Global candy maker Ferrara knows the right questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to do with the answers. That customer experience savvy is big part of why Ferrara is so good at managing SweeTARTS, Nerds, Trolli, and myriad other iconic brands.

“We’re consumer-driven, so we need as much information as possible,” Ferrara Vice President and CIO George Lesko said. “We need to understand behaviors of the people who go into the store; we need to understand how people interpret our products and our platforms; and we need to understand what they want from us next.”

This data helps Ferrara close the experience gap, the difference between how you think customers feel about you versus how they actually feel. The gap is often wider than organizations believe, but experience management (XM) tools help analyze and understand experience gaps – and determine what to do about them.

XM tools help Ferrara gauge a campaign’s effectiveness, choose the next new product, evaluate how consumers feel about social issues, and more.

Making the Right Impression the Right Way

“When we’re talking customer sentiment, we’re really talking more broadly about how people think about our brands,” Daniel Hunt, director of Insights and Analytics at Ferrara said.

Hunt and his team regularly use Experience Management solutions from SAP and Qualtrics to manage how customers, shoppers, and others experience all that his company has to offer. “It really helps us both to test the validity of new ideas, and also to come up with them.”

This goes for brands that Ferrara has owned for ages, as well as recent acquisitions, such as SweeTARTS. In a video, Hunt explained, “For SweeTARTS in particular as a brand, we’ve used XM to touch almost every major brand activity, from new innovation to communications.”

With offerings from SAP and Qualtrics, Ferrara examines how best to engage in conversations with consumers, as well as understanding their preferences, according to Hunt. That means choosing the right message — and everything else that goes with it. “It’s really about how you find the right thing to talk about. And then you also have to find the right way to deliver that message so people remember it, so people get it,  so people remember it was you.”

The Perfect Storm: Speed, Agility, Cost, Flexibility

“Having a flexible platform allows you to ask, really, any question you want — in any way you want, to any audience you want — and we can get into very specific details,” Hunt said. “We don’t just have to rely on asking the same five questions over and over again; we can ask specific questions for every brand, for every project [and] every product.”

XM technology allows Ferrara to dive into the granular details of a target demographic’s data in ways that had not been possible before. Before SAP and Qualtrics, discovering people’s preferred words, phrases, imagery, and colors — and dozens more factors — would have taken too long and been too expensive.

“A lot of those are sometimes really small questions, and I think that’s where we’ve seen maybe the most change [because] they’re really important to having a good product,” Hunt said. “Speed, agility, cost and flexibility — and the ability to be targeted and drill down — are all important for us when we’re making decisions.”

The SAP and Qualtrics Difference

“Qualtrics is really ahead of all the other competitors, it’s very responsive,” Hunt said. “There are a lot of specific cases that we can talk about — both on the capabilities side and on the automation side — where we’ve had needs, and we can work with the product development team to actually meet them.”

Hunt confirmed that Ferrara chose Qualtrics XM for three reasons:

  • The flexible platform is easy to use and implement “almost in one day”
  • An aggressive road map for development, “where new capabilities are coming online all the time”
  • Bespoke surveys, which offer “the ability for us to ask questions we couldn’t ask in the past, the ability to do things faster and do things more automated than we have in the past”

SAP and Qualtrics help Ferrara identify early adopters and their preferences, which is crucial to staying ahead of flavor trends, according to Hunt. And beyond their candy tastes, Ferrara has gained valuable insight about its fans’ values.

“A lot of the work that we’ve done from a corporate social responsibility standpoint has been informed by the research that we’ve done with experience management,” Hunt said. “Learning what’s important to consumers, what they want us to focus on most as a company — trying to be responsible, agile and responsive to that.”

The Peacemaker

“One of the ways that Qualtrics has really improved the lives of our employees — and really our decision making — is new product development,” Hunt shared. “Before Qualtrics, we used to argue in boardrooms for weeks about product names and package designs. Today we’ll do that over the course of an hour by looking at consumer feedback and consumer data.”

That’s because such data clearly indicates what will best resonate with consumers, according to Hunt. There’s no more guesswork or relying on intuition. “The first time that we did it for one product, it was like a light bulb moment for our executive team,” he said. “Everyone was in agreement, and we could just move forward.”

During a recent discussion about which new flavors to unveil, Ferrara tested 50 different ideas and narrowed it down to three — a feat that would have been near impossible before Qualtrics. “Anything that we used to decide in a boardroom is now something that we decide with consumer data,” Hunt said. “We make those decisions in a few minutes instead of several weeks; and we do it in a way where everyone feels happy walking out of the room.”

Ferrara’s Future with XM

“My experience using XM has been great,” Hunt said, noting that the number of SAP and Qualtrics users at Ferrara has grown to an entire team over the past few years. “It was something that was really quick and easy to get people onboarded with, which is fantastic.”

Ferrara’s XM initiative will continue closing the experience gap by automating analytics and other tasks via the Qualtrics platform, according to Hunt. This will free up his team to concentrate on research.

“The biggest barrier for us is time — how much time we have to write surveys, to do analysis, to build reports,” Hunt said. “The next phase for us is really using all the capabilities that you have on the platform so we can spend more time figuring out the next great questions to answer.”

Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher.
This story originally appeared on The Experience Report on The Wall Street Journal.
Top image via video.