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Vision Critical Eyes a Prime Spot on CEM Landscape

http://www.itbusiness.ca – September 27, 2011 – by Christine Wong

New platform merges social media and other technology with market research data.

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 they provide to their customers.

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

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

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

Although the business intelligence (BI) part of Vision Critical’s CEM platform isn’t breaking entirely new ground, the way it includes social media is part of a more recent trend, says Tim Hickernell, a Chicago-based associate lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group.

“I do like the fact they’re adding social media interactions into other customer interactions to feed into a 360 degree (view) of the customer,” Hickernell says. “Everybody understands (BI and social media), but as far as actually gluing the two together, it’s still the exception 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 social media use means companies have a massive volume of customer feedback and comments to monitor and respond to, and businesses are now trying to use social media as a marketing tool targeting potential customers who 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 real estate 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, the pedigree and management team behind Vision Critical certainly don’t lack name recognition. The company’s CEO is legendary Canadian pollster Angus Reid, son Andrew is president and his sister Jennifer is executive vice-president of strategy.

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

Vision Critical didn’t stray too far from the roots planted by Angus Reid, since it was created to add technology heft to traditional market research practices. It now has about 500 employees in 10 offices around the world. Its clients include corporate heavy hitters like Eastman Kodak 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 to go public at this time.