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Make Data from Customer Listening Tools Actionable

By Frances Russell | March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Last week, we asked marketers what moves they were making in response to the current crisis. Our survey revealed that 21% of marketers have deployed listening tools to monitor customer COVID-19 sentiments or trends. 




For retail companies with stores still open, understanding what customers think and feel about a changing customer experience (i.e. sneeze-guards put up between cashiers and customers) is important and asking them to press a satisfaction button would miss the point. For others, satisfaction buttons aren’t even an option. Instead, understanding what new problems customers face due to COVID that you can help them with digitally is the new must-do. Fortunately, customers are telling us what they like, don’t like, need and don’t need, and the results from these tools can enhance agility and help marketers quickly pivot. While so much feels risky, uncertain and at stake, this analytics tactic is tried and true.


The thing is, unstructured data sets rarely inform decision-making or drive action no matter how in-depth the analysis. As we’ve seen in the past, marketers on the receiving end of these analyses ask more questions or shift to pull from different data sets that feel more objective. And they’re not always wrong to do so: sentiments can be short-lived and opinions often reflect biases. In the past, especially with social listening tools that look at customer opinions on social media, customer service interactions or qualitative comments from sales reps, smart marketing analysts acknowledge biases, incorporate them when making meaning of results, and plan to confront related objections from stakeholders internally.

How can you avoid other pitfalls of the past?

There are lots of lessons learned for marketers deploying these tools. I’ll get to that (or skip to below). But for those of you who haven’t deployed these tools yet, you may be thinking “Why not take an easier approach? If the tools are ineffective, wouldn’t it be more agile not to use them?” Worse than the time and effort wasted, organizations that neglect to track consumer attitudes, sentiment and trends wind up testing and learning until they figure out what works, which is often what customers have been telling them all along. 

So much for agility.

Consider the following 3 tips to make the most of any customer listening tools you may be deploying: 

  1. Narrow your scope to inform decisions you know will be made. Be wary of interpreting customer sentiment without a reason. Organizations use customer sentiment to improve CX, to optimize brand advertising and to drive product innovation. Given rapidly changing levels of investment and uncertainty due to COVID, determine which decisions you’re most certain you’ll be making. Then ask which of those decisions will be better informed using analytics on customer sentiment.
  2. Check your visuals for action-ability. A word cloud is fun, but rarely affects decision-making on its own. Instead, categorize words into clusters to point to overarching themes or positive/negative/neutral buckets. Lists of “Top 10” are interesting, but there will always be a “Top 10.” Consider instead showing the percentage increase/decrease in the # of times a word is mentioned week to week or month over month. Consumer attitudes are nice (…or not nice, but that’s another post). Paired with behavioral data, however, consumer attitudes are explanatory.
  3. You probably shouldn’t incorporate results into dashboards. Dashboards streamline decision-making by eliminating the need for discussion and approval. By reviewing a campaign dashboard, a marketing team can see that their current efforts aren’t on target and shift resources to improve effectiveness without ever having a meeting. Marketers haven’t had enough time to drive consensus on what to do about customer sentiments related to COVID, so compiling or incorporating analyses into dashboards will create greater confusion and may automate decisions that you don’t want to automate.

For marketers wanting to respond to changing customer sentiment now, Our Consumers and Culture Research team recently launched a video on Marketing in Uncertain Times – Marketing to Anxious Customers (for Gartner for Marketing Leaders clients only)


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