/layout and ease of use, in addition to questions about errors and complications while shopping and if they were satisfactorily resolved. It’s been especially helpful in continuing to improve the company’s web-based elfa design tool, as well as in understanding why consumers might use the tool on the site but still actually purchase offline.

Thanks to the feedback, The Container Store has clarified some product copy and made improvements in product photography. Daily VOC alerts go to numerous teams, and OpinionLab helps turn the feedback into real-time reports that give deeper insight into the customer experience. The Container Store also uses an online customer management solution from Tealeaf that helps determine what might have led to website errors or confusion for the customer.

The mobile element, added due to the success from site feedback, allows The Container Store not only the chance to improve its mobile site experience, but also to improve the in-store experience by offering real-time contextual insight.

Empowered by data
In a bricks-and-mortar store, with typical conversion rates of 30 percent, “most of our clients are looking to dig into that 70 percent so they can understand intent and task completion, and better cater to that 70 percent,” Levitt says. “If you want to move the needle on conversion, don’t look at the 30 percent who are converting. Instead, study the 70 percent who aren’t.”

The data can bring to the forefront issues with service or merchandise, “and then it’s really a question of the company that’s doing the measuring, and what they’re doing with the data,” he says. “Some are literally distributing it throughout the organization, all the way up to the C suite, and others sit on it, not wanting to share it with the rest of the company. It all depends on what the data says.

“But more and more, we’re seeing feedback spread throughout several departments within the company and not just owned by the customer experience team.”

In the past, VOC efforts typically were driven by upper management charged with identifying what was working — and what wasn’t. Today, however, many marketers “are becoming empowered by the data they’re collecting,” Levitt says. VOC was more about optimization, he says, but is now becoming a business intelligence tool.

The typical customer experience involves bouncing from one channel to the next, online or offline, doing research or completing transactions, “and they now want to start to connect those dots,” he says. “We’re getting a lot more requests for the ability to capture feedback as close to the proximity of event as possible. So, [if] that customer is in a store, standing in line at the cash wrap browsing on a mobile site, I want to be able to talk to that customer then and there.”