FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

The Ancient to Medieval Worlds—and the Original Tablet

The first recorded customer complaint comes from Babylonia in 1750 BC. A customer uses cuneiform carved into a clay tablet to tell a merchant he is unhappy about the inferior grade of copper he received. The contents of that tablet are remarkably like a negative review on Yelp:

  • Poor product quality
  • Costs not as expected
  • Lack of trust as commitments were not honored

In this era, commerce is done by bartering, particularly in pre-currency civilizations. Most complaints are delivered in person, as customers speak directly to those providing products or services that fall short.

This tablet, however, indicates someone with money—who has the funds to hire a scribe and a messenger—wants to right a wrong in a trade that already happened. With the length and danger of the trip, it makes us wonder: what was the outcome of this complaint and was this worth it for the customer?

New laws arise to cover severe disputes. One example is the Code of Hammurabi from Babylonia in 1754 BC. Its 282 rules include one about a merchant shown to have cheated an agent who is selling his goods. He must pay that agent six-times the original amount owed.

Merchants start keeping ledgers. Initially, these note the amounts of goods bought and sold. As more universal currencies replace the exchange of goods, this line item is added. The idea is not only to track the goods changing hands, but to protect the merchant.

If a customer complains, the merchant can check the records. Just like today’s sales receipt, this allows for a factual account of a transaction, helping ensure fairness on all sides.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

Colonialization and Mercantilism—Governments Get Involved in Commerce

As nations form and empires are built, governments and heads of state want to ensure their power. They start regulating trade.

This leads to the rise of mercantilism: governments try to maximize their profits through rules on imports to and exports from a colony. While customer service is still practiced at the point of sale, merchants are less able to set the prices and the amounts of products they can sell.

For example, Britain colonizes the Americas, extracting raw materials to be used in its products. Some of these products are sent back to the Americas and sold by approved British trading companies at set fees. Colonists also face paying extra taxes on the goods and penalties for buying elsewhere.

We can see the parallels today. Companies make products that are only compatible with the others they produce—unless you buy add-ons so these can communicate with each other. In a sense, consumers are punished for buying from other sources.

In colonial times, consumer reactions move beyond complaints to merchants and on to the government responsible for the regulations. They send written objections (in newspapers and pamphlets in America, as well as letters to the British monarchy and Parliament) about access to items such as tea, paper and stamps. When those go unnoticed, the colonists rebel from oppressive mercantilism.

In effect, the genesis of the American Revolution is a too long ignored consumer complaint. This illustrates the importance of listening to your consumers’ concerns and acting on these.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

The First Industrial Revolution—a Real Wild West

In rural towns, businesses either focus on a specialty (blacksmith) or are general stores offering a variety of products. Because these communities depend on farming, which is seasonal, businesses operate on credit.

Individual owners decide how much confidence they have in a consumer—often on very subjective criteria. Negotiating prices or increasing a line of credit frequently depend on a consumer’s reputation and negotiating skills.

This evolves into today’s credit system, determining if we can buy products and get access to more credit. The relationship between consumer and company now is mathematical rather than personal, removing subjectivity in an attempt to be fairer.

In the first industrial revolution, consumer complaints once again are largely verbal—between buyers and shop owners. People in the West have little immediate recourse other than to travel a greater distance to another town and barter/purchase goods there. However, the federal postal service, railroads and the telegraph allow them to make their complaints known to their territory and state governments, as well as the manufacturers in the east.

(Image quote source: 1A Culture of Credit: embedding trust and transparency in American business by Rowena Oligario.)

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

The Second Industrial Revolution—Faster and Cheaper, but Not Always Better

The main theme is efficiency. How can products be made, and services delivered, in a shorter time? How can we lower the overall cost, so more people can afford it? How can we use the railroad to transport products faster and cheaper?

Henry Ford’s innovative assembly line becomes the symbol for this era. Now businesses can reach a size and influence never before possible. Doing business on this scale leads to trusts and monopolies. They can fix prices, make lower quality products, and ignore consumer complaints. Customers often feel helpless in the face of these behemoths.

Two new crusading forces appear as consumer advocates. The first is a rise in journalists, dedicated to exposing poor production processes. As consumer awareness of unfair business practices grows, they complain through public protests.

The second is the creation of consumer protection groups. Some are government-sponsored, such as the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which gives people an official avenue to complain when companies ignore them. Independent organizations include the Better Business Bureau, which allows consumers to see which companies use trustworthy practices.

Parallels are visible today. Consumer advocacy stories remain a staple of the TV news programs. Agencies are established to ensure consumers’ voices are heard. People have official avenues to complain if they are not satisfied.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

Digital Revolution—Phoning It In

The telephone becomes a new vehicle for complaints. As more people enter the workforce, it’s no longer easy to find time to go to a store to complain. They can call on their own time, at their convenience. Additionally, store owners may contact manufacturers in different states or countries to quickly resolve consumer issues.

Because faster/greater production results in not-yet-sold inventory, there is a need to stimulate demand. That leads to the rise of department and grocery stores, which carry a variety of merchandise. Time-pressed consumers can make one visit to get several needs met.

This makes customer service a little more difficult. Store employees must handle a variety of different complaints, which reduces the quality of the service they provide.

Businesses create customer service departments and call centers to assist customers and resolve issues. Staying true to the theme of efficiency, the goal for a call center is to streamline the process of helping people with the company’s products or services. This often makes contact with a customer service representative impersonal and more bureaucratic.

We are still living with this system. Many consumers opt to bypass it by ordering online and skipping customer service entirely: just returning products that don’t meet their needs.

(Image quote source: 2Top 10 Product Recalls”. Time. July 2, 2009.)

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

The Information Age—Instantaneous Complaints Around the World

We are experiencing the explosion of avenues in communication. Every company has a website, and customers know how to get information or whom to call/email/chat about questions or problems. Social media for instant information and access is standard and expected. Consumers reach organizations in the comfort of their homes, at a time that’s convenient for them, and expect immediate response.

The internet has moved complaints from a “customer to company” pathway to a “customer to hundreds or millions of others.” With social media, companies must understand the complaints causing them to lose sales and the business consequences of a viral video or negative Yelp review. Companies are now hyper-aware and must scan the virtual horizon for risks and threats and react as fast as possible. Customer service remains reactive as it was in the last century.

Companies can be proactive, as there is information and insight to be extracted and analyzed by collecting consumer complaints data. Listening to customers enables larger scale fixes and identifies trends and the need for change. With this hyper-awareness comes a greater opportunity to build new products and features, allowing the voice of consumers to be a powerful force in your growth.

It’s time to take a deeper dive into your own customer data. Listen to your customers’ voices and identify opportunities. When consumers understand your company listens to them and adjusts its practices to reflect their needs, you’ll win more accolades than complaints and achieve sustainable success.

(Image quote source: 3

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

Take a Quick Look at the State of Data-Driven Customer Experience.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

New Survey Data Shows Much Progress and Remaining Challenges in Data-Driven Customer Experience

A Must Read: Forbes Insights Report: “Data Elevates the Customer Experience”

How about we all dig into some exciting data and share our insights?

What I’ve called the “connected customer experience” is getting much closer to becoming a reality.

Let me share a new report from Forbes Insights: “Data Elevates the Customer Experience”. This data-rich, well-documented and fully-illustrated report provides extensive survey data conducted as a follow up to Forbes’ 2015 pulse survey “Blazing the Trail from Data to Insight to Action.”

Forbes, of course, builds on the premise that “data-driven customer experience is critical to the future of growth and development of organizations.” We couldn’t agree more.

In fact, it’s more important than ever because, as Salesforce points out: “68% of marketing leaders say they are increasingly competing based on customer experience, not price or core product attributes.” *

Beyond sales, customer experience touches all parts of our lives and businesses.

This survey shows significant progress, but there’s still some big challenges ahead. Read the survey now to see for yourself. (Click now!)

Please join me and look at this report and then write me with your thoughts, impressions, insights. Just use the email message at the bottom of this issue —

We can all roll up our sleeves and dig into some data together!

Thanks in advance for your time and help. I’m excited to read your unique perspective of how data elevates the customer experience.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


* “Fourth Annual State of Marketing,” Salesforce Research, 2017.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

Get Away from Your Screen: Creating a New Data Science Culture

Thomas Redman’s article title says it all: “The Best Data Scientists Get Out and Talk to People.”

Redman believes great data scientists “know they must understand the larger context, the real problems and opportunities, how decisions makers decide, and how their predictions will be used. Great data scientists know the only way to acquire this smorgasbord of information is to go get it.”

Let’s think of it as creating a data science culture.

There’s a big world out there, and when you want to do “detective” data science work, you need to understand the world firsthand.

Here are some guidelines for instilling a new data science culture:

  • Take a hard look, in person.
  • Talk to people.
  • Put yourself in another environment.
  • Listen closely.
  • Understand the full context.
  • Do all this in your day-in, day-out work.

This is not something you do once. It’s just what you do every day, or at least every week.

How do you do this?

  • Visit an operations center.
  • Listen to phone calls.
  • Meet with consumer advocates.
  • Attend a focus group or a live online session.
  • Search social media.
  • Find “Help” chat recordings or transcripts.
  • Talk with clients onsite.

The data scientist can take a cue from writers. As Susan Sontag says, “I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.”

Of course, you must know the data inside out. And you need to understand the business context around and for the data. And you need a wide active network of collaborators for input and feedback. Yet, beyond the workplace, if you’re not out there in the world, you’re missing something.

You have to talk to people. You must experience.

Get out there: Enjoy. Learn. Repeat.

FRAMEWORK : Voice of Consumer

Banks Use Digital Voice Technology to Make Customers Feel at Home

Alexa, what’s my checking account balance? 

Alexa, when is my loan payment due? 

Alexa, please transfer $500 from my savings account to my checking account.

Amazon’s digital voice assistant is no longer just your smart home companion or music programmer. Alexa can now be your go-to bank information source, adding “home” as a channel in consumers’ Omnichannel banking experience.

As Mary Wisneiwski reports in “Big banks hope early bet on Alexa will pay off,” after “months of testing and refining an alternative way to bank, Ally Bank launched Ally Skill.”

Ally Bank is in the forefront of banks taking a lead in testing and developing the Alexa natural language processing technology, “seeing its potential to reshape how clients communicate with financial service providers.”

Wisneiwski details that Ally Bank is not alone—Capital One, U.S. Bank, American Express, USAA, and “several credit unions” have either launched Alexa-based voice services or are testing them. U.S. Bank also plans to launch services on Siri and Google Home.

The big idea here is that a new channel—home—is being born on the platform of digital assistant voice technology. We’ll need to start thinking about voice as part of the mix of other channels accessible in our homes—phone, mobile and desktop computer.

As part of the Omnichannel mix, this new channel even bends the definition of ‘personal’ interactions. It’s not a personal interaction like a phone conversation; it’s personal in the sense that the interaction is taking place in your personal space.

The “early bet” on voice technology is loaded with potential to create value for everyone.

The new home/voice channel creates value for financial institutions by:

  • taking over time-consuming low risk transactions
  • providing customer service efficiencies
  • creating new customer data
  • fostering interaction and engagement
  • complementing existing channels

For consumers, the home/voice channel will provide:

  • comfort of home
  • always available and easily accessible convenience
  • less mobile banking “friction”

So, sit back.

You don’t even have to find your phone. And you won’t need to open and navigate an app.

Just speak up…