Editor’s note: Terry Vavra and Doug Pruden are partners at research firm Customer Experience Partners. Vavra is based in Allendale, N.J. Pruden is based in Darien, Conn.
Smart marketers want to be guided in their decisions by marketing research (i.e., listening to their customers) but sometimes research findings can be pretty confusing. Take for instance the matter of companies deploying their resources to “listen in” on what customers are writing about them online.
The majority of U.S. Internet users are aware of companies’ active monitoring. And, fittingly – according to a February 2013 study conducted by J.D. Power for NetBase – approximately 60 percent of those under age 55 (and 40 percent of those 55+) say they want companies to be listening. Research from NM Incite reports an even stronger desire, finding that 83 percent of Twitter users and 71 percent of Facebook users expect a response from a brand. But not casually; they expect it within a day or even faster (50 percent of Twitter users expect a response within two hours)!
That all sounds like a straightforward message; companies have their marching orders from their customers. This would be true, except that the same NetBase study also reports:
• Some 40 percent of U.S. Internet users under age 55 (and 54 percent of those 55+) agreed that “Companies that listen online are intruding on customers.”
• Almost 45 percent of Internet users under 55 (and 58 percent of age 55+) say that “Consumers should be able to talk about companies online without the company listening.”
• 64 percent of U.S. Internet users say that “Companies should only respond to online comments made directly to them (e.g., on their Facebook page, or tweeted to them, etc.).”
These further findings begin to sound like a argument for reducing the resources many companies are currently deploying to monitor social media. After all, the findings suggest that nearly half of all consumers consider the social media to be their space. They don’t want companies listening in, in a Big Brother mode. But we’re not sure that’s really what customers mean.
1. Companies need to know what customers are writing about them. But, now we draw a distinction between comments posted in the public versus the private social media. Responses may be welcomed from postings in the public social media. It may only be responses sourced from eavesdropping on the private social media that offend some customers.
2. When companies are directly addressed they need to respond in a timely, if not urgent, fashion.
3. When not directly addressed with a problem or question, companies need to proceed more cautiously. They should still attempt to make contact but should do so carefully. Through either a public or private dialogue, they should identify themselves, tell where they heard about the complaint and offer resolution.
4. Outreach to customers who have posted should never begin with a plea to remove their negative comments. (Only if and when an issue has been satisfactorily resolved is a removal request appropriate.)