How Qualtrics invaded the enterprise with its customer experience software platform

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Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith

The Utah-based tech unicorn is 15 years old and has been quietly racking up an enterprise customer base that any startup would be envious of, so how did it get there and what's next?

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Qualtrics has gone from the Silicon Slopes of Utah, building software for university researchers, to a platform of tools used by the world's biggest brands to survey their customers and employees.

As the story goes, Qualtrics started from the Smith family basement in Provo, Utah. Ryan Smith, cofounder and current CEO, started building research software as a project with his seriously ill father, a marketing professor at Utah's Brigham Young University (BYU), back in 2002.

Qualtrics started by targeting what Ryan's father knew best, the academic sector, something Smith joked about being "a horrible business model" because universities "have no money".

The original idea though was to create a Software as a Service (SaaS) tool that would allow anyone to conduct research quickly and easily. Then, as the world dealt with the fallout from the 2008 financial crash, Smith and his small team saw that customers were using the platform for something else: they had started to adopt the technology for customer experience management. In other words they were doing market instead of academic research on the platform.

Around 2010, as purse strings tightened and consumers became less brand loyal, businesses had to start competing more in the customer experience space. So although Qualtrics wasn't originally built for that, a trend was starting to form, and the team went about architecting the platform around this customer experience.

What is the Qualtrics Customer Experience Platform?

Smith told this founding story again on stage at the Qualtrics Converge Europe conference in London this week as a means of mapping how the company has evolved, as is par for the course in the tech world, into a platform – the Experience Management (XM) platform.

The journey is a familiar one: build the technology, adapt it to how customers are using it, and converge the platform back into an easy to understand package. Broken up into its component parts this consists of the customer experience, employee experience, product experience and brand experience products, all built on top of the core Qualtrics research engine.

The aim is to allow anyone within a business to gathering insights for things like customer or employee satisfaction, product testing, brand or pricing research; analyse the needs and trends, report it back and drive continuous improvement, all in a simple web-based platform.

Qualtrics wants its XM platform to be the repository for rich experiential data, instead of the static operational data businesses tend to run on. "So human factors, beliefs, emotions," Smith said. "Why things are happening and what will happen next."

Smith likes to benchmark Qualtrics against Salesforce, the SaaS leader in the customer relationship management (CRM) market. He claimed that the new experience management platform will be the "system of record for experience data".

The platform then has a whole host of smart features like sentiment analysis and statistical regression techniques to predict and push the highest priority cases to the right person to take action, not unlike Salesforce's Einstein features.

Read next: How Salesforce brought artificial intelligence and machine learning into its products with Einstein

Closing the experience gap

Smith joked on stage that you only have to look back a couple of weeks – cough, United – to see how devastating poor customer experience can be to a brand, and the importance of getting on top of what your customers think.

Smith called this the 'experience gap' and pointed to Bain and Company figures which show that 80 percent of firms believed they delivered a superior experience to their customers, but only eight percent of customers agreed.

Smith said that the Qualtrics platform, by bringing together the four core satisfaction elements of customer, product, brand and employees, helps companies close this gap.

"This is not just some new features," he said of the Experience Management platform. "We have been working on this for five years and how you manage those four core elements and how you delight customers by setting it up at every touchpoint and how you build iconic brands."

Qualtrics customer case studies

As the image below attests, Qualtrics has a seriously impressive stable of enterprise customers, and the pool is pretty vertical-agnostic.

Qualtrics customers

Speaking on stage during Converge, Alison Windon from Allianz insurance said that following the arrival of a new group CEO, with a driving focus on the customer, the insurer "needed technology as a key enabler" to drive that cultural change.

"[Allianz needed] a tool to do heavy lifting for feedback, analysing it for key insights and facilitate key action planning at the client level," Windon said. "We needed to get the right information to the right people, at the right time, to drive impact. And we needed it to be flexible, self service and scalable globally. We found the right partner in Qualtrics."

After 18 months Allianz is now using Qualtrics across 22 geographies to get feedback from more than 12,000 customers.

Adidas took the opposite approach, in that it uses Qualtrics to take its expertise in customer experience to deliver a better employee experience.

Read next: How Adidas is bringing its customer experience approach to employee feedback

Qualtrics IPO?

Utah startups tend to raise less capital than those in Silicon Valley, which means they often grow at a slower, steadier pace. This genuine bootstrapping tends to give these companies a more genuine appreciation for their customers than the lip service you typically get from other B2B startups though.

Qualtrics now counts 8,500 customers globally and although progress has been a tad slower in Europe, it certainly has more of a presence than the average person might be aware of. After opening its first European office four years ago in Dublin, Qualtrics now has offices in Ireland, London, Munich and soon to be in Paris, supporting 1,200 European customers.

The money has followed, and in a major way, with the company securing a $180 million (£140 million) funding round earlier this month at a valuation of $2.5 billion (£1.94 billion) from Valley big hitters like Insight Venture Partners, Accel and Sequoia Capital, as it pushes towards growth and an eventual IPO.

Smith told TechCrunch in the aftermath of the funding round as much: "Going public is super easy to do. Just file the S-1 and we're out. It's about being public and how that works and getting the house in order to make sure that that's the case. We're going to be a great public company. We're going public."

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