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Reverse Engineering

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 06-05-2008 Print

Wharton IT guru Eric K. Clemons says customer feedback online will be the next make-or-break criterion for sales. Where does the CIO fit in?

So a lot of this comes back to search.

Clemons: Social search will become explosively important. The most difficult thing for companies to understand--and this is a huge thing for CIOs--is that you can control what people post about you. You can't control what people post by controlling the posting or the site, but you can control it by not screwing up.

One of my clients had the worst reviews of any hotel in his chain, and I was able to demonstrate that the single, most catastrophic thing for a hotel trying to sell online is the presence of negative reviews. Once we realize that reviews are going to determine what sells and what doesn't sell, there's a whole new role for the CIO: understanding what determines the perception a guest or customer has of the experience and finding out what went wrong to cause those reviews. It's a whole different job.

How does the CIO segue into this new role?

Clemons: I'm giving the CIO a new assignment: Find the causes of a notable negative experience. If something happened five times during five years at one hotel, that's not much of a pattern. So how do you find it? Go to a social networking site, find the reviews that determine your image and reverse-engineer what caused the bad experiences. That's going to be the most high-revenue thing a CIO can do.

If the only thing that determines my ability to sell is the number of negative reviews, I'm no longer managing to percentages, because the negative people are the ones who can have the most impact on my marketability.

So find out what the negative reviews have in common. Find out the approximate cost, the immediate cost. Find out what it was about their experiences that led the customers to write the negative reviews. Find out what it was about your operating conditions at the time that caused the bad experiences and reverse-engineer those conditions. This is a whole new role for the CIO.

How does reverse engineering work?

Clemons: If the customer reviews are not the kind you want, figure out why. Companies have done this for a long time. If you have a batch of defective chips, you figure out why they are defective. That's why there are batch numbers on manufactured products: They are meaningless to consumers, but if there's a defective batch, the numbers help the company figure out what went wrong.

We're talking about reverse engineering not because the company found an error, but because consumers were complaining.

In the hotel's case, it was easy to see what happened: When they overbooked, some people were given inferior rooms. When the hotel was over capacity, the quality of service in the restaurant collapsed. When some people forgot to book a room for a conference, instead of getting the conference rate, they got a nasty rate for the last available rooms. People complained about the price, the service and the quality of the room.

The reasons for negative reviews are not always that obvious. But even when they are, as in this case, the hotel didn't see that customers weren't booking because of the negatives. They didn't know what the problem was, so they couldn't correlate the problem with the dates and what was interesting about those dates.

There are two parts to this: monitoring not only satisfaction surveys, but also what gets posted online, and doing reverse engineering.


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