by: John Caddell

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Recapping from yesterday: companies need to listen carefully to their customers, and while new means like blogs, Twitter, etc., are promising sources of customer feedback, the truth is that the vast majority of customers don’t (and maybe won’t) use these tools.

There is a source to tap the knowledge in these other, silent customers–the front-line support staff. Retail clerks, bank tellers, etc., have person-to-person contact with customers every day. If customers have opinions, they hear them. The following diagram describes how their intelligence could be captured and used to improve companies’ understanding of their customers.

(Steps 1 & 2 were covered in yesterday’s post.)

Step 3: Periodically, a group analyzes the archive of blog posts, comments, etc., pulls out important excerpts and creates summary data based on the content of the posts. The data is compiled and prepared for analysis by a cross functional team in Step 4, below.

Step 4: The team evaluates the excerpts and the graphs to detect broad patterns that can inspire action. By way of example, a retailer who is trying to understand buyers’ temperaments more deeply in this economic crisis might examine a set of blog posts from before the crisis and compare the topics/findings with a set of posts from the last month or two. This will illustrate patterns in how buyers are reacting to the crisis, such as by substituting one good for another, saying different things to clerks, etc.

To perhaps make this concept more concrete, there was an article in the WSJ yesterday (”From Attitude to Gratitude“) talking about how people are treating their investment advisors since the crisis hit. This quote from the article could have been one of the blog posts I envision here:

“I’m not getting complaints,” Mr. Hirsch (an investment advisor at Credit Suisse) said. “People aren’t asking, ‘What did you do to my portfolio?’ They’re asking, ‘What do we do from here?’”

One quote isn’t a pattern, but imagine there were several dozen stories like this from Credit Suisse’s advisory team. From this insight, management could devise approaches to give the clients the kind of advice they’re asking for, building loyalty that could last beyond the end of the crisis.

That’s what customers are really talking about. And knowing it means you can act on it.

And that’s what I’m talking about.

(Acknowledgement to Shawn Callahan, from whom I first heard the possible uses of blog posting and RSS for collecting and using distributed knowledge. Here’s a white paper Shawn wrote on the topic.)

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