J.C. Penney just lost a community of 3 Million Facebook fans. Where’s the Strategy in that?

JCP Facebook transitionBowing under pressure, and trying to bring customers back into the stores, CEO Ron Johnson announced last week that J.C. Penney will be bringing back sales. I guess Mr. Johnson’s about-face was as a result of the 50% slide in the stock price over the past year.  Clearly, J.C. Penney has not been listening to its customers.  Yet, the writing was on the wall – Facebook’s wall, that is.  Almost 3 million people are “fans of”/”like”  J.C. Penney’s Facebook Page.  That’s quite the community, wouldn’t you agree?  A following that takes years to build, yet can take less than a day to destroy.   Here’s the message they posted this past Friday on their Facebook wall:

JCPannouncementNew Facebook page everyone!  Time to rebuild.  Time to wipe the slate clean.  New name “jcp”, new gray logo, and best of all… “We did it for you”!   Hmmm, do companies really think their customers are stupid?

As you skim the  posts about the weak brands that J.C. Penney now carries, the bare new look of the stores, and the pricing changes, it’s clear that customers are very disappointed with the Penney transition.  Clearly, the negative comments far outweigh the positive ones.  But every now and then you read a post from a Penney loyalist who’s supportive of the company, advocating on their behalf.   So like most communities, there’s internal discussion going on; people engaging with others from similar “tribes”; agreements, disagreements.   A lot of loyal customers voicing their concerns on the site.  Yet what’s glaringly absent are comments from J.C. Penney itself.   No one from the company is engaging with its followers.  Maybe the brand is listening, but the Facebook fans sure wouldn’t know it.

...the Voice of the Customer

…the Voice of the Customer

One has to wonder if the digital community mirrors the brick and mortar.

Perhaps the new corporate culture, that includes ignoring customers, has trickled down from the top.   At a time when Ron Johnson should be listening to his customers, with the company having lost $4 billion in revenues during his tenure, he may feel he knows better.  After all, few believed that his Apple store concept would make money for the consumer electronics giant. He proved them all wrong.

More likely though, the business probably has so many internal silos that no one realizes the value of the customer data they’ve built up over the years.  They may just think of Facebook as a digital sandbox; a time-waster where people who have nothing better to do post useless comments and try to ruin the reputation of brands.  It’s likely that the J.C. Penney Facebook community isn’t even on any of JCP’s leadership’s radar screens.  At least that’s how it looks from the outside.

More likely though, the business probably has so many internal silos that no one realizes the value of the customer data they’ve built up over the years.

Why change the siteWhat other explanation for shutting down a community with almost 3 million subscribers, and starting fresh?  To re-brand under the new “JCP” acronym?  To rebuild the community under the JCP brand hoping to wipe the slate clean of any negative sentiment?  C’mon…wake up J.C. Penney!  You’re going to piss more people off, and lose a ton of opportunity in the process.

We have to give credit where credit is due, however.  J.C. Penney could have deleted all the negative posts and comments on their original Facebook page.  Instead they chose to ignore customer complaints, they chose not to engage in conversation, and they chose to miss any opportunity to show support for what few advocates they had, and start fresh.

New JCP Facebook page

Link to new JCP Facebook page

Much has been written about the psychology of service recovery; i.e., how resolving a customer complaint is an opportunity to create a stronger relationship with the customer than if the service failure had never occurred in the first place.  Service recovery is an opportunity to build loyalty.  One needs only to Google the term “service recovery paradox” to read the various scholarly articles, white-papers, and blog posts about it.  But customer outreach and engagement needs to be done on a one-on-one basis and it needs to be part of an organization’s overall business strategy.  One might have expected this to be the reason for the new Facebook page, but alas, we are still scratching our heads.

…customer outreach and engagement needs to be done on a one-on-one basis and it needs to be part of an organization’s overall business strategy.

Great customer service is clearly not on JCP’s list of strategic objectives.  Or if it is, some people are pretty good at paying lip-service to the initiative.  And you can be sure that when they considered what the overarching Customer Experience should “look” like, JCP didn’t bother to ask their own customers what was important to them.

Companies pay megabucks to research firms to build consumer panels that they can dip into for opinions on an ongoing basis.  And they pay big bucks to collect customer feedback, typically through surveys pushed out after a transaction is completed with the brand,   All of this is part of a “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) program.  You can be sure that J.C. Penney has this type of program in place.  All big retailers do.

You think the VoC team even knows that a Social Media community exists?  If they do, do you think they’ve even put two-and-two together, and have considered pulling in feedback from the Facebook community?  Social Communities and Social Media Customer Care provide non-invasive, truly unbiased environments for collecting Voice of the Customer feedback.  The sad part is, in many large companies, people don’t communicate very well across departments – the VoC team probably doesn’t talk to the Social Media team and vice-versa.

You think the VoC team even knows that a Social Media community exists?

And so we can only shake our heads in disbelief, as we watch a powerful brand, with a deep-rooted American heritage,  make a decision that makes no strategic business sense whatsoever and throw the baby out with the bath water.

When does Social Media carry more clout than your Voice of the Customer program?

Drug store chain with over 1,100 stores


Last week, Shoppers Drug Mart, the leader in Canada’s retail drug store marketplace, saw the writing on the wall…its Facebook wall, that is.  No sooner had Halloween ended than the drug store chain began streaming Christmas songs over its in-store airwaves. By the evening of November 1st, the complaints started rolling in as negative comments on Shoppers’ Facebook wall.  One by one, customers shared their written feelings through Facebook, and by 3pm on November 2nd, Shoppers responded with a post of its own saying that they would suspend all Christmas music until further notice.

With over 7,500 likes, as of this writing, and over 5,800 comments, this music issue clearly struck a few bad chords, to say the least.  It also hit the mainstream media – CTV, the Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star, and others.

You have to wonder though, if Shoppers had taken phone calls from discontented customers about the music, or if people had indicated their concerns through the existing web and IVR-based Voice of the Customer (VoC) survey, would Shoppers have flinched?  Hard to tell.  Perhaps if there had been enough noise through these alternate channels, perhaps if some of the executives had listened to actual customer phone calls, or read written comments from the web survey, there might have been a response to the negative customer sentiment.

Having worked on VoC programs for about 8 years, what I’ve found is that unless a company’s culture is such that they have a sincere commitment and belief in the importance of the customer experience, the feedback they collect from customers tends to lose its priority behind operational or financial data.  Too many companies simply pay lip service to creating wow moments for their customers, or superficially try to improve their NPS (Net Promoter Score) because it’s part of employee job descriptions or compensation plans, or they want to move up from 4th place in the JD Power award for best in customer service.  VoC becomes another program, added to the stack of programs that people are working on.  And employees sense that VoC is complex because it relies on many thousands, perhaps millions of bits of information about customer perceptions.  When you look back at why so many VoC programs fail, some or all of these points were likely contributing factors.

Let me be clear.  I’m not insinuating that Shoppers Drug Mart is having problems with its VoC program or has failed in any way.  I’m simply using this incident as an example of how customer feedback through Social Media (through a Facebook page that has only been up for about a year) may have a stronger impact on change through customer voice, than a long-running VoC program.

Now it may very well be that at Shoppers, Social Media customer feedback is part of their VoC program for listening and responding to customers.  They also have a Twitter account @ShopprsDrugMart, that they use to field customer service issues across all of their stores, in addition to pushing out marketing messages.  I’d venture to guess that Marketing and/or Public Relations manages Social Media, and the Voice of the Customer program is managed through Customer Service or Operations.  Social Media is still finding its place within most organizations, and typically falls under the umbrella of the Marketing Department.  But the discussion of who should own it is great fodder for another blog post – many posts have already been written discussing the best place for Social Media to reside.

…what Social Media tends to do, if done right, is build humanity into a digital customer interaction

The point is, Social Media is sexy for most companies, and perhaps Marketing has made it so.  Social Media shifts control into the hands of our customers and prospective customers, and that creates fear in the minds of many corporate executives.  It also creates a permanent written record for all the world to see.  (Ooops, better get Legal looped in on this one.)  Finally though (of course there are many more benefits to Social Media, but being more intangible and harder to quantify means that the C-Suite would typically ignore these) what Social Media tends to do, if done right, is build humanity into a digital customer interaction.   Just look at the examples below, taken from Shoppers’ Facebook wall.

Three different people – John, Fiona, Barbara – real customers with pictures of their faces, sharing their emotions about the timing of the Christmas songs, and each is engaging other Shoppers’ customers who are providing their feedback, some for; some against the music.  These are not rows in a spreadsheet with a unique identifier; they are not written verbatims in a database; they don’t represent bars on a frequency-distribution chart.

for those of us in the Voice of the Customer world, not much has changed in the past 10 years

Let’s face it, for those of us in the Voice of the Customer world (we tend to work in silos don’t we?), not much has changed in the past 10 years.  The amount of customer feedback has increased, we have text analytic tools now to help us be more efficient at making sense of unstructured customer comments, but at the end of the day, the output is pretty much the same – spreadsheets, charts, graphs, scorecards, dynamic visualizations.  Nothing too sexy or exciting to look at that relate back to humans.  Nothing emotional to hook us in.  And as for IVR-captured responses, while we can hear the emotion of the respondents from the calls, these snippets of dialogue have to be listened to sequentially.  It’s a time-consuming process.  Generally speaking, it’s pretty boring output.

If I wanted to make a point to the executives in my company; if I wanted to get their consensus for changing a customer policy, I know which source of customer feedback I’d turn to.

The sad part is, most of us are sitting on reams of rich data about customer sentiment through our VoC programs.  Yet, decisions based on information from all of this data, that is actionable, may take weeks or months to implement.  We’re reading about and seeing decisions based on relatively fewer Social Media-based customer comments often taking less than a day to turn around.

I started by asking the question: “When does Social Media carry more clout than your Voice of the Customer program?”  Isn’t it time we incorporated Social feedback into our VoC programs?  The progressive VoC vendors have incorporated Social into their platforms.  But few companies seem to have taken them up on their offer.  Is it because the control of Social Media is siloed from that of Voice of the Customer?  Is it because Social Customer Service is so new that companies don’t know where it should be slotted?  Voice of the Customer programs are at a turning point.  It’s up to those of us who are practitioners in this space, to make sure that our VoC programs incorporate key Social channels that provide us with rich, humanized insights that support quick responses to our customers.