The Social Customer Strikes Back

Accidents, human error, technical glitches, and other embarrassing corporate moments are inevitable for all companies. However, the ability to foresee or at least identify them early enough to take action is often where the real challenge lies. In the past, companies had a significant window of opportunity to analyze and address potential mistakes before they became a public relations catastrophe. Today's new social customers, however, are quick and often unforgiving. The collective voice of unsatisfied consumers can strike back with lightning speed and sometimes with devastating results.

The key to staying in tune and ahead of the game is to have a handle on how to identify your next customer tipping point and then, more importantly, knowing when and in what ways to respond.

Staying Proactive When Things Go Awry

Some potential pitfalls on the business highway of change and growth can be avoided if you heed the lessons others have picked up along the way. The following looks at several customer service blunders, each of which resulted in a backlash of negative customer feedback and media coverage.

Sudden price increase upsets customers. After a popular Internet subscription service announced a significant price increase, many loyal customers cancelled their service and responded to the change via social media. The company apologized, but the request for forgiveness was drowned out further by a decision to tier its offerings. As a result, this brand felt the impact of losing dedicated customers. These decisions could have been handled more carefully by incorporating insights from a panel of existing customers to flush out the various options and how to communicate the rationale behind them in a clear manner before the changes were launched to the broad-scale market.

Drastic logo change tests customer loyalty. A leading apparel retailer announced its new branding, and then abruptly withdrew the decision only a few days later. In what amounts to a corporate mea culpa, the company posted a message to its Facebook account saying, "OK, we heard loud and clear that you don't like the new logo." The company reintroduced the original branding, and in doing so, deserves credit for moving swiftly to respond to customer reaction. This could lead you to wonder how many customers it ran the new logo by before the launch. No doubt, some focus groups were conducted, but this particular example proves that a much larger, unbiased sample across different segments could have made a difference.

New product causes service issues. After a technology innovator released a new mobile phone, customers experienced constant dropped calls. The manufacturer, however, didn't respond to the numerous requests and red flags it received for an entire week, because its research showed that only half of 1 percent of users actually encountered the problem. Postings on the social networks proved otherwise, so the company offered a free accessory to millions of buyers. Identifying the situation earlier could have saved all kinds of headaches on both sides.

Letting Customers Be Your Guide

It's important to realize that customers who love your products and services tend to be forgiving to a degree. That said, you can't take them for granted. That's where a Voice of the Customer (VoC) strategy can come into play—helping identify key customer issues early and arming an organization with intelligence it needs to save time, resources, and brand image.

Today's forward-thinking organizations are starting to take a more proactive approach through a centralized means of detecting, gathering, analyzing, and acting on insights from their VoC programs. And in doing so, they are reaping such benefits as:

  • Monitoring and detecting unforeseen trends. It can be hard to anticipate what may prompt customer frustration. That's because it's not always based on a move you make. It could be something your competitor or government initiated. Usually, the first voices come from unstructured sources, such as phone calls into the contact center, emails, or postings on social networks. Some speech analytics and text analytics technologies can monitor a near unlimited set of words and phrases across these channels and provide critical "early warning" signals when a new issue is bubbling up. The unstructured sources also can provide a "virtual focus group" of thousands or millions of consumers, helping determine important concerns worthy of exploring.
  • Managing consumer panels. Offer some of your most loyal customers an opportunity to participate in panels or feedback discussions. This can be a great platform for exploring such corporate moves as changing a logo or adapting a service or price structure. While some of these are sensitive decisions, taking an action before testing it extensively with consumers may have devastating results.
  • Receiving ongoing and "actionable" feedback. Companies need to get smarter about how they survey customers by first assessing all the existing information they have about their customers. Don't ask what you already know. Advanced VoC technology platforms that link data from your CRM system to consumer insight, transactions, and histories across channels can help you target questions, and, as a result, help you gain more actionable intelligence from which to base future business decisions with the customer in mind.
  • Taking action. Arguably the most important aspect of a VoC program is being proactive around customer insights and requests, and communicating your actions back to the consumer. This not only helps build loyalty and fuel the customers' passion to provide additional feedback, it also lets them know you're listening and that you care. Planned and executed actions also need to be well-communicated internally. It can be very disappointing when a customer receives notice of a new company policy before employees are apprised of it. Successful VoC programs that are enterprise-wide and typically run by senior executives, such as a chief customer officer, can rally different departments that interface with and impact consumers.

Armed with real and recent customer interaction insights—which include likes and dislikes, requests and questions—organizations can make more informed decisions and craft the right responses to defuse, or even ride, the social wave. Some of these issues may even turn into lucrative opportunities for customers and the business alike. In this way, marketing, product development, and other customer-impacting groups in the enterprise can be more proactive, more informed, and better positioned to anticipate what's coming and put their best foot forward.

Daniel Ziv is vice president of customer interaction analytics at Verint Systems.

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