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Posts tagged with ‘Customer reviews’

3 Steps for Improving the Value of Voice of Customers

Every company collects customer feedback in one form or another. It is the ability to HEAR what their customers SAY that separates successful companies from “also run”s. Below are 3 steps that can help your company to improve its hearing:

  1. VOC value 1Stop manipulating it


The availability of inexpensive survey tools, that allow you to produce and send your questions to thousands of email addresses, does not translate into valuable knowledge of how your customers experience doing business with your company. The type of questions you ask, inevitably influence the type of answers you receive. Implement ation of a shiny new “customer engagement” software, does not translate into meaningful insights for improving your products and services. People’s motivations for choosing to engage and conditions of their engagement, inevitably corrupt a value of their input.

“Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive.” Criss Jami

Just because you have no intent to manipulate Voice of Customer does not mean your efforts produce trustworthy results. Focus on listening to what customers have to say on their own accord and without any guidance.

“It’s not at all hard to understand a person; it’s only hard to listen without bias.” Criss Jami 


2.  Stop being an order taker


It became fashionable to quote Henry Ford and Steve Jobs in arguing that VoC is not a source of innovation. I am not sure there is an VOC valueargument to be made – if customers were able to produce Market Requirements Documents, who would need innovators? It only means that if you expect customer feedback to spell out MRD for you, perhaps innovation is not your calling. The VoC is one of the best sources for learning the problems customers trying to resolve by “hiring” products available to them. Understanding of their problems and empathy with their experience, inspire true innovators to “translate” customer feedback into breakthrough products and services.

“The aim of selling is to satisfy a customer need; the aim of marketing is to figure out his need.” P. Kotler


  1.  Stop using selective hearing


Just because you pretend that VoC is limited to the customers who answer your questions, Word of Mouth does not stop influencing the rise or fall of your product’s fortunes. You can hide your head in the sand, but that will likely accelerate the distraction of your brand reputation. According to Jeff Besos, who knows a thing or two about customer-centricity:

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

You are more likely to learn from Word of Mouth analysis what really is important to your customers and why they buy your product, than from their responses to your survey.

Social Media Research of Customer Experience is a Smart Marketing investment

Dudley squatListening to customers through social media channels, is a well established practice for support of  Customer Service and PR business processes. Marketing organizations are less known for their successful attempts to use social media to engage customers. Many of these attempts were widely publicized as clumsy, some even caused an adverse reaction. This underscores how far marketing has parted from its original purpose – ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’ From that perspective, Customer Experience Management discipline belongs under the Marketing umbrella. Brands, that enjoy well above average growth and profitability, understand that customers don’t buy products or services – they buy experiences.

Marketing investments in social media can produce much better returns when they are focused on customer experience research. Instead, marketers try to use this technology in advertising mode, like traditional media channels. Below are just a few reasons that make Social Media Research of customer experience a better investment than traditional marketing research:

  1. Survey participants’ opinions are less valuable than the opinions of online customer reviews. Only personnel that conduct surveys are impacted by the participants’ opinions. In contrast, a very large number of prospective customers are directly influenced by a product’s online reviews. Shoppers, who are aggressively searching for social media recommendations, would not make a purchasing decision without reading the stories of customer experiences. The content of these stories is inherently more valuable for product marketing than satisfaction scores.


  1. The volume of a product’s customer reviews, and other social media mentions, is often substantially larger than a sample size of even a professionally conducted survey. This translates into better Confidence Interval/Margin of Error rates.


  1. A survey will tell you that your customers are really satisfied with their purchase and would likely recommend your brand to their friends, family members or colleagues. Whether they will or will not do it is shrouded in mystery. In contrast, over 64% of online review writers, share their recommendations with members of their social circles via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Actions speak much louder than words. Particularly when it comes to predicting consumer behavior.


  1.  Social Media Research allows one to easily benchmark customer experience metrics against competitive products. Such intelligence is very valuable for product management and planning professionals who commonly straggle to predict future demand, looking at 3 months old and static numbers instead of up to date trends.


In the words of Brian Solis, the author of “WTF-What’s the Future of Business” – The future of branding is experience architecture.

Message to CX profession – Transparency begets trust

I get requests to complete surveys quite often. They come from my bank, after in branch transactions, websites I visited, customer service of my credit cards and cable providers. caged bird tweetsThey all want to know how I would score whatever is important to them, and leave a little space for my comments. Some of these surveys are just 2 or 3 questions long, but others expect me to answer pages of seemingly repetitive and circular questions.

I have never seen a survey request that explains coherently why my opinion is so important to them. In other words, they never indicate what is going to happen after I have completed the survey, carefully answered all the questions, and provided very detailed comments. Presumably, if the tabulated scores are high enough, whoever created or sponsored these surveys, will high five each other and cash their bonuses. But what about my needs? Would my contribution help anybody to make a better selection? How would I know if my responses contributed to a better product or service? Sometimes a company proudly advertises their customer satisfaction success, but I wonder if  their claims can be taken seriously because there is no way for a consumer to validate them. For these reasons I stopped answering survey requests a long time ago.

Amazon is considered by many, the poster child of customer centricity. I have done business with Amazon for over 10 years and made hundreds of various purchases over that time. I cannot recall a single survey request from them, ever. Could it be, customer-centric Amazon does not care about the customer experience they provide? I think they don’t survey their customers because they understand the power of authenticity that is growing fast with the advance of social consumer. Amazon understood that consumers will never trust a brand more then they trust each other. A long time ago, instead of collecting self-serving survey ratings, they decided to enable their customers to share their experiences with each other in an open forum. Yes, over the years there were incidents of manipulation attempts. Yes, the Liekert stars are not particularly informative. However, overall the customer reviews are extremely valuable to consumers who learned how use the reviews to reduce the uncertainty of their purchasing decisions.

“Amazon does not make money selling goods. Amazon makes money helping customers make good purchasing decisions.”

According to Keller Fay Group research, two primary reasons customers write reviews and publish them online are:

  1. (90%) Help other consumers to make the right choice for them – kind of: “pay it forward”
  2. (70%) Help brands to improve their performance. Consumers rely on the transparency of their input to motivate brands to act

I can only guess that since Amazon does not survey their customers, they probably use the content of reviews, posted on their properties, to measure the level of customer satisfaction of doing business with them. There are plenty of very informative references in many product reviews that indicate how customers regard their experience with Amazon. Explosive and continuous growth of this company is also a pretty good indicator of the consumers’ affinity.

So why do so many companies still shy away from exploring the content, provided by their customers without solicitation? The answers I’ve been given by Voice of Customer practitioners over the years have a common thread:

  • Lack of control over the process
  • Doubts in authenticity of reviews
  • Fear of negative sentiments

In other words, it seems these companies do not trust consumers, who provide their feedback transparently. Yet, these very companies expect consumers to trust them with their feedback without any transparency at all. How reasonable is such expectation?

Short update on the experience of smartphone customers

Some long time readers of our blog will remember extensive posts dedicated to market intelligence of customer experience with smartphones. Smartphone customers are one the most active social communities. That means they often share their rich and plentiful factual experiences with phones they buy, for the benefit of consumers at large. We, at Amplified Analytics, are very grateful to this and other active communities both as consumers and as opinion mining technologists. Their content contributions enabled us to train and optimize our software over the years. As our technology became more mature and stable, we shifted the subjects of our posts from what kind of social marketing intelligence can be mined to how such intelligence can be leveraged to achieve better business results. However, some of our readers keep asking for updates about the smartphone market changes, and this post is a very brief snapshot of flagship models experience only.

For this update we have mined reviews published by 12,062 customers and measured 40,249 distinct opinions about a variety of specific attributes of their experience. Reliability is the most “important” attribute of customer experience for smartphone users.

Smartphone CX-Reliability


According to these customers, Samsung Galaxy S5 is 20% more reliable than the average phone of this group. Nokia Lumia 1020 is the least reliable of this group. These numbers are the aggregate measurements from the time these phones became available to consumers.

Overall Usability is the second most important attribute of CX for these smartphone customers. Apple iPhone 5S is at the top of the “class”.

Smartphone CX Usability













Since I promised to keep it short, I will stop with the details here and offer a combined picture in the screen shot below.

Smartphone flagship MI update

Click  here to request access to this interactive dashboard, including insights into customer experience with these phones. If you are a consumer, interested in other models, please follow this link to the CX backed recommendation site. If you are a marketer, interested in customer experience market intelligence related to your products or brands, please request info about custom reports and pricing.



Why Brands Often Fail at the Zero Moment of Truth

Digital DarwinismGoogle introduced this term to describe the impact of online information, i.e. social media reputation, on the intent of a potential customer to engage with a brand. According to the research that influence, and consumer dependence on it,  are growing very fast from year to year. Consumers checked 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011. This is a dramatic increase from the 5.3 sources

This more recent study found that positive consumer reviews increase both intent to purchase, and product value, by about 7%.  An online share (customer review, Facebook share or tweet) has a value of between $0.33 for a brand or store recommended by a stranger, and $1.33 for brands recommended by friends or family.

ZMOT Influence

Online content sharing and recommendations now hold more sway over consumers’ buying decisions than brand, or even price.

Given the importance of the Zero Moment of Truth:

  1. Why is it so difficult for consumers to find a reasonable number of customer reviews for a specific product? Attention spans are very short and if consumers can’t easily satisfy their thirst for information within seconds, the opportunity to impact their selection is gone.
  2. Why is there an information gap?  Consumers are looking for factual information, but marketers insist on engaging them with the company’s message (fluff). At the Zero Moment of Truth the fluff repels potential buyers.
  3. Why is it so difficult for marketers to understand the ZMOT is a by-product of a customer experience?  The recommendations, referrals and other forms of social proof cannot exist without delivery of superior customer experience. The kind of experience that inspire customers to share with others. The term UMOT = Ultimate Moment of Truth holds the key to success:

It’s what happens after the buyer experiences…

  • your business (including you and your staff),
  • your sales and after-sales processes,
  • your product or service,
  • your customer service and support,
  • your guarantee or warranty claims, etc.


For decades marketers were in control of the customer journey because they could out-shout the voices of consumers with big advertising budgets. The advent of social media changed that by arming customers with a much larger “soap box” to share their stories, and advertising budgets don’t buy as much influence as they used to. Unless you think this is just a fad, it is the time to let consumers “teach”­  you what is important to them. Fortunately, they are willing to do so, and the marketers who have learned to subjugate their ego to the reality of the markets, consistently experience remarkable successes.

Those marketers, who keep treating consumers as “marks”, are not likely to survive the onslaught of Digital Darwinism.



Market Segmentation and the Myth of Demographics

Market SegmentationDo you really believe that all 24-36 year old men buy your product for the same reason? If you do, I have a slightly used bridge at a very attractive price for you.

Demographic segmentation strategy is based on the assumption that a specific group – based on age, gender, etc. – is the primary consumer of your product or service. Regardless of the validity of this assumption, it does not often provide insight on why this demographic segment selects the product in question or how they use it. For that reason segmenting a market by demographics has very limited utility. It has become so popular only because no better intelligence about customers was available at the time it was introduced.

Today, a much better approach to market segmentation is available. Grouping potential customers according to the expectations they would have from a proposed product is much more useful. This outside-in approach is similar to the “persona” concept often used by product managers, but uses actual market intelligence instead of imaginary characters.

The first step is identification of “the job-to-be-done” by the proposed product to be “hired” by the customers.

The second step is identification of the products/services the customers use today to do that “job”. This list will likely include products/services that you would not normally consider your competition, but customers may.

The third step is aggregation and analysis of a statistically representative set of “stories” describing the experience of customers who have used currently marketed products/services to do that job. I use the word “stories” deliberately to describe unsolicited and unstructured descriptions of the experiences in the customer’s own words. Any use of survey or focus group methods will “color” the output with a 3rd party bias. The best content is customer biased only.

The result will expose the attributes of the experience that are most important from the customers’ perspective. It will also provide an assessment of how well each attribute met the expectations of these customers. Focus on the attributes with low scores may provide important insight for designing a product that is very likely to take this market segment by storm.

Click here to request a copy of the Mining Social Media to Boost Segmentation paper published by QUIRK’S Marketing Research Review.

If demographic data is pertinent for your product, you can compile it’s distribution by an attribute to improve your chances for success even further. As the GPS
technology taught us: The multiplicity of signal sources results in better decision quality.

Experience of Customers Helps to Forge Shoppers’ Expectations

I thought you would be tallerIf you believe, like I do, that happiness is about expectations management, customer reviews are your best bet for selecting your next car, smartphone or restaurant because they will likely deliver an experience you expect.

“The big advantage of a major brand over a small competitor is a residual expectation in a consumer mind of reduced probability to be disappointed. When quality is hard to predict a brand serves as a proxy to likelihood of good experience. The detailed and product specific experiences, shared by actual customers, help to decide if this product is for you. Surely, this information is not perfect, but if it is in statistically representative volume, it the best way to shrink the gap between your expectations and your experience.”

Skeptics often cite that reviews from customers, who may not be like you, make the usefulness of these reviews highly questionable because people have very different attitudes and product adoption skills. While this is undisputable, the large number of reviews and filtering options available allow for a reasonably easy match between a shopper and the customer profiles. The personality and attitudes of a customer shine through the language of the reviews and help a shopper to “try on” an experience of people like her. The absence of a “story” is one of the key reasons why ecommerce sites that substitute actual reviews with score cards experience lower traffic and visit-to-purchase conversion rates than their competitors who publish complete reviews.

Most of content generated by customers is fact based. There is no sugar coating or attempts to manipulate your emotions. The language of reviews tend to be more specific, more matter-of-fact and focused on the personal experience the writer had with a product in question. Warm and fuzzy is much less effective when it faces meaningful competition from more “rational” sources.

The language also betrays fakers and dumb marketers who sometimes try to manipulate the market. Faking reviews effectively is not as easy as people may think. The language used, vague description of details and lack of personal experience knowledge are easily noticed not only by an attentive reader, but even by algorithmic filters that consistently give them low confidence score. In addition, it is impossible to tip the scale with an occasional fake review, and a sufficient volume of them can be easily spotted and tracked to the source. The financial penalties imposed by FTC for publishing fake reviews have run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that fades compared with damage to the reputation of the company that commission such activities.

It is surprising how few marketers consider customer reviews to be a valuable source for marketing intelligence because they cannot control and/or manipulate it. Instead they prefer to rely on “big data” acquired without customers’ consent and often against their wishes. Those marketers who do hear what real customers want to tell them quickly discover what specifically make one product more valuable than the alternatives to their best customers and prospects. Actual use of this intelligence to support their product marketing processes helps them consistently outsell their competitors by a wide margin without price discounting.

You cannot eliminate an uncertainty, but experiential information provided by customers helps to resolve it much faster and much more specifically than any brand advertising or company centered survey.







True Value of Social Customer Experience to Future of Brands

Consumers are becoming more connected and social about their customer experiences. The number of customer reviews sites and volume of the content published on these sites grow exponentially. More tools are being developed and adopted to make this experiential information easily available to shoppers. More shoppers find this information more trustworthy and valuable to their purchase selection process than marketing collateral and advertising.

So what are brands doing about it?

A few brands, like martial arts masters, learn how to leverage this momentum to come out even stronger. They use this content to learn what is really important to customers about their experience, and how that experience differs from those who purchased competing products. These brands employ the newly found intelligence to improve their customers’ experience, and the customers reciprocate by sharing it with connected consumers, making the brands’ product an easier choice for shoppers.

Some brands are trying to use these new channels of communications to insert themselves into the consumers conversations with selling messages, calling it social media marketing engagement. These brands seem to be less interested in their customers’ unsolicited opinions than in opportunities to ping them with offers to resolve a problem or sell something.

Yesterday I tweeted a link to a magazine article speculating about Comcast’s hidden reasons for acquiring Time-Warner.

Comcast tweet





That inspired a Comcast competitor’s social media “expert” to tweet to me an “offer” to switch to their service.

DirectTV tweet





How awkward is this? I did not tweet about my experience, negative or positive. I was their customer before. Their offer was not available to me as a “new customer”.

If authenticity is a currency of social media, this brand is running a serious deficit. I think they can benefit from Mark Twain’s wisdom: “Boy, if you can learn how to fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”.

But most brands’ efforts look like a deer caught in the headlights. They just throw money at collecting “likes” on FB and Pinterest and hope for the best. These brands use pre-defined keywords to monitor social media in an effort to protect their reputation, while customers use the words which are meaningful to them to describe their experience. These brands count keywords mentions instead of learning the contextual meaning of customer experience. They still think that social media is just another channel for brands to advertise and maybe provide occasional customer support and find it annoying that they cannot control the conversation.


Blackberry Reputation & Units Shipped







The future of brands is in learning from consumer conversations as opposed to controlling them. Those  who think they know better than their customers are not likely to have a bright future.

Customer Experience and Devaluation of Brand

social consumer experience and value of brand

The rise of social customers triggered the devaluation of brand as an asset class. In the past a brand was recognized by businesses as the most valuable asset because they served as a proxy for quality of products sold under that brand. In the vast “ocean” of uncertainties of choice (“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you get”), a brand served as a life raft. The loyalty to a brand reduced uncertainties of the market place.

Today, consumers have unlimited access to better tools for reducing shopping uncertainties – past experiences of socially connected customers.

“The new information environment allows consumers to predict much more accurately the experienced quality of products and services they consider getting.”

The quote above comes from Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information written by Itamar Simonson (Professor of Marketing, Stanford) and Emanuel Rosen (ex marketing executive). This book challenges very fundamental pillars of marketing that include the value of a brand to an organization. The authors argue that an easy assessment of absolute value of a product (experience) is eroding the influence of “relative forces” (branding, loyalty and positioning) that used to drive purchasing decisions. The implications of this transparency on traditional marketing practices are enormous because it accelerates the rise and fall of the brands exponentially:

  • It took only few short years for Blackberry and Nokia to reach the top of their category, and fall to the bottom
  • Do you remember the last time you’ve seen a Volvo commercial promoting its safety record?
  • It took 5 years for Asus to reach the fifth place in worldwide PC shipments at the expense of well established brands without heavy investment in advertising.

The “absolute value” term makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because the experiential value is also relative. However, it is relative to consumer’s expectations and ability to filter information available for making a better (for them) choice.  Compared to being manipulated by a brand, enabled by the lack of better information (i.e. “relative value”), the new paradigm is absolutely a better choice for consumers. Surely customer reviews are not perfect quality indicators, but their content provides real help in assessment of experience a consumer can expect. 

influence of customer reviews


For marketers, this new reality offers an incredible opportunity to tune in to “natural” customer intelligence uninhibited by your company biases and
manipulations. The intelligence, produced by social media marketing research, delivers significant increase in customer engagement that converts into much greater sales.

Customer Experience is the “New” Marketing

customer experience is the new Marketing Sincerity and competence are the currencies of customer interaction. Consumers may sometimes engage with a brand after seeing clever commercials or hearing a catchy jingle, but they are not very likely continue to be the customers after they encounter indifference and incompetence

Nowadays brands wrestle with the challenge of engaging customers, but they fail to deploy the most powerful weapon in their arsenal – their employees. Instead they employ slick campaigns and technology to shield the employees from the customers. I infer they do it to save cost, but considering the expense of their marketing activities and questionable results they often produce, an investment in quality employees may be much better choice.

I wrote before about my customer experience with Nissan, the brand considered by many to be a competent marketing player. Every time Nissan marketing attempted to engage with me, they created a desire to severe my relationship with the brand. Every offer for service they mailed was accompanied by frustration with my inability to make an appointment without a switchboard hassle. The new “loyalty” program email, outsourced to a “specialist” company and signed by its president, sent me through another phone tree hell. You really do not need an expert to figure out that an email with do-not-respond return address is NOT a great way to grow loyalty! All these marketing shenanigans drove me to do my car service at any place but the Nissan dealership that paid for them.

Recently, my car keyless car entry dongle started to lose its power and I needed to replace the battery. The auto parts stores and a garage, where I went to do an oil change, could not help me. I stopped by the dealership to setup an appointment and was blown away with their sincere desire to help and the competence of the people I met there. When I recall all 3 interactions I had with the dealership employees over the years of my relationship with Nissan, every one of them was extremely positive. Next time I am there, I should explore an opportunity to remove my name and address from their marketing list. If this is possible, I may consider buying my next car there.

This is only one example, but this problem is not limited to Nissan. Our analysis of customer reviews  shows traces of this problem experienced by customers of many other brands.

Technology can be a very powerful weapon, but if it is used by a company to shield its employees from its customers, it will backfire, as both the customers and the best employees will leave the company in frustration. Marketing is about trust and the companies that hide behind technology will not be trusted.