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Psst….Want to Hear a Little Secret About Social Media?

Move over marketing researchers, and make room for social media. That’s what we’ve been hearing for several years now. Today a plethora of websites make it possible for consumers to read what others have to say about everything from hotels to to car dealerships. These same sites also make it possible for consumers to share their own experiences, often in the form of ratings and open-ended comments very similar to those captured via traditional service-quality or customer-satisfaction surveys.

Some argue that as the number and accessibility of such websites increase, traditional survey research will be unnecessary, because data typically furnished by surveys will be public and “there for the taking.” Indeed, a 2011 article in the online edition of Advertising Age proclaimed, “the top research executive of likely the world’s largest research buyer expects surveys to dramatically decline in importance by 2020, and sees the rise of social media as a big reason why.” The article quoted Joan Lewis, Global Consumer and Market Knowledge Officer at Procter and Gamble, as saying companies “should get away from believing that a [single] method, particularly survey research, will be the solution to anything,” and that “the more people see two-way engagement and being able to interact with people all over the world, I think the less they will want to be involved in structured research.”

There is little doubt that companies increasingly are relying on social media to capture the Voice of the Customer (VoC) in hopes of gaining insights about how to improve customer experiences.

Is the ability to harvest data from consumer and social media really a key to building an effective VoC program?

Maritz Research recently conducted our 2014 VoC Challenges and Practices survey. We interviewed 361 managers in blue-chip companies regarding their VoC processes and practices. We asked them to assess the overall effectiveness of the respective VoC programs, and to describe critical challenges encountered as they try to capture and leverage customer feedback.

Results reveal that nearly two-thirds of these managers reported their respective organizations have developed and implemented an effective method of monitoring consumer and social media. In contrast, 32% of the managers surveyed indicated that they are still looking for an effective method to monitor consumer and social media, and 10% of this group said this is the most important challenge for which they must find a solution during the next 12 months.

These findings clearly suggest that most organizations take consumer and social media seriously, regardless of whether they have figured out how capture and leverage it.

But here’s a little secret…

One of the questions we asked managers was, “How effective has your VoC program been at helping you improve customer satisfaction?” We were curious to see if managers who said their respective VoC programs had been very successful at helping improve customer satisfaction were more likely to have developed and implemented an effective method of monitoring consumer and social media than managers who said their VoC programs had been only somewhat or not very successful.

Guess what we found?

The chart below shows that having an effective method of monitoring consumer and social media is not strongly related to VoC-driven improvements in customer satisfaction. Sixty-seven percent of organizations that have been very successful in using the VoC to improve customer satisfaction have implemented an effective method of monitoring consumer and social media. This is slightly greater than the same percentage in organizations that have been somewhat or not very successful, but the differences are not statistically remarkable.

In effect, about two-thirds of all organizations have a method of monitoring consumer and social media, and another third are still seeking such a method—and this pattern holds whether or not those firms have been very successful in using the VoC to improve customer satisfaction.

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While nearly all organizations are paying considerable attention to consumer and social media, the ability simply to draw data from such media appears to contribute little to the effectiveness of their VoC programs. This should make executives and managers pause and consider whether the time, energy, and investment they are making in social media monitoring are justified. It also should prompt them to revisit the issue of how best to use social media to manage and improve customer experience.

In fact, here are some questions you should be asking about your own organization’s focus on social media:

  • How much of your organization’s total “customer listening” is devoted to consumer and social media?
  • How does the organization use information drawn from social media?
  • What improvements in customer satisfaction and retention can directly be linked to the organization’s efforts to monitor and use information drawn from social media?

How did you answer these questions? What do the answers tell you about whether your organization is getting the most from its investment in social media monitoring?

Now for the good news: Capturing and leveraging social media can have a very positive impact on the effectiveness of a VoC program in improving customer satisfaction and retention. How? For answers to this and related questions, stay tuned for my next blog.