• October 20, 2009
  • By Blake Cahill, SVP, marketing, Visible Technologies

Can You Hear the Social Media Conversation?

Happy customers are often equated with innovative and growing businesses. Companies have long understood that the key to maintaining customer happiness and loyalty comes from listening to where and how customers are talking about specific products and services, and in turn, creating a customer-centric organization. Once companies can leverage customer insight, they can take steps to learn, engage, and grow from this feedback -- a process that has the potential to aid in everything from product development to customer service.    

This decades-old voice of the customer struggle used to take place in various settings: in-person, by mail, over the phone, or even through fax. Today, the struggle to interact is compounded by the explosion of digital communication channels from email and instant messaging to social media. As a result, companies are also faced with the simultaneous diffusion and amplification of customer feedback. In a world where 1,500 tweets are sent every second through Twitter, companies are under pressure to interact with customers across these new channels. And without the culture, process, and technology in place, a company's ability to understand and act on this deluge of customer conversations is severely compromised.

"Customer experience is one of the most critical determinants of brand strength and business growth," said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, in a press release earlier this year. Emphasizing the need to improve Web and contact center technologies and processes, Neale-May added that companies are "missing a major opportunity to turn customer pain into competitive gain at every touch point." 

The core of the challenge lies not just in the complexity of the channels created over the past two decades, but in corporate cultures that, at least initially, have tried to shoehorn old practices into new mediums. Even as companies begin to understand the different nature of digital channels and social engagement, they're slow to create internal structures, processes, best practices, and feedback loops to begin embracing the social media reality.

In some ways, this reticence isn't surprising. Many companies understand that the nature of the new and rapidly changing world requires them to continuously adopt, build, migrate, and support new methodologies and mediums. But they fear that just when they have it finally figured it out, something new comes along to confuse matters all over again. 

Though trying to converse with consumers during this seismic shift toward social media outlets requires unprecedented transformation, it can also create limitless opportunities for feedback, sales, brand loyalty, and service. 

A 2009 study by the CMO Council, in conjunction with Satmetrix, reveals that senior marketers admit their companies fail to take decisive, company-wide action to integrate the voice of the customer into key business and marketing processes. The study underscored critical deficiencies in the way companies measure, optimize, and leverage customer experience to drive loyalty, improve brand value, and increase business performance and growth. Therefore, companies struggle with:

  • insufficient availability and aggregation of real-time customer experience data across touch points that should be shared throughout the organization (Only 38 percent of companies gather insight from customer engagements.);
  • poor use of customer interactions to collect insights and intelligence or maximize up-sell and advocacy opportunities (Only 32 percent look for ways to turn problems into new sales opportunities.);
  • lack of online processes and systems that track online word-of-mouth and drive customer advocacy (Only 17 percent use the opportunity to identify and cultivate potential customer champions and advocates.);
  • intermittent or deficient monitoring of the customer experience to provide true and timely insight into problems and opportunities (Just under half report integrating and analyzing customer data, while only one in five has embraced intelligent Internet analytics.); and
  • too few compensation programs tied to customer experience, loyalty, and satisfaction gains (Nearly six out of 10 executives surveyed said their companies do not compensate employees based on customer loyalty, satisfaction improvements, or analytics.).

The bottom line: nearly two-thirds of companies do not have a formal voice of the customer program in place.

As Laura Brooks, vice president of research for Satmetrix said, "Companies must become more committed to leveraging customer experience as a key business metric, but measurement is not an end in itself." In other words, companies need to commit to improving their customer experience competitiveness.

All companies fall somewhere along the social media maturity scale which progresses from awareness, denial, acceptance, and change. Statistics from the CMO/Satmetrix study suggest that there is enormous opportunity for companies to move quickly along that scale. The good news is that while the landscape seems hard to fathom right now, there are some companies already leading the way, turning a universe of seemingly digital noise into actionable business intelligence. In doing so, these socially attuned organizations are finding their customers' voice and, in turn, growing their business.

About the Author

Blake Cahill (bcahill@visibletechnologies.com) is senior vice president of marketing for Visible Technologies, a Seattle-based leading provider of social media analysis and engagement solutions.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.
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For the rest of the October 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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