Kill the surveys to hear your customer’s real voice

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Been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between social media analytics and voice of the customer (VOC) initiatives.  It all started with a surprising briefing we had a few months ago with an analyst who covers VOC at a top-tier firm.  I say surprising because the analyst seemed only slightly interested in a discussion of social media as in input to VOC.  She could see the possibilities for social media analytics in marketing and customer service – and suggested we speak with her colleagues who cover those areas — but was skeptical that social data had much to offer beyond the traditional, survey-heavy VOC information-gathering methods.

Walking back to the office after our meeting, the buggy whips and cars analogy came to mind.

A few weeks later it occurred to me that the work one of our customers was doing with our solution, which I had always described as “market intelligence,” was in many important ways really a voice of the customer initiative.  Because they are using our web presence analytics to find the customer conversations happening online about the topics the company cares about.  In this case, the company sells soft-drinks, so naturally they’re very interested to learn what customers are saying about drink size, diet and health, for example.  But rather than pouring data into a bunch of quantitative charts and graphs that nobody really cares about outside the VOC team – an all-too-common occurrence – they’re using this qualitative, observational information as input into the creation of strategic marketing, sales, communications and customer relations programs and initiatives.

So they’re using social media analytics for research, focusing on unsolicited customer content.

Then I read an article this week recommending that companies crowd-source their VOC programs.  Ok, these guys get it, I thought.  But one of the main points of the article was that companies should use social media to encourage customers to join their communities and participate in existing VOC initiatives.

Which just proves that some people really don’t want to give up their buggy whips.  I’m pretty sure the goal is not to “assert more control over the conversation,” as claimed in the article.

That’s when I connected the dots to a story I heard recently on the radio about Jane Goodall.  The snippet that resonated with me was how she changed the way we think about primates by observing them in the wild.

Because the information gathered from surveys, focus groups and even communities can be valuable – but it is too often tainted by the direct involvement of the company or organization facilitating the process.

To learn what customers are saying to each other when your company isn’t part of the conversation, asking for feedback or paying for an opinion, you need to get out into the field like Jane Goodall – and observe your customers in the wild.  Where they live, in their own words.  Using social media analytics.

Only then can you hear the pure, unfiltered voice of the customer.

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