To Mike Sinoway, a research and analytics veteran, the next big challenge for business is not the collection of data but the ability to translate it into strategies and tactics to effectively engage customers and employees. Sinoway is the new CEO at MaritzCX, formerly Allegiance Software Inc., a Salt Lake City-based pioneer in technology connecting customer and employee engagement. He has extensive experience in customer research and analytics with a number of leading companies.
Allegiance was an early supplier of ‘Voice of the Customer’ technology, along with a full suite of survey, mystery shopper and research services, to help companies excel by providing an optimal customer experience. It was purchased by Maritz in 2014, merged with its research business and renamed MaritzCX. Sinoway recently joined the company from Avatar, a leading survey firm specializing in healthcare. Before that he held positions in marketing and customer research for Deloitte Consulting and the Walt Disney Co.
Sinoway believes that the concept of customer and employee engagement has gained a lot of acceptance, “but in reality there is a tremendous lag between the data now available and the action plans to use it. Everyone is talking about engagement. Everyone says it’s important. Most of the conversation now is not just about data collection, but rather the application of the data to make business decisions. Many are struggling with that. They say they know engagement is important, but they’re not sure how yet.”
The challenge, he says, is that it’s hard to get the data to the right people at the right time to do something with it. “There has to be a process for doing something with the data that organizations are now able to collect. There was a belief that we’ll just send the data and they’ll figure it out. Enlightened companies are trying to figure out what do, but that’s also a challenge. A six-sigma practitioner might know what to do with the data, but the average front lines manager will often be clueless. Many take a look at the data and go back to what they were doing before. It’s truly an enlightened company that has figured out how to make the connection between data, strategy and action.”
Part of the problem, he notes, is the issue of silos. “Human resources people get it. The service department probably gets it. Understanding the service experience was one of the leading applications for collecting and analyzing customer data. Sales is just beginning to use data for customer renewals and efforts to reduce churn. Marketing is beginning to use a lot of the customer data, but in many cases hasn’t put it into practical application. Research and development have barely begun to use customer data, as is the case with the logistics and inventory management teams. Then there’s operations and product manufacturing. What does customer data tell us about our policies and procedures in all of these areas? A lot.”
Failure to have a strategic method of leveraging customer data across the organization has led to cynicism, Sinoway says. “The groups that churned out the surveys over the years or the recipients who saw nothing done with them are turned off. Now I’m seeing other departments getting excited and bypassing the units that used to be the proponents. But when you talk to most companies you’ll see they still don’t have a strategic approach to disseminating and acting on data across the organization.”
At most companies, he says, “There’s no formal strategy, no formal organization within for managing insights. There are enlightened companies that have figured out they need a dedicated approach to deploying information across the organization in a way that can be applied to decision,” but he notes that such companies are the minority.
“I do believe that the breadth of MaritzCX services in terms of technology, user interface, market research, phone surveys, intercept surveys, focus groups, virtual shopping, mystery shopping, gives us an enormous ability to provide clients insights. We have the full tool set.” The big opportunity, Sinoway explains, is to help clients put that data to work in an actionable way throughout the organization.
Sinoway applauds the use of the term “enterprise engagement” because he agrees that engagement is an organization-wide issue. He says that research conducted in the healthcare market by his previous employer, Avatar, consistently found a link between high levels of patient and employee engagement and positive outcomes. The key, he says, is to help clients apply customer data to address how they train people, what processes to use in different situations and what approaches to use with different customers. “We are starting to have a lot of conversations with consulting firms that recognize if industries are spending millions on software and data, there’s a big opportunity to help with the application of that data,” he says, adding that MaritzCX has worked with its sister company Maritz to help clients achieve more actionable results from data.
Sinoway believes that more companies have made progress using customer data to better motivate employees and improve culture, “but when I think about all the ways data can be used, there’s a long way to go….When we are aggregating and analyzing data from the marketplace from all applicable sources – social media, the trends, sentiments, reviews, the emotional connection with the brand and customer – we can go to an entirely new level. I like the analogy of the shoemaker in his shop. The cobbler gets direct feedback all the time. What we’re doing is scaling the 21st century shop counter.”
The key, he says, is having the right management with the right knowledge. “We see a number of customer experience posts filled by people with almost no internal marketing or human resources experience...How important do you think it is for customer experience executives to understand the role of employees? Many companies aren’t there yet in the customer experience arena. They control how customers interact with the company, and now online, and that’s it.” But Sinoway says this is starting to change: “Ten years from now, strategic use of customer data will be an integrated part of the company, because the companies that do this will be more successful. If you don’t figure out how to gather and apply data across the organization, you’ll be at a huge disadvantage.”
Ironically, the president of one of the nation’s leading customer experience firms doesn’t like the term “customer experience.”
“I believe we will come to regret the customer experience nomenclature that has become the accepted label for the industry,” Sinoway says. “The insights that organizations require are much broader than ‘customer,’ and should include all current, future and potential ‘consumers’ as well as others in the organization. Likewise, the insights required are much deeper than just the direct ‘experience.’ The insights should be an ‘extension’ of all the potential functional applications of the information within the organization.”
He explains: “For starters, the consumers’ evaluation of their experience is difficult to understand without also knowing their expectations for that experience. Consumers can have perfectly executed interactions with an organization, yet they might be poor experiences from the consumers’ perspective if they fail to meet expectations. The converse, of course, is also true. A poorly executed interaction can still be seen as superior if the customers’ expectations are low. So the first underleveraged use of many customer experience programs is a failure to understand what the consumers’ expectations are by market segment. All the tools and techniques exist today to gain this insight, but many companies rush right into measurement without first understanding how consumers define a superior experience.”
A second common gap in customer experience programs, says Sinoway, is “a failure to understand the needs of non-customers. It’s certainly important for organizations to serve their current customer base. A key to rapid growth, however, is to take share from competitors or stimulate demand from the untapped consumer base. Some of this consumer insight can be easily collected today from current customers that also patronize competitors. The information is there for the asking in a properly designed program. Additionally, the evolution of large online panels with participants in the millions allow organizations to directly and regularly tap into the broader consumer market for insights. These consumer insights can feed directly into ongoing efforts in marketing, innovation, promotion and pricing.”
Sinoway believes the potential use of data goes further still. “More broadly, the extension of consumer insights should be feeding decisions in functional areas such as logistics, operations and information technology,” he says. “Consumer preferences for delivery lead times, for example, have a direct impact on inventory levels and safety stock. Today, many logistics teams make these decisions in a relative vacuum. In operations, decisions on material selection, product manufacturability and vendor certifications can all be improved significantly with direct linkage to consumer feedback. Again, this insight is available with the tools and technology that many companies use today to collect a relatively myopic view of the customer experience.”
In closing, Sinoway predicts: “The most enlightened and aggressive companies will make broader use of consumer insight to have a deeper impact on their businesses. Over the next few years, this application of consumer insight will become the generally accepted best practice that other companies will strive to achieve.”
Contact information for MaritzCX