Vision Critical eyes a prime spot on CEM landscape

Vancouver-based Vision Critical is extending the reach of its market research roots by launching a customer experience management (CEM) platform.

The platform automates the collection, analysis and sharing of data from customer surveys, transactional databases (like company help desks or call centres, for example) and social media. The technology creates a holistic, real time picture of customer habits and feedback to help businesses and organizations improve the overall experience theyprovide to their customers.

“We know there’s so much information out there right now. Our clientstalk about all this data, feedback and customer information and beingable to pull that in and report it to stakeholders in a way they needto digest that information,” says Ted Chen, managing director of thecustomer satisfaction and loyalty practice at Vision Critical.

Vision Critical’s existing flagship software, Sparq, enables companiesto create online community panels where their customers can provideongoing, real time feedback and product reviews through Web surveys.The new customer experience managementplatform goes a step further by tailoring the data collection andanalysis not just for each company, but even to each user or officelocation within a company. The data it compiles and shares with afirm’s marketing managers, for example, is customized so that it’sdifferent than the information collected and sent to the CEO or thehead of inventory. It can also tailor data to each office location.

“It’s extremely customized for each client,” says Chen. “If an officemanager goes in, they can see all the information they need (only) fortheir region. So you don’t see information you shouldn’t see.”

Although the business intelligence (BI) part of Vision Critical’s CEMplatform isn’t breaking entirely new ground, the way it includes socialmedia is part of a more recent trend, says Tim Hickernell, aChicago-based associate lead analyst at Info-TechResearch Group.

“I do like the fact they’re adding social media interactions into othercustomer interactions to feed into a 360 degree (view) of thecustomer,” Hickernell says. “Everybody understands (BI and socialmedia), but as far as actually gluing the two together, it’s still theexception and not the rule,” Hickernell says.

Hickernell says the move to fold social networking capabilities into CEM and customer relationship management(CRM) systems (such as Salesforce.com’s acquisition of Radian6,he points out) is a response to two trends: an explosion in socialmedia use means companies have a massive volume of customer feedbackand comments to monitor and respond to, and businesses are now tryingto use social media as a marketing tool targeting potential customerswho aren’t already using their products and services.
“By the nature of social media, you’re now dealing with a group of people, not just one person, so there’s a cascading impact. And now that everyone’s on the social cloud talking, there’s the proactive element. Never before have we seen companies initiate proactive listening to customers. So now they’re going after customers who haven’t interacted with them before,” Hickernell says.

Vision Critical hasn’t given its CEM platform a name, but already has three clients using it, including a pharmaceutical firm and a realestate company. Vision Critical won’t name the three clients, but all are based in the U.S. and one of them is a “global company,” says Chen.

While its new CEM platform clients are publicly nameless so far, thepedigree and management team behind Vision Critical certainly don’tlack name recognition. The company’s CEO is legendary Canadian pollsterAngus Reid, son Andrew is president and his sister Jennifer isexecutive vice-president of strategy.

Andrew Reid launched Vision Critical in 2000, the same year his fathersold the polling and market research firm Angus Reid Group toParis-based Ipsos SA for a reported $100million. The elder Reid later formed a new polling and researchcompany, Angus Reid Public Opinion.

Vision Critical didn’t stray too far from the roots planted by AngusReid, since it was created to add technology heft to traditional marketresearch practices. It now has about 500 employees in 10 offices aroundthe world. Its clients include corporate heavy hitters like EastmanKodak Company, JetBlue Airways Corp., Banana Republic, Virgin Mobile,NASCAR and hotel chain Marriott International Inc.

Although speculation about an impending IPO was rampant last year,Vision Critical remains a private company and says it has no plans togo public at this time.

Christine WongChristine Wong is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow her on Twitter, and join in the conversation on the IT Business Facebook Page.

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