Competitive Intelligence still seems to have a branding problem. A lot of people still don’t know what exactly CI is; sometimes they just had nothing to do with it until now, but most of the times they don’t even realize that they are already doing it, or parts of it. We’ve spoken about the definition in several posts already, so I will not go there again. Instead, I’d like to discuss some (somewhat) related professions or activities where (parts of) Competitive Intelligence can be applied, the first of which is reputation management.
Any company that is not blinded by arrogance cares about its reputation. Reputation has a massive effect on your (potential) customers so it’s paramount to manage it well. To be able to do so, you first need to collect information so you can measure your reputation. After that, you can analyze the information, creating insights or intelligence. And like with any insights, they only add value if you act upon it, and start managing your reputation. Because then you are no longer at the sidelines of the discussion, but you become part of it, being able to control it to a certain extend.
The above process of gathering, analyzing, reporting and distributing resulting in action is very similar to the CI process. And that’s not the only thing they have in common. They both focus on external forces of your company; reputation management is about what external parties (customers, suppliers and even competitors) think and feel about you, your products, your ethics, your care for the environment, et cetera. Both CI and reputation management rely heavily on external, unstructured information as the base for your analysis. Therefore, one could see reputation management as a sub-process of the competitive intelligence process.
Traditional reputation management
In the old days, reputation was primarily measured by means of a customer satisfaction surveys and questionnaires used for market research. You might add information about customer complaints and other feedback your helpdesk may receive and maybe even information about product returns and you get an idea of the level of satisfaction directly from your customers.
But these surveys have some disadvantages: first, you target people. In the case of customer satisfaction survey, you target customers, who evidently bought your product for a reason and therefore might be biased. Even with other questionnaires your pick the target audience and you are the trigger for an opinion, missing out on people that are not questioned and may have an opinion on you. Also, a lot of people do not take the time to fill out long forms about your company, the products you sell, et cetera. People with complaints may take more time to express themselves than happy customers. Bottom line is that these methods may still be valuable, but at the same time they are very limited.
The better approach
Instead of asking people for their opinion via the channels of your choice, the better way would be to listen to them on the channels of their choice. Imagine you just bought a fancy iPad, you discover amazing things and you just want to spread the joy. But unfortunately no one’s around to share the fun, at least not in your living room. What do you do in this situation? Chances are that many of us would twitter something. With misery the effect is even stronger. A product you acquired doesn’t meet the promised functionality and, if that isn’t tragic enough, the helpdesk is unable, perhaps even unwilling, to help you. A lot of people share their frustration on social platforms, either to find someone who listens or in order to take revenge. A lot of people don’t file a complaint, but that doesn’t mean they don’t complain, they just don’t care enough to tell you (or you didn’t listen).
How to start
If you decided you cannot sit back any longer, and don’t want to rely only on traditional methods because they are not sufficient any more, first you need to find your customers. What channels do they use to talk about you and your products? Once you have identified the sources you need to start monitoring them and start measuring the results of your search. Measuring and analysis will lead to insights about your (online) reputation. You can see who the people are that talk about you and can start profiling them. You can also see what they are saying about you. Are they talking about your company or more specifically your product? And how do they feel about you? Once you’ve established the connection to their channels, you need to start acting on it. You can directly communicate with customers that are unhappy. If you can take away their unhappiness, they will stop complaining, maybe even comment you for the personal interest you displayed. Or you can stop rumors that are being spread by means of a press release. You can rectify (partially) erroneous information and take the opportunity to benefit from the attention you get. Engage directly with your customers and they will feel heard and taken seriously. Or will you just wait for the quarterly survey…