Backfiring Twitter tactics are symptomatic of a much larger problem

Ok, so by now we’ve read all the posts about Rogers’ #Rogers1Number hashtag promotion backfiring on Friday.  Another case of déjà vu?  It seems like every week another brand is biting the dust on Social Media by putting together a marketing campaign hoping to get some great positive exposure, only to have management woken up to the phone ringing off the hook by colleagues proclaiming: “red alert!”.   And sure, we can just chalk it up to social media naivety on the part of the brand, or blame it on a Social Media intern, or on the person or company that developed the campaign; i.e., they weren’t clear enough about how to use the hashtag, and customers took advantage.  The fact is, companies cannot control the message on Social Media.  Surely we know this by now.  Brands can put out whatever message they want.  And customers will react to it any way they want.  And guess who has the last say?  The customer.

You can’t fake tweets, as Toyota tried to do during the recent Super Bowl game.  You can’t fool people.  You have to time your tweets properly, and make sure they’re in good taste, as Kenneth Cole found out early last year during the Egyptian uprising.  And clearly, you can’t control how people will use a hashtag that you’ve created for a specific, often well-intentioned purpose, as McDonald’s recently discovered with #McDStories (and as if they hadn’t learned, their St. Patrick’s Day #shamrocking hashtag, has already turned into a “bashtag“), RIM learned the hard way with its #BeBold campaign, and Rogers similarly just found out.

The fact is, companies cannot control the message on Social Media….And guess who has the last say? The customer.

Hashtag hijacking is becoming a popular trend among disgruntled tweeters.  But can you really prevent it from happening?   Twitter is an efficient vehicle for the masses to feed off one another and amplify their collective voice.  It’s fast becoming the voice of the detractor, when it comes to brands trying to control the message.  I’ve spoken to a number of Senior Executives who won’t venture into the Social space for this very reason – they fear that all their dirty laundry will be aired online for the world to see.  And they’re probably right.

But isn’t this a symptom of a much bigger problem?

You can be sure that many of these larger organizations, like McDonald’s, Rogers, Toyota, and RIM have been soliciting feedback from their customers over countless years.  Customer Satisfaction surveys, focus groups, Voice of the Customer programs, etc., are often overdone by many of these companies.  So undoubtedly, they already know how customers feel about them.  The brand sentiment scores don’t hide the truth.  We know who the  “promoters” are as well as the “detractors”.  These are terms popularized by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company, through his research on the correlation between corporate profitability and customer behaviour.  Most large organizations use the metric that he developed – the Net Promoter Score (NPS®) or some derivative, to segment customers and measure Loyalty or Customer Experience, because of its simplicity and predictive accuracy.

To calculate this metric – Net Promoter® Score – all you need to do is take the percentage of customers who are Promoters, or those who rate the “likelihood to recommend” at 9 or 10, and subtract the percentage of Detractors, or those that would rate it between 0 and 6.  Referring to the diagram above, coloured for ease of identification, note that there are 3.5 times as many chances of providing a rating in the red (0 through 6) as there are of providing a green rating ( 9 and 10).  So right off the bat, we’re starting from a place that’s stacked against customer advocates.  Now, of course, this is only one metric used to measure customer advocacy.  But because it’s so widely used, we’re probably safe to make certain assumptions. (By the way, I’m agnostic when it comes to loyalty metrics, so I’m not advocating the use of NPS®, but simply using it to make a point.)

Twitter “bashtags” are often symptomatic of problems at the very core of an organization – the brand promise and strategy do not align with the customer…

So if these large multinationals have all this satisfaction and loyalty data about their customers, in addition to NPS® scores, how are they applying the knowledge?  A key question is, are the Social Media or Marketing folks who manage the Twitter campaigns, collaborating with the Customer Service or Operations folks who typically “own” the research?  Often, because of the way organizations are structured and the way departments are siloed, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing when it comes to the customer.  The sharing of information, horizontally, across an organization, isn’t at the level it needs to be.  Departments are often working with their own independent versions of customer information, rather than working from a single, centralized version of the truth.  And, it’s highly likely that the same customer who completed the follow-up telephone survey about their recent wireless phone upgrade or the online survey about their most recent service appointment at the automobile dealership, is the same person that tweeted about a recent experience.  If this customer is a “detractor”, it may not look pretty when his or her hashtagged tweet hits the Twitterverse for all to see and comment on.

Twitter “bashtags” are often symptomatic of problems at the very core of an organization – the brand promise and strategy do not align with the customer, but rather with the products that the company sells.  For these organizations, it’s all about pushing more product and selling higher margin goods and services.  And customers know it and resent it.  Remember, information about brands and the products and services they sell are easily searchable on the web, and very often a one-button “share” between friends.  Newsworthy information gets amplified rapidly.  As companies realize that the only way to differentiate in this commoditized, digitized world is by creating unique, wonderful experiences for their customers (stories and memories that can be shared, by putting their customers at the centre of their businesses), and by creating a culture where employees are empowered and proud to wear the brand on their sleeves, will we see a reduction in the number and frequency of Twitter promotions that backfire.

Think about companies that are customer-centric – companies like Wegmans, Nordstrom, LL Bean, Chik-fil-A, ING Direct, Apple, Westjet, USAA, Lexus, Four Seasons.  These organizations appear to be executing a comprehensive Customer Experience strategy.  They may be at different points in their customer-centric journeys, but they’re walking the walk and their customers know it.

Now think about the organization that you work for.  Is it sincere about putting the customer first, or is it just paying lip service?  Do you think a Twitter campaign would work in your company’s favour, or would it backfire?

Footnote1: I think it deserves mentioning that I am a long-standing customer of Rogers.  I’ve been a wireless, cable, and internet customer of theirs for well over 20 years.  And I actually use Rogers1Number.  I’ve been using it for about a month now.  I see its real value while travelling and being able to call any number in Canada at no extra charge.   I’ve seen improvements in Rogers’ customer service over the years.  I think they’re doing great things on the Social side, in terms of opening up and becoming more transparent.  But overall, they’re clearly still a very much product-focussed company.  And until that changes, they will continue to experience backlashes similar to this Twitter one, but across their other customer touch points as well.

Footnote2: I also did consulting work, a few years ago for Rogers through a previous company, with their technology and their finance groups.

Putting the Tactics before the Strategy in Customer Experience

Human nature is to want immediate gratification. We want the “quick fix”. Whether it’s that shiny new bike (I’m into cycling) or the new coffee maker (because we didn’t do a great job of de-scaling the old one). Whether trying to change a culture by listening to a motivational speaker at a trade show, or driving business through your restaurant using a Groupon-type scheme, we are an impatient bunch. When it comes to the Customer Experience journey, we are no different. We want to shorten that journey so that it’s completed in a quarter; so that we can show quick return in our financial reports. Problem is, it’s a journey, and beginning a journey at the mid-point is like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cutting the sandwich in half before you’ve put the jelly on the bread. It’s not how it’s done.

Earlier today I connected with two potential clients in completely different industries, but linked by a common thread. (Besides the consulting work I do, I’m also charged with developing new business for the CE Strategy firm I work for.) In both cases, neither organization I spoke with had developed their Customer Experience strategy – the first, a large insurance company, owned by a major global brand, was preparing to implement NPS (Net Promoter Score) as the new standard to measure customer experience. The second organization, a national energy company was working on developing metrics to measure the effectiveness of its customer-facing staff.

…beginning a journey at the mid-point is like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cutting the sandwich in half before you’ve put the jelly on the bread.

The point is, neither organization had even thought through a strategy of how Customer Experience could be designed and rolled out across the company. Neither had considered the economic implications of becoming a customer centric organization. Nor had they considered overall objectives of such a journey – they were just jumping right into measurement. Why? Probably because it’s something that people can wrap their heads around…it’s not that difficult to explain, and it provides something immediate…numbers. And people understand numbers.

It’s not like organizational change, which is “touchy-feely” stuff, requires major committment from all levels in an organization, and will most likely take years to see results with.

I used to be in the Customer Experience measurement business, providing one of those online data collection solutions to capture voice of the customer and transactional feedback. You know the kind…”Go to our website or call our 1-800 number and tell us how you feel to be entered to win our grand prize.” We sold and ran our measurement program to customers in Financial Services, Travel and Hospitality, Healthcare, and Retail. One of the key reasons I got out of it was I didn’t believe it was the right starting point for raising the bar with customers. Yet organizations were jumping on the bandwagon. Why? It was sold as if it could solve the customer satisfaction problem. And it was a technology, and it was cool.

We want to do Customer Experience, we want to have better satisfaction scores, let’s put in a measurement system and surely we’ll be able to raise our customer sat scores in less than a year. We’ll tell the world of our success, our customers will see higher scores, and buy more from us.

But time and time again, it didn’t create real organizational change. It really never transformed the organization into one that truly put the customer at the centre of the world – but rather, it created an environment of hypocrisy, some management distrust, and even some passive aggression. Guess what though? The executives signed off on it and they even sold it internally to the rest of the organization. It must have been perceived as a “quick fix”. “We want to do Customer Experience, we want to have better satisfaction scores, let’s put in a measurement system and surely we’ll be able to raise our customer sat scores in less than a year. We’ll tell the world of our success, our customers will see higher scores, and buy more from us.”

Adopting a strategy of becoming a customer-centric company often requires cultural change. It starts from within. It starts with employees who trust the organization’s management, and who believe in the company’s brand promise. And it impacts all levels and departments within an organization. Of course there are small steps a business can take in the short-term, to improve customer engagement, to make it easier for customers to do business with you, to respond to customers faster. But in order to truly change, and for your customers to experience the positive change over time, and with consistency, we really need to move things up a notch and shift from jumping in and trying to fix our problems with tactical solutions, to considering the customer from a strategic viewpoint. And this takes time, it takes investment, it requires authentic buy-in, and it takes leadership that recognizes the inherent value of long-term customer relationships. There is no quick fix.