BtoB

'Voice of the customer' heard loud and clear

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The b-to-b media landscape is constantly affected by changing economic conditions, changing technology, changing audience behaviors and preferences for information sources, and changing demands on marketers. Given the scope and pace of change, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the basic mission we in b-to-b have always shared: Serving our customers by bringing buyers and sellers together effectively to exchange ideas, information, products and services.

At Questex Media Group, we are completely engaged in navigating today's fluid, fast-changing business environment. To stay on course, we've begun using Voice of the Customer programs, incorporating both structured and unstructured feedback to constantly ask and answer three basic questions: What do our customers want? Are we providing it to them effectively? And how can we do better? Beyond that, we've endeavored to create a cultural environment that encourages and enables our team members to make decisions based on those answers, because listening is not enough. You have to act.

An ongoing example showcasing our commitment to this is the strategic shift we've been executing in our Travel Group. We're moving from serving travel agents and their suppliers through a largely printcentric strategy focused on delivering weekly news and analysis—through the pages of Travel Agent magazine—to a fully integrated print and online media, live event, data and e-commerce platform. Comprehensive customer interviews, focus group research and other analysis that we conducted allowed us to understand in detail what the travel agent audience and their suppliers most needed and valued in business media and information terms. Among other key points, our Voice of the Customer process told us that the weekly newsmagazine format through which we were serving that market, although important to us, needed to change dramatically. For the team leading the magazine that had been serving the travel agent community for nearly 80 years, the tough message to hear was that the diversity of needs in this market was not being effectively met by the single-product, single-channel focus of our weekly.

That basic message, and the ongoing feedback collected since, has guided fundamental investment decisions we made to launch new magazines, including Home-Based Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Advisor and Luxury Hotelier; new, appointment-based events, including Home-Based TA Expo, Luxury Travel and Incentive Travel Exchange; and new Web sites and e-learning portals. Customer-driven investments have also been made to acquire and integrate nontraditional businesses into our Travel Group—notably Five Star Alliance, the leading online travel agency and Web media platform for the luxury travel market—which allows us to offer customers a lead-gen platform and an e-commerce channel to drive hotel bookings and reservations.

Voice of the Customer also led us through some tough decisions, such as our redesign and relaunch of Travel Agent magazine last year that was accompanied by a reduction in its frequency. We simultaneously increased the frequency, variety and depth of information we now provide daily on the Travel Agent Web site and direct to travel agents' e-mail in-boxes and mobile devices.

It's our goal to work with our customers to develop integrated media and information platforms like this in every market we serve. We have many small, day-to-day examples of how Voice of the Customer is driving our business development and customer service efforts across all aspects of our business, from editorial and content creation to sales, marketing, operations, finance, recruitment, training, development and IT. Together these small examples are adding up to a new way of interacting with and serving our customers and markets. The feedback has been tremendous, which is why we're convinced that this is one of the greatest eras ever to be in b-to-b. The same twin forces of technology innovation and globalization that have combined to create so much rapid economic and social change are also opening up opportunities for those of us in b-to-b to serve our customers in new and innovative ways every day. To capture those opportunities, all we have to do is listen to our customers' voice, and act.

Kerry Gumas is president-CEO of Questex Media Group. He can be reached at kgumas@questex.com.

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