EFM? Far From Dead, Thanks for Asking…

In 2001 I wrote a paper for Gartner introducing Customer Feedback Systems (it is available from Gartner if you are a client, it is under Archive, but easy to find – ping me if you want more details).

In that paper I made the point that asking customers how they felt about specific experiences or interactions (surveys were the up-and-coming tool back then to measure customer satisfaction) was useless – unless you integrated that data with existing corporate data, with data collected from transactional CRM systems already deployed, and with data from market research projects.

Further, when introducing the concept of how to build these systems by leveraging existing components, I said that the goal for putting this solution together was not to collect and aggregate the data, that was the easy part, but to analyze it and learn from it deep truths we could not uncover any other way.  Mind you, we were already talking about Analytics and Business Intelligence, but my paper was the first time we tried to apply those concepts to managing customer relationships (at least, as far as I could tell back then).  This happened at the same time  organizations began looking at Analytical CRM – it was quite well received.

Fast forward three-to-four years, and a survey vendor called Perseus (with a very smart co-founder named Jeffrey Henning) was on a similar path, trying to build solutions like the ones I described.  Perseus came across that model on their own, almost on a similar timeline and direction that I had used to reach that conclusion (hey, this is how people win Nobel Prizes together while working apart, right?).

They did not like the name I had used to describe the solution; I don’t blame them – I am not good at generating acronyms, and they were using a more powerful and descriptive name: Enterprise Feedback Management.  After a few conversations we decided we were heading on a similar direction and collaborating would be good for both of us – and for the market.  I was not married to CFS, so we adopted EFM as the name for the new market.

As they say, the rest is history (in case you want a good working definition of what EFM does, I wrote this post in 2008).

Through the next four-or-five years the EFM market went through amazing growth: it tripled, doubled, and even grew at a far slower 80% year over year.  The market went from nothing in 2005, to around 250-300 million dollars today.  In the process, EFM (not surveys) became a very competitive and accepted solution for the enterprise – not for its ability to generate and aggregate surveys or manage panels, the easiest and less problematic aspects of the solution, but for the integration with other data, for working with analytics engines – but more important for the customer insights it generated.

EFM was never about surveys or panels, it was never about the technology – it was always about discovering insights about customer. The market proved that to be case by rewarding more generously those vendors that focused on that aspect (vendors like Allegiance, Mindshare, and Vovici) and less so those that were more focused on the operational aspects of it (vendors like SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, and to a lesser extent others that focused on market research integration only).  It has been a great ride.

If you followed the story so far, you can imagine what happened to EFM when Social came about.  Those that were doing it properly, focused on the insight generated by the data, saw an explosion in the value they could deliver.  Social is, after all the hype clears, a provider of data.  Big Data.  One-hundred times or more the amount of data provided outside of s0cial channels – and more trustworthy than data provided by surveys and market research events.  Companies like Attensity and NetBase are also doing their part, significant part, to give organizations a way to replace costly, lengthy, and complex market research studies with online, automated solutions that leverage all channels – including social.

Social was the fire to the EFM gunpowder -it made it explode and carried the market to new heights.

I have had so many inquiries and helped so many customers in the past couple of years to understand what social brings, how it changes EFM, and what it does to the traditional model — it almost felt as if it was 2006 and I was back at Gartner telling organizations how to go beyond CSAT and Loyalty questions into generating value from the data they collected.  Social has been a rebirth for EFM, and proven that the model of focusing on generating insights from aggregated data was never more powerful than when we get great data to work with – and that is what Social did: proven the model for EFM.  It did not change it – or, as the naysayers say, kill it.

As I said earlier, there is a movement aloft to kill EFM (apparently they did not read my post when I said that nothing is going to die in 2010 and beyond). All it does is make it more confusing for end users, vendors, and consultants since it simply disseminates FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the market for the only purpose of furthering the agenda of a few anlaysts, consultants, and vendors that are looking to create and command a new market that will benefit them.  The new acronyms and solutions don’t offer any additional value over what EFM offers, they simply want something new, something they can sell.

This new movement is trying to reinvent the market by claiming that focusing on the insights generated is far better than what EFM does.  That claim, the core claim to what they are saying, is misguided since that is precisely what EFM does.  True, there are a few implementations (maybe more than a few) that have been incorrectly advised by analysts and consultants to focus more on the survey and panel management components of EFM, or that are too closely associated with NPS to really focus on what matters: customer insights.  However, the solution is not to call it something else and pretend that all the work that organizations have done to get here has been misguided.  The better approach is to help those organizations leverage the power of the solution they have acquired, focus on what matters, and plot a path to generating customer insights and walk away from the bad implementations they have.

Replacing a solution with another one that does exactly the same, only after paying large amounts to consultants to help you get there, is not what organizations need – but lacking true leadership they will chose the path.  I blame those consultants with confusing their clients on purpose, only to deliver the same solution they had before.  As my eight-year old says: Not Cool.

EFM is not dead, nor will it die anytime soon.  Those who have implemented and worked with it at length through the last few years can only see the goodness that comes from generating customer insights with well implemented EFM solutions, and how Social channels and Social data brings even more power to their efforts.  They have seen their results improve dramatically over the past couple of years as they continued the process or merging data from social channels in their existing models, and leveraged their existing analytics engines to generate even better and more powerful insights.  they have not seen how they can understand customers better and deliver to their needs.

Call it  what you may, but don’t confuse the market by “killing” a well established solution jsut for your own benefit.

EFM? Far from Dead, Thanks for Asking…