Technology Engages Frontline Employees to Create Customers Through Better Experiences

Editor's Note: For more information about Medallia’s CEM services and platform, visit

A decade ago, there were fewer options for collecting quantitative customer feedback on products and services. The typical approach could be described as a satisfaction and loyalty study – lengthy surveys, administered by phone or in person, compiled and compared across time. Thick reports and PowerPoint decks followed months after the completion of surveys to tell companies how their customers perceived their products and services. These reports were built for a corporate audience, with market research departments responsible for distilling insights and then communicating findings to the frontline operations.

Today, Customer Experience Management (CEM) technology is providing companies a deeper level of customer focus – and enabling differentiated customer experiences. E-mail surveys and Web intercepts capture comments in real time. Companies scrape feedback from social media posts and online reviews, and many attempt near-instant follow-up with customers. Technology is no longer an inhibitor to collecting customer feedback; it is an enabler. Organizations that rely exclusively on traditional market research approaches to collect and interpret customer feedback risk losing ground to competitors with more nimble technology-based solutions.

The Traditional Customer Feedback Continuum

Traditional customer satisfaction and loyalty studies rely on a time-tested market research approach to evaluating customer attitudes and purchase behaviors. Deep qualitative work often takes place at the front end; one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and ethnography help identify trends and insights. This feeds customer market analyses (for both products and services) that are measured and monitored by ongoing tracking studies. These studies may uncover ideas, opportunities, and new markets to be further explored with deep qualitative work. The cycle continues. This is the traditional market research approach for diagnosing and quantifying customer loyalty, consumer insights, and market intelligence.

Traditional customer satisfaction and loyalty studies rely on a time-tested market research approach to evaluating customer attitudes and purchase behaviors. Deep qualitative work often takes place at the front end; one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and ethnography help identify trends and insights. This feeds customer market analyses (for both products and services) that are measured and monitored by ongoing tracking studies. These studies may uncover ideas, opportunities, and new markets to be further explored with deep qualitative work. The cycle continues. This is the traditional market research approach for diagnosing and quantifying customer loyalty, consumer insights, and market intelligence.

Enter Customer Experience Management Technology

1. Voice of EVERY Customer

A market research study surveys only a sample of your customer population – a drawback that’s simply a function of the time and data storage cost of reaching an incremental customer. When using feedback technology, though, the marginal cost of sending a survey to one more e-mail address or mobile number is essentially zero. You can take a census-style approach and ask each and every customer for feedback.

Just as important is how this feedback is presented. A market research report is a static summary of feedback. For example, "37% of customers were satisfied with salesperson assistance." It’s anonymous and masks the true voice of the customer.

Feedback technology is a "live" compilation of each individual survey response. You can see average scores, but you can also drill in to see that some customer types are very satisfied, while others are very dissatisfied. Or that satisfaction level changes according to time of day, day of the week, or sales associate. Your employees can easily access individual customer comments in real time, which makes feedback far more relevant and actionable.

2. Closed–Loop Feedback

In addition to making feedback more real, technology also makes it actionable. First, the best feedback technology delivers data in real time. That means you receive a customer survey the moment it’s completed, not months after the fact. That puts you in a position for a timely response with the potential to delight a customer.

Second, the right feedback technology will make it easy to identify customers for follow-up. Leading solutions will send you an alert based on your defined criteria. You might want to be alerted to satisfied customers you can use for word-of-mouth marketing. You almost certainly want to be alerted to dissatisfied customers, so you can quickly connect with them and try to recover their business.

3. Enterprise–Wide Deployment

The concept implicit in closed-loop feedback is that the operations team and the frontline are usually accountable for the customer experience. That’s what feedback technology does – it puts data in the hands of the employees with greatest ability to improve the customer experience.

Engaging frontline managers with customer feedback can provoke some anxiety for any organization used to a more centrally controlled dissemination of information. But the reality is that enterprise-wide dissemination and customer-specific follow-up are not core competencies of the central market research team. Using technology to make feedback directly available to the frontline frees up market researcher time and energy to be spent on strategic analysis – deep dives into the data to identify multi-year trends, competitive issues, or strategic opportunities.

Alleviate any remaining anxiety with role-specific reporting. You don’t have to expose the frontline to every feedback report – feedback technology can limit access to only the data employees need to do their best work. That usually means a custom dashboard for the frontline, with a handful of key performance metrics and open customer alerts that need to be closed. Certain cultures can augment this with a ranking of properties or personnel on a few criteria to identify both top performers and those who need more coaching.

Over time, putting feedback in the hands of your frontline tightens the connection between your employees and your customers. Your employees become much more familiar with common customer issues, and are better able to diagnose and address the root causes of problems.

4. Text Analytics

Feedback technology also harnesses raw computing power and accuracy. The best example of this is text analytics. Many surveys include open-text questions (e.g., "What other comments do you have regarding your recent purchase?"). Historically, interpreting open-text questions has posed a huge challenge. It requires manually categorizing every response into one of a number of predefined themes. This is resource intensive and human-error-prone.

Enter text analytics. Now, feedback technology can apply logic to open-text questions. The technology can count every instance of a word and note its sentiment – positive or negative. Through Natural Language Processing, the technology segments groups of words or even topics to summarize patterns in customer responses. Drill into an individual topic to understand where in your organization (specific units, departments, regions, etc.) teams are excelling or falling short. Define specific rules that fire alerts to your frontline based on individual words or groups of words, so that they can follow up with dissatisfied customers.

The technology is automated and instantaneous; users need not wait for manual coding. The result is that you can cover far more ground and uncover richer insight from open-text feedback. And this is text analytics in its early stages. The technology will only become more sophisticated and better integrated with other feedback forms over time.

5. Action Planning

A recurring theme here is the ability of feedback technology to drive action. We’ve discussed how technology helps the frontline close the loop with customers. It can also drive other high-value actions.

First is coaching. Because you are capturing the voice of EVERY customer, you have more data, and that data can be connected to individual stores, departments, managers, or employees. This allows you to rank any of these groups against peers on key criteria; it provides full visibility of relatively strong and weak performers. The strongest cultures use this information to identify best practices for sharing, and to offer more targeted coaching and support to individuals who need it.

Second is planning. Advanced feedback technology includes ROI analytics that can tell you how improvement on a single dimension can affect overall customer satisfaction. You can immediately see that decreasing customer wait time is more important than salesperson friendliness (so, staff up). Your organization can prioritize the behaviors that drive the greatest impact, set goals, and then track progress daily from within the platform. This is the kind of precision that keeps thought leaders focused.

The bottom line is that where traditional research studies used to plod along with standard reports of marginal utility to the frontline, today’s feedback technology is interactive and operates in real time; you can see and interpret a survey literally minutes after the customer completes it. This helps you see trends right away, follow up with customers immediately if needed, and monitor your customer experience on a daily or hourly, not quarterly or monthly, basis. It allows your organization to have a much deeper engagement with your customers.

Two More Things: Social and Mobile

There’s an elephant in the room. Well, two elephants: social media and mobile phones. Traditional quantitative trackers are not set up to manage feedback across social and mobile, and that is increasingly where conversations are taking place.

Facebook has almost one billion users, and Twitter has 300 million accounts. The number of reviews on Yelp has increased by a factor of 20 over the past four years. It is an unmediated conversation, and companies are scrambling to participate.

Mobile penetration is of equal significance. Three billion people communicate by text message every day, sending an average of 2.6 texts each. And smartphone penetration is exploding, most rapidly in emerging markets. A mobile device represents an opportunity to communicate with a customer while he or she experiences your product or service. You can see when customers check in at a location, track their behavior, issue rapid-fire surveys on the fly, and change their experience in the moment. Mobile presents new opportunities to surprise and delight customers.

If you want to continue to know what your customers think and how they feel about your products and services, you must be managing social and mobile feedback channels. If you rely on traditional quantitative research, your "sample" will become less and less relevant over time, and the value of your feedback will show diminishing returns.

Partnering with an CEM technology thought leader is one channel for monitoring and even moderating conversations on social and mobile. At a minimum, you can listen to the voice of your customers in less structured forums. Even better, your platform will integrate social feedback with surveys for a complete picture of your customer. It will also put tools at your disposal to close the loop through email, mobile, or social channels.

The Strategic Role of Market Research

Feedback technology repositions the role of market research in the organization. First, by putting feedback directly into the hands of the frontline, technology removes market research as the middleman. That flat-out eliminates the massive burden of summarizing feedback, selectively reporting excerpts to the frontline, and then dealing with questions or rebuttals.

This creates more time for market research to do what it does best: dive into data to spot high-impact trends, identify and share best practices, and define market opportunities. Market research gains more bandwidth to offer higher-value strategic recommendations. And feedback technology empowers this in a different way than traditional studies do. With a satisfaction and loyalty study, if you want to see a different pivot of the data, or cross-tabulate one metric with another, you’re often at the mercy of your research agency. It controls the raw data, so you file a request for new views and wait. Not with real-time technology. The best solutions are self-service, putting filters at your fingertips so you can build a new pivot, cross-tabulate metrics, and slice and dice on the fly.

CEM technology makes for a more nimble research process. When a qualitative focus group or interview produces a new insight, you can immediately append a few questions to your ongoing customer surveys. For example, your market research team might have an idea for a new product feature. You can ask customers for feedback right away, and within hours or days know whether the feature has value. Or, when you run a price promotion, you can ask your customers whether the promotion affected their satisfaction or amount of spend. You can collect instant feedback on the efficacy of your promotion. You don’t need to wait for the next tracker revision window to roll around. This fundamentally shifts your approach to improvements from quarterly leaps to continuous, iterative steps. Our experience tells us that this produces significant improvements in the customer experience and in the bottom line.

Conclusion: Feedback Technology is a Replacement and a Complement

CEM technology provides the market research department with far greater control of customer feedback and influence over the customer experience. Technology makes it possible to listen to and act on the voice of every customer, not a subset. It also helps you monitor and interact with channels that are growing in activity: social and mobile.

In addition, CEM technology is a better complement to your qualitative research activities than a traditional satisfaction and loyalty study. When you generate a new idea or insight, you can collect feedback immediately, not at the next cycle. You are no longer at the mercy of an agency to make changes or to dive into data; you can slice and dice to validate hypotheses, spot trends, and identify best practices.

Feedback technology removes market research as an intermediary between a research agency and the front office, or between a research agency and the frontline. It positions customer feedback as central to the organization’s business performance, and the market research team as integral in setting the right strategic direction.

One of our retail customers has an extensive loyalty program. It helps create a sense of community among the company’s most loyal customers, who have substantially greater lifetime value than regular customers. Their satisfaction is critical; that’s why this retailer asks store managers to close the loop with every single loyalty cardholder who submits a survey response. If they were satisfied, they are thanked for their business and invited to an upcoming workshop. If they were dissatisfied, the store manager is empowered to make it right and recover their business. In the first six months of 2011, the retailer closed the loop with more than 100,000 of its most loyal customers. This has translated into a 9% year-over-year increase in revenue from this segment, and a huge spike in social media recommendations. The bottom line is that real-time feedback technology allows you to close the loop in a way that delivers measurable results. 

One of our customers had run a paper-based customer survey for a number of years. The company asked three open ended questions and received hundreds of thousands of responses each year. A team of 14 full-time employees was dedicated to reading and manually categorizing every open-text response. This team was able to read only 5% of total comments each year, and did not have the capacity to respond to a single one. Today, the organization uses text analytics to code and categorize 100% of its open text responses. Employees respond to every dissatisfied customer, and the firm has used the insights from this more complete analysis to produce a complete redesign of its employee training program.

For more information about Medallia’s CEM services and platform, visit