Opinion: Creating actionable customer insight from social mediaby
Listening and responding to feedback is vital, but the problem is that increasing numbers of customers will share their grievances with online communities rather than speak to the company. Neil Hartley explains how applying analytics to social media can help.
By Neil Hartley, SPSS
If customers have a bad experience with a firm, they may complain to their family and friends but many are starting to complain where it can hurt you the most – online. This changes the game for corporate marketers and customer service. But rather than curse the complaining customer, see them as a gift that provides unparalleled marketing research to understand why they are thinking of leaving you and how you can win them back.
Many experts in customer experience began monitoring social media sites in the last several years. However, many firms found it difficult to take the next step in terms of innovation in this area. The most progressive companies have begun to go from monitoring to interacting with their customers online. But how do you change the focus from putting out fires to preventing the fires in the first place?
Companies who don't actively try to decipher the meaning behind website comments, rants, complaints and questions are missing a significant opportunity to understand their customers and to get to the root of the problem. Analysing feedback allows them to act on it and make the necessary changes. In addition, social media commentary serves as an early warning system for customer attitudes and raises immediate red flags about bad customer experiences.
Don't throw away the answers
A significant way to listen to your customers is to go beyond the official communication channels your company provides – such as call centres, emails and surveys - and go to the social media sites where your customers are providing unfiltered feedback. With billions of reviews, blog postings and discussions happening online, social media sites provide a gold mine of customer data for companies to extract customer insight.
For instance, a colleague of mine was working with a customer that was interested in understanding a new set of customer complaints that had come through their North American contact centre. Customers could rate the contact centre from one to five (five being the best) but with few low ratings, the customer experience manager was struggling to identify what to improve. However, after taking a closer look at the verbatim comments, it quickly became obvious that many, if not most of the people who gave ratings of four or five still had complaints - most of which showed they were happy with the company's product but unhappy with the help desk.
But firms are able to analyse this information without the time-consuming effort of reading every single comment. For instance, companies can use content analytics to extract content from all of the different types of social media – blogs, social networks, microblogs, forums etc. - and analyse the content to provide critical customer insight that is actionable.
Identifying hidden information
These types of tool can consume a variety of sources, such as online content, surveys, etc., to provide insights. For example, if customer service is a broad complaint across your organisation, chances are you already know this. But by analysing the content, the company to discover very candid opinions your customers have about customer service - whether it's not enough staff, lack of knowledge or that your staff are deemed unfriendly.
For example, a popular frequent flyer forum for an airline that was plagued with customer service issues showed, unsurprisingly, that a rival airline was deemed to have better customer service. But analytics showed why some customers were still sticking with more unfriendly skies: the airline's ability to offer upgrades. Because this perk was of upmost importance to its frequent fliers, this knowledge created actionable customer insight.
With the explosion in social medial sites, it is unsurprising that there is a wealth of customer feedback on sites such as Faceboook and Twitter. Creating an official Facebook page has become a popular way to interact with customers, but many companies do this without fully realising the benefits of customer feedback happening on the site.
A popular clothing store geared towards teenagers hit marketing research gold when one user started a forum asking "What is the one thing you would change about the company?". Answers flooded in. Many of the respondents felt that the prices were too expensive, which is a complex change to make. Yet, the replies offered excellent customer intelligence - more of its shoppers would be interested in stores that offered a rebate on future purchases.
Buying into the boardroom
In the current economic climate, firms are watching budgets more carefully. But if you're employing an advertising campaign and want to understand customer reaction, analysing sentiment and reaction on the internet is more cost effective than conducting a marketing research campaign. It can also be an accurate barometer of online buzz and advertisements.
Also, by analysing customer attitudes online on a monthly basis, departments can prove to c-level executives how its teams are effectively changing the tide of customer emotion. If poor customer service is a major theme and team efforts result in a decrease in negative comments on blogs and social networks, you can prove its performance. And if it's not improving, the online feedback gathered and analysed will provide the unknown answers of 'why not'.
One final consideration is market research bias. Monitoring social media sites without proper analysis of customer comments is not only time intensive but can also lead to a natural bias when attempting to identify key themes based on prec-onceived notions and untested hunches, even by the most experienced managers. Anecdotal feedback will not hold up to scrutiny from the executive team, so it is imperative to have empirical evidence rather than gut reactions on what your customers are feeling.
Applying analytics to social media goes beyond the traditional measurement means and can help companies achieve a deep level of customer insight so they can take effective action. It can also create a more accurate picture that delivers true customer intelligence.
Neil Hartley is UK country manager at SPSS.