IBM launches Voice of Customer Analytics (VOCA). Will it be friend or foe to EFM vendors?


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Acronym watchers take note. VOCA—Voice of Customer Analytics—is coming, courtesy of Big Blue.

In “voice of customer” circles, EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) is the most common term used for systems that capture, analyze and report on structured (e.g. survey-based) customer feedback so that customer issues can be addressed. But in the past couple of years it’s becoming clear that unstructured information—both text and speech—is also a great source of insight into customer issues and operational problems.

I’ve been wondering, when will a vendor emerge to put it all together?

Well, that vendor is IBM. After a year of development, IBM is entering the “voice of customer” space with a managed service offering that analyzes both structured and unstructured data.

IBM’s Kevin English, who heads up the CRM analytics part of Big Blue’s BPO team, says they developed VOCA entirely with IBM software. In addition to its own research labs and core DB2 database technology, IBM has compiled an impressive amount of data and text analytics technology via Cognos and SPSS acquisitions, and other smaller vendors like RedPill.

The only thing missing is speech analytics, although IBM can handle this by first transcribing the speech to text, says English. According to the press release:

“VOCA draws on IBM’s expertise in analytics, predictive modeling, information management, and deep industry knowledge,” said Robert Morris, vice president, services research, IBM Research. “The solution combines text analytics with traditional data mining tasks to deliver actionable insights based on information inherent in customer interactions. It helps clients improve both the speed and quality of business decisions, while better understanding the consequences and outcomes of those decisions.”

Of course, there are already quite a few vendors tackling VOC-related problems, most via SaaS-based solutions.

  • EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) solutions from Allegiance, Confirmit, Mindshare, Markettools, Satmetrix, Vovici and many others have traditionally focused on analyzing and reporting on structured data from surveys.
  • Text mining specialists like Attensity, Clarabridge and Overtone can make sense out of survey comments, web site forms, agent logs, etc.
  • Speech analytics solutions, from vendors like Envision, Nexidia, NICE and Verint, help decipher the key issues from customer voices in call recordings.

The IBM VOCA service, says English, is aimed at industries where churn is a key issue (e.g. telecom) or those with complex support requirements (e.g. tech and industrial products). It could also be used to develop micro segmentation and support cross- or up-sell processes.

Like the other more packaged solutions mentioned, the idea is to figure out what feedback means, then get the info to the right people so action can be taken before it’s too late.

One major difference is that IBM’s approach is custom—they work with clients to develop a solution based on all of the feedback sources the client wants, then analyze and deliver reports on whatever schedule is needed. EFM and call recording solutions could potentially be among the many sources of feedback data.

IBM has a few pilot customers and is now actively marketing its VOCA service. I think it will be a serious option to consider especially in large/complex IBM shops. They’ll get some of the benefits of a SaaS deployment but can customize to the nth degree.

It will be interesting to see how VOCA develops and how competitive or collaborative it becomes with existing vendors. In any case, the good news is that VOCA should help propel the voice-of-customer solutions market forward in 2010. And who knows, VOCA could become the acronym the space adopts as it consolidates in the coming year.

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