Liss definitely has some ideas. For example, monitoring blogs will give his employees an early heads-up on buying trends. "If all of a sudden plus-size women are talking about how comfortable a certain fabric is, we can study it for use in our products," he says.
Charming Shoppes' VOC team has already developed a dashboard, including a one-page document that each brand group uses in its monthly business review. This enables groups to share their insights, according Liss. "Right now it's just the highlights -- major feedback that's actionable -- but we'll build from there," he says.
A Fractured Market
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.