The value of VOC systems

At this point, "no single vendor provides [the] full functionality to meet the entire social intelligence needs of the enterprise," says Forrester analyst Zach Hofer-Shall. However, many vendors have been working hard over the past year or two to expand their platforms to cover all the VOC bases.

But if you're interested in investing in a VOC system, you should do your homework. First of all, you need to know what market the vendor started out in, because that represents the company's core strength. Recently added or acquired features and functions may not be fully integrated with the vendor's earlier platforms, warns James Kobielus, an analyst at Forrester. Vendors are aggressively integrating VOC functions with business intelligence, CRM and advanced analytics tools -- and "when you have a laundry list of technologies, a lot of assembly is required," Kobielus says. A systems integrator could be helpful in working with such a vendor, he suggests.

Social intelligence service providers mine the social Web for customer feedback and then use sentiment analysis and natural language processing to determine its relevance and sentiment score. Major players include Radian6, NetBase, BuzzMetrics (now part of Nielsen), Crimson Hexagon, Scout Labs (now Lithium Technologies), Cymfony, NM Incite, WiseWindow, MediaMiser, EmPower Research, Synthesio, Converseon and Dow Jones Insight.

Customer insight and action platform vendors have strong backgrounds in mining and analyzing large bodies of unstructured material generated by internal channels such as customer surveys and call center notes. Major players in this field include Clarabridge, Attensity, Kana, Autonomy, SAS Institute and RightNow. Many of these companies have recently moved into the social media market by partnering with or acquiring social intelligence service providers. Their suites often include social community software, as well as BI and CRM tools -- either their own or those of a partner.

Social community platform vendors such as Lithium, Jive Software, Telligent Systems, KickApps and Mzinga help businesses set up online communities where customers can chat, exchange tips and express opinions. They also provide tools for monitoring, mining and analyzing customer interchanges. Some, like Telligent and Lithium, allow businesses to set up their Facebook fan pages so that a customer who posts a question there automatically gains access to the social community, which often has the answer.

Enterprise feedback management vendors like Allegiance, Mindshare, Medallia and ResponseTek specialize in tracking and analyzing customer feedback and behavior and the effectiveness of media campaigns and other marketing strategies.

-- Elisabeth Horwitt

This story, "The value of VOC systems" was originally published by Computerworld.

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