Structured vs. Unstructured: How to Get the Most out of Surveyed Data

Every company wants to make measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty a top priority. They all talk about it; most of them do it. But are they doing it right? To help answer that question, this article provides an overview of just one of the elements of a successful, enterprise-wide Voice of the Customer (VOC) program: customer data -- both survey and non-survey.

Types of Customer Data

Customer feedback can be categorized as either structured or unstructured. Structured feedback comes from customers who receive a survey and answer the questions posed within that survey. Unstructured feedback can include customer posts to a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere that your company has not solicited or prompted.

1. Structured Feedback

Until recently, structured feedback was the main way that companies could hear from their customers about their experiences. Sure, customers could write letters or emails or drop a card in a suggestion box. But let’s be real here. Those were all just "cosmetic" and "feel good." Did companies really care about that feedback, respond to it, or change processes because of it? Probably not.

Following are the various types of structured feedback, including what they are and what their place is in the overall VOC initiative. These should be part of any comprehensive VOC effort.

Relationship Surveys

Relationship surveys are conducted to get a point-in-time read on customer satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement and provide high-level perceptions of your company. These surveys are conducted quarterly, semi-annually, or annually and contain questions that span the customer experience with various departments or touchpoints.

Competitive Surveys

Two different approaches can be taken to collect competitive insights, including: (1) asking your customers to evaluate competitors by asking a similar, but often limited set of questions they answered about your company, or (2) conducting a blind competitive survey among your target audience. The latter, which is the preferred and more-robust (yet more-expensive) approach, typically entails renting a list of names from a list or panel provider, asking respondents to identify companies they have worked with, and then having them evaluate their experiences with each of them.

Transactional Surveys

Transactional surveys are also known as post-event surveys, a phrase that clearly defines the scope as after some event or interaction has occurred. The customer is surveyed about his experience with the company during that specific interaction. Examples of transactional surveys along the customer lifecycle include win/loss, purchase experience, support, training, fulfillment, and churn.

The surveys are typically 10-20 questions if not fewer and are designed to measure the customer experience with a particular touchpoint. The surveys only contain questions that are specific to the transaction in question and should not veer off into other directions or bring in other topics.

Brand/Marketing Surveys

Relationship and transactional surveys are meant to focus on customer satisfaction with the experience. Brand research and customer satisfaction/experience research should be a coordinated effort to (a) limit respondent fatigue from the surveying perspective and (b) coordinate questions, analysis, and follow-up on the backend.

Advisory Board Surveys

In a B2B environment, Customer Advisory Boards (CAB) typically consist of a small number of executives who represent the 20% of customers who account for 80% of your revenues. CABs are a great way to engage your customers, to show them some love (and get loyalty in return), and to allow them to help drive the direction of product development, customer experience, and more.

Listening Labs

Listening Labs are an effective way to receive input from customers about their experiences and actions with your organization throughout the customer lifecycle.

2. Unstructured Feedback

Unstructured feedback comes in many forms, including social media, online forums and communities, blogs, "Contact Us" pages, and letters or emails to the company. Customers want to share their experiences with other customers in whatever forum is available. This feedback is just as valuable as structured feedback.

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, online forums and communities, websites, etc. create a lot of data that you need to pull together and manage in one place. For you, the challenges are to: (a) find a way to harness this data; and then (b) put someone in charge of analyzing/gleaning insights from it and acting on it – right alongside of your structured feedback.

3. Non-Survey Metrics and Data

Non-survey customer data and metrics are a solid component of any VOC initiative, as they tie actual, behavioral data to the attitudinal data from your structured and unstructured feedback. Non-survey data may come in the form of variables such as demographics, purchase information, purchase behavior, etc., included with your customer list (used to send survey invitations), or they can be financial data, such as profitability, total revenue, lifetime value, attrition, etc., used to segment and analyze the data later. Incorporating these data into your VOC strategy will allow you to get the full picture of individual customers, target customer segments, or your entire customer population.

Conclusion and Next Steps

There are many inputs to consider for your VOC initiative. The next step is to consider how to pull them all together, push them out into the organization, and operationalize, respond to, and analyze them to improve your business processes and deliver a superior customer experience.

Briefly you’ll need to:

1. Disseminate: Get the data into the hands of the appropriate department(s).

2. Respond: There’s an opportunity for service recovery here—don’t miss it—as well as an opportunity to show that you care—to hundreds of thousands of people who read that same blog, Tweet, etc.

3. Analyze: Mine the data, segment your customers, and identify areas to focus on and areas to maintain.

4. Operationalize: Once you’ve analyzed the feedback, operationalize it—act on it, whether that’s a tactical approach or strategic action planning and process improvements—and incorporate it into your daily business processes.

Utilizing a VOC solution such as the Allegiance Engage platform, you can collect, disseminate, analyze, and act on your data all in one place.