It’s no secret that customers are flocking to social media in droves to express their delight and disdain with the brands they buy. A key tool that cutting-edge CX practitioners use to measure their social media (SM) reputation is sentiment analysis. This indicates the relative positivity (or negativity) and strength of the attitude expressed in any particular post. By using statistical techniques to compare sentiment analysis scores of customers against measures of their online interactions with companies over time, it’s now possible to see what factors in SM interactions drive customer sentiment.
New research from the peer-reviewed academic journal Computers in Human Behavior considered this very question. Utilizing Twitter to draw their sample, the authors focused their study on tweets mentioning five large online UK retailers over the course of one month. They found that 15,350 out of the 76,166 tweets examined expressed either a positive or negative sentiment. The researchers also examined replies from a particular company back to the customer and the length of their conversations to see what determined customer sentiments.
Engage, Engage, Engage
The study found that negative customer sentiments dropped precipitously in direct relation to the number of replies the customer received from the company. The more replies the customer received, the less likely it was they would express a negative sentiment. In the case of four or more replies, the negative customer sentiments fell to zero by the end of the conversation.
In other words, you should encourage your SM specialists to engage with customers through extended conversations. This will let them talk customers off the proverbial cliff, and prevent them from becoming net detractors, by taking the time to understand the problem in detail.
Say More Rather Than Less
One of the more interesting findings is that the greater the number of words in the company’s replies to the customer, the more likely it was that the customer’s sentiment would convert from negative to neutral.
As such, not only should your SM specialists engage with customers, they should take the time to say it correctly, rather than say it quickly. By writing politer, more nuanced, and grammatically sound responses, SM specialists are more likely to give the customer the impression that the company cares about their problem, and will take the time to solve it satisfactorily.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the results also showed that companies expressing a positive sentiment in their tweets to customers led to a significant reduction in negative tweets from the customer by the end of the conversation. (The inverse was also true.) In other words, a company’s attitude (as expressed in SM conversations) is an important determinant of the customer’s sentiments and brand perceptions.
This suggests you should advise your SM specialists to ask the humanizing question, “Why would a decent and reasonable person have posted this?” 1, before firing off a neutral or negative response. By empathizing with the customer’s point of view and expressing a confident and positive perspective on the company’s ability to solve the problem, they can turn down the heat that’s brought the customer to a boiling point.
Point the Customer in the Right Direction
This study yielded only one factor which successfully converted customer sentiment from negative to positive (rather than from negative to neutral): tweets from the company which included a hyperlink. These types of tweets quadrupled the percentage of favorable replies from customers, relative to the start of the conversation. This suggests that tweets that point the customer to a place on the internet that helps them resolve their problem are much more likely to result in the customer endorsing the company.
This means you can tell your SM specialists that it’s a best practice to help the customer help themselves by showing them where to find additional information. Doing so will help your customers feel empowered, reducing the load on staff who might otherwise have to solve the problem.
Social Media Matters
This research shows empirically what most of us understand through common sense: social media matters in giving your customers a good experience. As CX professionals, it also provides us with insights that should prove highly useful in working with our SM specialists to improve how our customer’s express their sentiments online.
Bonus Tip: Remember to study your results! You can leverage a social analytics tool to see how training your SM staff drives improvements in customer sentiments (and how those sentiments impact revenues) to help your company understand the value of good customer experiences.
1. Credit to Al Switzler for coining this particular phrase in his book Crucial Conversations, and apologies to him for tweaking the question to fit the material.