Maturing Customer Relationships Continuously

The old proverb “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies well to the management of customer relationships. If business technology vendors are to be believed, managing customer relationships involves – indeed, is driven by – software. 

We have a somewhat different take on it. In our view, truly mature management of customer relationships is at its core a set of business processes that enable companies to understand and make informed decisions about their lifetime relationships with customers. One aspect of this is knowing about customer moments of truth – the individual interactions between a customer and a company that can occur at any time through any channel. A moment of truth can happen when someone sees an advertisement, buys a product, tries to use that product, calls the contact center, visits the company’s website or receives a tweet from a friend. From these, and how each is handled, the relationship between a company and a customer is formed. So the challenge of optimizing the customer relationship is in truth one of managing moments of truth.

A number of methodologies as well as applications are available to help companies improve how they handle these moments. Innovative companies have begun to use customer personas to help understand customers’ likely reactions to different events. Customer personas are constructs, built by mapping the key attributes, behaviors, motivations and goals of a company’s target customer groups. They can be used to guide the design of products and services suitable for different market segments, identify the best channels of communication and shape key marketing, sales and customer service messages.

Personas also can become the basis for customer journey maps, which are documents that visually depict the interactions with a customer segment throughout those customers’ lifetimes with a company. They provide a reference for all anticipated interactions with a company, specify which business units are involved and cover the different communication channels customers might use. By using personas and journeys as a methodology, companies can identify which interactions are working and which are not delivering the expected outcomes – from not only the company’s but also the customers’ perspectives. This in turn allows companies to pinpoint where to focus improvements.

Then there is the voice of the customer (VOC) and associated programs and processes. As is often the case with three-letter acronyms, VOC has an array of meanings. Most commonly, though, it is associated with using speech analytics to produce reports and derive analysis from call recordings. But a full VOC implementation is more than just this; it is a closed loop that analyzes all relevant customer data, especially interactions from nonvoice channels to produce a complete (“360-degree”) picture of the customer. With this in hand, a company can understand how to optimize future interactions (using personas and journey maps where applicable) and use alerts, workflow and other tools to ensure that those responsible make the required improvements. Tools to enable this can include more focused training, process changes and better use of technologies such as a smart agent desktop, natural language self-service and automated agent applications. But the key input to any VOC program is an analysis of customer feedback, which should come from all sources, including formal surveys and analysis of free-form text such as text messages and social media content.

Looking ahead we see no one answer to managing customer relationships. It is clear, though, that the traditional software-driven approach will no longer meet the needs of most companies. It is an undertaking that is in the process of evolving, and the details will vary from industry to industry and from one customer to another. To understand these details and search out maturity patterns and best practices, Ventana Research is carrying out research, and I’d like to invite you to participate and see how you are doing compared to everyone else. If you do, I’ll be happy to share with you our findings and some insights on the most direct path to maturity in maintaining excellent customer relationships. 


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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