Employee bored at voice of the customer business presentation
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As the founder of CMSWire and the Digital Experience Summit, I speak with a lot of organizations wanting to shift their business and marketing strategies to a more customer-centric POV. “Customer experience is our top priority” has been a mantra of recent years.

But as analysts like Forrester have been quantifying, by and large customer experience is stagnating. The fact is, getting customer-centric and prioritizing the customer experience in your company isn’t just about shifting your cultural mindset or setting new innovation priorities in your marketing and technology departments.

In order to be a truly customer-centric organization, you need to glean as much customer data as possible from all your channels, and to make that data actionable. You then want to base more and more optimization decisions on this data and create operationalized feedback loops -- via Voice of the Customer (VoC) functions -- that let your delivery teams know when they are advancing (or not) your individual and aggregate customer experiences.

IMHO the perfect application to serve as the centralized data hub of your martech stack to get as close to a 360 degree view of your customer as possible is a customer data platform (CDP).

And if you really want to be honest with yourself in addressing the full customer journey, from revenue to retention and reputation, you need to have a consistent VoC program in place that is going to meet your customers emotional needs and drive your brand’s reputation across each experience.

A VoC program enables you to record the tone and desires of your brand’s most hardcore loyalists, helping to build trust and reinforce your relationship, while also creating operational feedback loops that validate (or invalidates) the effectiveness of your programs, provides rapid quality and effort inputs from the field, and allows your digital, marketing and service teams to optimize where necessary.

Let’s face it -- in the end, saying you’re investing in world-class customer experience is just lip service without a well-implemented, well-managed customer data platform and the feedback loops that VoC programs create.

I sat down with CDP and VoC industry experts to help shed some light on the current and future state of CDP, and how important VoC is, in addition to your other channels, to help feed that database with customer data.

CDPs are Still New, but Quickly Becoming Mission-Critical

Tony Byrne, Founder of Real Story Group, a buy-side analyst firm covering a range of customer-facing technologies and well-respected voice in the martech industry, tells me that while CDPs are in their early days and the category overall is still emerging, they are the right direction for many businesses. “The CDP phenomenon is a reaction to the fact that business have been trying to address the customer experience level in very siloed ways, and they are realizing it doesn't work. You need a foundational, enterprise data platform to be able to do this stuff effectively,” says Tony.

One reason Byrne feels the category is still in its infancy is the fact that most enterprises still need to map siloed data -- in most cases all that valuable customer data you have isn’t quite ready to be fed into a CDP.

At this point in their evolution, he advises companies to focus on issues like structured data migration, and ensure they have the proper people and skills in place to make sure all the data can be migrated to or accessed by a CDP most effectively. Tony stresses that getting clean data that can be mapped into a CDP is predominantly a human, not a machine or AI, process.

“The CDP phenomenon is a reaction to the fact that business have been trying to address the customer experience level in very siloed ways, and they are realizing it doesn't work. You need a foundational, enterprise data platform to be able to do this stuff effectively.” - Tony Byrne, Founder of Real Story Group.

Darren Guarnaccia, CMO of Lytics, an early customer data platform vendor, unsurprisingly, but genuinely emphasizes that CDPs are critical to understanding the observed behavior of customers. By funneling all your customer data from various channels, a CDP helps present a cohesive and detailed look at an individual customer, not just a target group.

“CDPs should be a marketing empowerment tool.” – Darren Guarnaccia, CMO of Lytics

Darren, like Tony, cautions us that organizational maturity surrounding CDPs is still developing, and it is critical you have the right people with the right skills needed to migrate data and set up the CDP internally.

Joe Stanhope, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Forrester, tells me he agrees with Tony in that CDPs are an emerging category and market, and are still not terribly well-defined. Joe says that the concept of a CDP can mean significantly different things to different people and that there are currently at least 80 vendors in the market offering CDP products. He cautions that out of those 80 vendors many of them are using the CDP name as a marketing strategy for a variety of tools and apps.

One of the things Joe thinks is critical for businesses who are considering a CDP is the need to understand their customers from all sides, at all points in the customer journey, not just from a marketing POV and not just during the sales cycle. He agrees that CDP and VoC practices need to come together before brands can more completely understand their customers.

VoC Programs Enable a Customer Feedback Loop

Krish Mantripragada, Chief Product Officer of Medallia, a customer experience management software vendor, tells me that CX software like the Medallia Experience Cloud can use machine learning and AI to capture VoC feedback across multiple channels, analyze it in real-time, and then provide actionable workflows to executive, front-line and central office workers to address the customer feedback.

These types of VoC programs, regardless of the software you decide to go with, allow your company to create an operational feedback loop with your most trusted advocates that is critical to customer-centric marketing operations. As you get data from your channels fed into your CDP or CX software, and it gets translated into actionable tasks for your marketers, you’ll be able to validate the success of, or optimize further, your outbound campaigns and messaging. As an extra bonus, you’ll be reinforcing trust with your brand with your most valuable customers.

“VoC is how you embed the pulse of the customer into the day-today operations of the company.” - Krish Mantrapragada, Chief Product Officer of Medallia.

Conclusion

I think CDPs are a critical piece of the right answer to the question of how to understand an individual customer, not just a target group. They give you the ability to know more about your customers during all their touchpoints, and with VoC programs that give individual customers a direct voice, they can help create critical feedback loops that lets you know if you are moving in the right direction.

Keep in mind that while AI and machine learning are all the rage, nothing replaces having the right staffing and skills that are needed to not only map data from various channels, but to set up and integrate a CDP with the rest of your martech stack.

The CDP market, and CDPs themselves, are still being defined, and may mean different things to different people. VoC programs are evolving from annual or quarterly surveying towards always on feedback pipes that can directly influence interaction quality in near real time.

These two technologies and the related practices are essential to anyone seriously invested in delivering top notch customer experiences, digital or otherwise.