Service, Satisfaction, and the Social Customer Comment

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Customer Relationship Management
Customer Experience
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Mothers may be fountains of wisdom, butt in today's social world, Facebook and Twitter encourage many to rebel against the astute words of yesteryear. Though many bite their tongue in person, they rush to social media to vent their frustration, as offline interactions become online conversations. But, as Simon Palmer, chief technology officer at Empathica, highlights, negative feedback that can be used to uncover areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement, while positive feedback can be a valuable source of insight into what is going right with a business.

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Mothers may be fountains of wisdom, but in today's social world, Facebook and Twitter encourage many to rebel against the astute words of yesteryear. Though many bite their tongue in person, they rush to social media to vent their frustration, as offline interactions become online conversations. But, as Simon Palmer, chief technology officer at Empathica, highlights, negative feedback that can be used to uncover areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement, while positive feedback can be a valuable source of insight into what is going right with a business.Now, with so much customer sentiment swimming around in the social sphere, companies have an overwhelming source of insight into how the customer mind operates. However, success does not lie in simply listening, but acting upon the feedback received. "That is the inherent value of any customer feedback, and how it can act as a valuable source of data for companies to fine-tune their customer experience," says Palmer.

To explore how companies can use social customer comments to their advantage, 1to1 Media spoke with Palmer to gain insight into how businesses can learn from both the bad and the good sentiment flowing into their organization:

1to1 Media: When companies come upon negative social sentiment and comments, why does it reflect poorly if they simply do not answer or delete the comment altogether?

Simon Palmer: In today's world, everyone wants to be heard. This is reflected in the conversations and experiences we have in both our personal relationships, as well as those with the companies we buy from, dine at, do our personal banking with, and so on. Most people would agree that it is a rare circumstance where ignoring someone trying to speak with you would be an acceptable behavior. However, when it comes to negative customer comments and feedback online, some companies have come to believe that it is, in fact, acceptable.

In the world of social media, this type of non-responsive behavior can be seen by a vast audience and, in turn, can cause significant detriment to a business's livelihood. In fact, according to an Empathica Consumer Insights research report, three out of four respondents indicated that Facebook comments and reviews influenced their buying decisions. By not paying attention to customer sentiment, this lack of common courtesy philosophy has bitten many companies in the proverbial butt, providing a hard viral lesson.

1to1: What's the best way to handle and respond to negative feedback in such social situations?

SP: The first step in handling negative feedback in a social situation is to do something--anything at all. Many companies have adopted the misguided belief that if they ignore negative messages online, the comment will go away. In fact, this reaction often leads to amplification of that negative sentiment. On the other hand, acknowledging the comment with a timely response can do wonders for a company's reputation. If steps are made to resolve the underlying issue being pointed out, brands stand to gain a tremendous amount of positive sentiment online.

Brands, however, also need to realize that chasing negative feedback comment by comment does nothing to address the root causes of the problems that are being articulated by customers. More importantly, a focus on negative feedback doesn't enhance customer service or improve the brand's ability to deliver better and more consistent customer experiences. To address negative feedback in a more meaningful way, brands need to dig deeper and implement strategies that transform negative customer feedback into actionable intelligence and customer service improvements at the local level.

1to1: Why must companies go beyond a simple response to impact the underlying issues relating to such negative sentiment?

SP: There's an old adage: Treat the disease, not the symptoms. In the context of negative social feedback, too many companies are focused on a reactive strategy that addresses individual negative comments one by one as they come in. Responding to these unhappy customers is obviously important, but companies that fixate on negative online comments are missing out on the big picture (or underlying disease). Rather, by looking at an aggregate view of all customer feedback, including social media and online commentary, companies can get a robust view of what trends may be emerging in the experience their customers receive and address the root causes of discontent.

1to1: Are there any examples of companies that have handled negative feedback well and those who have handled it poorly? What can we learn from each?

SP: An example of a company that handled negative customer feedback poorly is Best Buy. A few years ago, they had an issue with an online order backlog and Christmas delivery delays. These issues caused a huge volume of negative sentiment online, and the company's reaction was a stock response posted to their website with an impersonal apology. This half-hearted response ended up escalating the negative online sentiment.

On the other hand, a company that took a much more proactive response to negative social media sentiment is McDonald's. With increasing negative sentiment about them and the quick serve restaurant industry at large, they responded in a creative fashion. They took on these growing concerns with food quality and service head on by starting their "ask us anything" online campaign. They embraced the online channel by using it to solicit questions from consumers and have even gone so far as to be shockingly transparent with some of their answers.

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