Against Net Promoter: A new way of interpreting the customer data deluge

Jason Juma-Ross

Jason is the lead partners of PwC Digital INtelligence and founder of The Idea Society.

One thing that frustrates marketers is the sloppy use of digital research. A prominent agency planning director recently derided the prevalence of 'Google Planning', a characterisation we have some sympathy with but think misses the point.

But the fact that many of us haven’t figured out the best way to prioritise and plan using digital intelligence doesn’t mean we should advocate a return to the analogue days of paper surveys and dipstick qual.

The information we have today far outstrips what was available when most planning directors learnt their trade. And getting your head around it can be challenging; the data is often raw, unstructured, and messy. It requires sensitive processing and analysis before it can be turned into insight.

Search, for example, is a great source of consumer intent but it takes more than a few adventures in Google Trends to understand it. Consumer posts are a great source of brand and category sentiment but a biased selection clipped from your favourite social media monitoring tool are of little use. This is not a digital-specific issue, but one that is at least as old as the VHS camera that brought forth the agency voxpop, yielding a similar combination of the compelling and facile. Just scratching the surface in any era never amounted to good research.

One way of making sense of this is the use of what we call the ‘customer.mind’ framework.

At its heart, customer.mind draws on unstructured data analysis and natural language processing to provide a real-time view of the voice of your customer. It is distinct from other sources of insight in that it synthesises a full range of customer data, both online and offline, including social channels, blogs, search intent, Web chat, survey responses, voice data from customer calls, and even service centre emails. For many years, combining all these data has been a marketing fantasy, but techniques are now sufficiently mature to enable it. We have recently seen one Australian business turning voice data into text at 100x real-time with extremely high fidelity and we know North American brands building live 'actual promoter’ style frameworks from sentiment data.

The benefits of using universe, rather than sample data, include getting a read on real (rather than claimed) behaviour, taking the pulse of the market continuously, and having enough detail to be able to show what drives behaviour without fielding more surveys.

In order to get the greatest insights from the data, leading businesses are applying a number of different treatments.

First, leaders monitor changes in a single customer’s data over time. The ability to measure a shift in perspective is a powerful way to track the impact of customer support and branding compared to averaged or segment-based analysis.

Second, data is categorised in a way that makes sense to a business. Overlaying data with industry specific taxonomies can be essential. For example, a retailer might use category management structure and location, whereas a telco might use a product by customer segment lens.

The third treatment is thematic and emotional analysis. Conversational themes are analysed and nested before being overlaid with sentiment. This would allow a marketer at a bank to see, for example, what stage of the home loan application process is causing her competitor’s customers the most friction. This sentiment can be modelled against traditional survey-based metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or customer effort, providing a real-time proxy for these measures.

If all this seems complicated, it needn’t be. The efficiency exceeds that of most other survey-based mechanics both in cost and time. The main requirement is a willingness to embrace the actual voice of the customer and move away from optimising for a score.

NPS seems to be a good tool for aligning incentives but is all-too-often deployed using poor measurement methodologies from the 20th century. What we need is a better approach for the digital, mobile, and integrated world in which we now live.

Tags: customer experience management, Net Promoter Score

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