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.

Not ready to use Twitter for Customer Service? Then why set up an account?

Imagine you’re booked on a flight across the country to visit your sick mother. Your cranky 5-year old daughter just threw up in your lap while your plane, sitting on the tarmac, was delayed over an hour and a half for takeoff, because Catering had misplaced the flight’s sandwiches. You’ve shared a play-by-play with the Social Media world and your followers on Twitter, not because you’re a rabble-rouser, but because this is what you do as a writer and successful “mom blogger“. It’s just who you authentically are.

So imagine tweeting out this stream shown here on the right [please read from bottom to top]. One might expect a response from Air Canada? I mean, you mentioned their name before you took off and while you were waiting for your connecting flight. The least they could have done was responded to you. It’s not like they had to have a steak waiting for you when you arrived in Vancouver airport. Although that might have been a great PR coup for Canada’s national air carrier.

So what might one expect Air Canada’s response to be? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not during the tweeting, after Catherine Connors (the passenger I’m writing about) had landed, or while she was facing the further potential dilemma of missing her connecting flight. In fact the last tweet by Air Canada had been 20 hours earlier. It appeared that whoever was managing Air Canada’s Twitter account, was not manning his or her post. Now that’s just my perception. It could be that Air Canada’s Twitter account was set up, according to corporate policy, to only send outbound tweets.

But get this…Westjet (Air Canada’s number one Canadian competitor) picked up on Catherine’s situation within minutes. Both the official @westjet account and @flygirlws, a Westjet employee who just wanted to help.

And it gets even better. Westjet doesn’t even offer a connecting flight from Vancouver to Kamploops, BC. But here they were, trying to find solutions for a distressed passenger. If nothing else, they were listening, engaging with her, and trying as best they could to help.

…if only I could get better help than shrugs and ’email customer relations’. @WestJet *called* me.” 1:08 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for iPhone in reply to @sharmstro ~herbadmother Catherine Connors

So what do we make of this? First off, no doubt Catherine Connors, whose Her Bad Mother blog has been mentioned in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the American Prospect, the London Times, as well as on CNN, ABC, CBC and the BBC online, who has over 13,000 Twitter followers and a Klout score of 70 (at the time of this writing), will probably not speak or write very positively about the Air Canada experience to her friends or followers (talk about helping to drive down their NPS, if that’s what Air Canada uses to measure loyalty).

Secondly, if you follow Catherine’s Twitter stream, a number of her followers actually tweeted with her through her ordeal (me being one of them). Notice @rachelofcourse’s Tweet to the right. She even mentions @dooce …hmmm, I wonder who @dooce is and if she has many followers? Get the picture?

Thirdly, let’s think from a customer’s perspective for a moment. Let’s say you like to communicate with your friends through Twitter and other Social tools. It might be instinctual for you to send out a tweet to a Brand expecting some type of reply…I mean most big consumer brands are on Twitter now, aren’t they? And if they are, by this time in the evolution of Twitter, do they not know that Twitter is about authentic two-way dialogue; not a one-way push of marketing content? Surely, there’s someone or a group of people back in the recesses of Air Canada that manage the brand’s Twitter account and can engage in a two-way dialogue?

So what does this say of the Air Canada culture vs the WestJet culture, and how employees are empowered to act on their company’s behalf? Remember, people power a Twitter account. There’s an actual human being behind both @aircanada and @westjet. When Twitter accounts are set up to represent organizations, especially large brands, we often forget that humans are monitoring them. What does this say about each organization’s committment to the Passenger Experience? One company is actively listening (and actively engaging with the customer); the other is deaf. To make matters worse for Air Canada, they actually opened the door wide open for their number one Canadian competitor to walk in and impress their customer simply by listening and offering “moral support”, as Catherine put it.

One company is actively listening (and actively engaging with the customer); the other is deaf.

What do you think? Am I being unfair in my assessment of how these two airlines compare in terms of their committment to the Customer Experience? Maybe Air Canada has a strategy in place but is not quite there yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, by the way, according to Catherine, she did finally make a connecting flight with Air Canada (not the one she had originally been booked on), squeaking in on stand-by, but it was despite her communication efforts with them. WestJest was prepared to get her and her daughter to Kamloops via Calgary, and one of her Twitter followers even offered to drive her…and her mother also seems to be feeling better now :)

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.