2020 Prediction: Improving Voice of the Customer

Meeting customer needs and wants is no easy task. When his brother Herb gave him free rein to design the perfect car for the everyman, Homer Simpson described his final product as “powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding, like a Nerf ball.” The car was a disaster and bankrupted Unky Herb’s company. D’oh!

This example might seem extreme. After all, what self-respecting car company would only include three car horns that all play La Cucaracha? Everyone knows you need four. Though, the episode does raise some important questions. Is the customer always right? How can a company know when customer suggestions will be a hit in market?

Since the dawn of marketing, companies have used tools like surveys and focus groups to learn more about customer needs and wants, also known as the “voice of the customer.” Now, technology is making it easier than ever to supplement these tried and true methods with real-world purchase data. By 2020, successful companies will develop strategies marrying what customers say they will do with actual purchase behaviors garnered from transactional receipt data. The number one source for receipt data? The inbox.

The vast majority of online activity revolves around the inbox. Email serves as an online homebase; a central repository for eCommerce receipts, shipping confirmations, social notifications, and more. And consumers have demonstrated willingness to share this information with companies they trust, in exchange for various online services and productivity tools. Access to individual transactional information will completely change the way marketers and operations professionals make decisions about advertising, pricing, and inventory. Companies will have a much more complete view of their customers.

For example, a women’s retail clothing company might want to know how much of a new style they should stock. Surveying existing customers is an excellent first step to understanding purchase intent. First-party purchase data provides even greater detail about supply levels and price-responsiveness. But consumer receipt data gives the company the edge. Now, the retailer can paint a complete picture of its customers, identify brand affinities among competing and complementary brands, and develop a comprehensive inventory strategy to give customers what they want, when they want it. By responding not only to what customers say, but also what they do, this retailer will engender appreciation and loyalty from its target market.

So, will surveys and focus groups die out by 2020? Nope. Not even close. These are still incredibly important tools for determining the voice of the customer. However, these methods will be supplemented by rich, consumer transaction data. From preferences expressed via social media to the plethora of information available in the inbox, companies will be able to pair what customers say they will do, with observed actions. Coupled with the continued proliferation of data science and easy-to-use business intelligence tools, marketing and operations professionals alike will be able to develop complete customer profiles, understand needs and wants, and take action.

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