Leveraging Social Media For Valuable Voice Of The Customer Input

With Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media outlets reaching a record number of users, industry analysts and researchers are looking into the ways these media platforms are influencing the customer experience. The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth conducted a study that evaluated Fortune 500 companies and found that 62% use Twitter, 58% have a corporate Facebook page, and 23% have a corporate public-facing blog. This raises an important question: are companies leveraging social media as a valuable source for Voice of the Customer (VoC) input?

Social media is not only an important new marketing channel, but it also forces executives to pay more attention to the voice of their customers. In today’s competitive and social environment, monitoring all customer interaction channels is mandatory, and it’s important to base decisions and prioritize actions on a holistic view of the customer. In short, social media has amplified their voice and can no longer be ignored. In order to address this properly, companies need to first be aware of the challenges social media can create, including:  

  • Useful vs. Useless Information. The useful insights in social media are typically hidden amongst vast amount of useless information. Distilling the real insights from the noise is a significant challenge.
  • The Viral Effect. Once something emerges as a clear trend above and beyond the static noise, it’s usually too latethe insight is now exposed to thousands or millions of potential customers prospects and your competitors.
  • Biased Sample. Even clear insights thatappear on social media may not always accurately reflect all of your customers’ opinions. Running from fire to fire voiced through this medium will burn through resources and distract from what many of your other customers really want.
  • Lack of Context. Postings on social media are getting shorter and shorter and typical tweets may only include a handful of words or abbreviated acronyms. Without a clear understanding of events leading up to a negative outburst, it is difficult to truly discern the root of the problem and strategically determine a path to resolution. 

How Companies are Addressing the Challenge

First, companies must include social media within a holistic and centralized approach for listening to the VoC across various channels and move away from the more common siloed mentality. This needs to be addressed both from a technological and organizational point of view.

Customers don’t think in terms of channels when interacting with organizations as they are looking for products, solutions, or answers. They make no delineation between contacting the company via web, email, phone, chat, or other mediums. They make no differentiation as to whether their call was with sales, marketing, or support. However, because of the growth of contact avenues, the chances of organizations crossing the dreaded “double deviation” line is increased.

A report by the MIT Sloan Management Review, When Unhappy Customers Strike Back on the Internet,” found that when the majority of unhappy customers resorted to social media to express unhappiness, it was because double deviation occurred (i.e., they tried to contact the organization directly via standard channels and then expected a resolution that never happened).  

Only when customers felt the company had failed them twice did they decide to strike back through social networks. While social media creates an opportunity for organizations to develop a stronger relationship and gain insights with customers, it does not replace traditional channels. The phone channel remains the number one channel of choice for most customers across all age groups. The more traditional channels are also a great way to validate emerging trends that appear on social media to make sure they represent a real issue with a significant segment within your customer base. 

One leading healthcare provider faced these very issues. In monitoring social media channels, they found there was noise about the risk of mail order prescriptions “heating” in mailboxes. Instead of relying solely on social media information, the healthcare provider leveraged its VoC analytics solution and identified that only a few customers actually called with concerns about this issue. By leveraging a holistic solution -- which social media was a part of -- they were able to determine the scope of the issue, prioritize, and formulate the most appropriate response for a potential emerging customer issue.

Additionally, organizations need to look beyond the technology to involve the various organizations that “own” not only social media programs, but any group and technology that can influence the customer experience.  

For example, many large organizations have social media and web analytics teams, brand marketers, and IT groups. One example is a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) provider for realtors. The company has seen continued growth since 1993, handles $100 billion in real estate transactions, and hosts more than 46,000 subscribers and 59,000 active real estate listings. The social media champion within the organization partnered with the CMO to manage customer conversations taking place on Facebook, Twitter, and the company blog. With the ability to monitor conversations, this champion was able to take advantage of direct customer feedback and work with its customer service, contact center, and marketing teams to collect trends, product/support suggestions, and more to influence product development.  

Additionally, the company also tracks and responds to multiple requests. If a customer comments on the same issue more than once, the provider sends a customer service representative onsite to address the challenge, creating an opportunity to get to know top users and more vocal members. The newly established customer-provider relationship also offers direct feedback and insight into how products are used, and the information is relayed to the leadership team, to potentially enhance products. The social media champion reinforces that the company’s Facebook page and blog has turned into a place where customers can share ideas/insights and where support centers employees can make sure customer issues are discussed.  

To complement this social media program, the company was able to make call center improvements so that customers (realtors) could still reach someone after the telephone support workers shut down for the day. In addition, they were able to analyze calls and proactively reach out to customers that were repeat callers to ensure questions have been answered. All of this led to a nearly 10% increase in customer satisfaction in over a 12-month period and at a strategic level, the company has focused on building a true customer community. 

In today’s world, social media is evolving and must be incorporated in any holistic VoC campaign. As customers trust total strangers more than brand advertising, it is imperative that multiple departments work together to determine root causes of issues and concerns and take effective actions. As with the MLS provider example above, the ability to incorporate social media with traditional customer approaches, proved to be extremely successful. However, it had the foresight to incorporate social media, not just solely lean on it. It understood that customer satisfaction is the end goal. By taking these tactics into consideration, incorporating social media, and having multiple groups work together, companies can ensure higher customer satisfaction rates.

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