Finding out how your customers feel about you, i.e. collecting customer feedback drives most customer experience improvement; after all, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

So what about social media? Certainly, by its nature, social media is where customers go to communicate their feelings. Therefore, monitoring review sites, along with Twitter and Facebook for customer feedback just makes sense. But, unlike traditional customer feedback tools, social media never provides a complete, accurate and objective perspective – so don’t abandon your traditional tools yet.

The upside, Social Media can be Actionable and Does 2 Things Well

Social media:
1) Captures complex thoughts and feelings about the customer experience.
2) Lets customers define which aspects of the customer experience matter most to them.

Compare this to surveys which prioritize multiple choice questions and, by necessity, work from a pre-existing hypothesis about what’s most and least important to customers.

On the downside, Social Media is Inherently Misrepresentative

A major downfall of social media customer feedback is that it is subject to extreme response biases.

Company solicited social media always skews toward loyal customers or “friends.” User-generated customer feedback (like that on Yelp, Amazon reviews, and Epinions) captures only the extremes of gushing or venting. And, both of these sources can only provide customer feedback from one group: members of social media sites, which may not be the majority of your customers.

Use social media for gathering actionable insights; use surveys for accurate data. But for actionability and accuracy use customer interviews, they’re a vastly underused feedback tool.

The Value of Customer Interviews

Customer interviews enable you to ask your customers questions that get at the heart of the customer experience, but that are not what customers address in their social media rants. For example, an interviewer can ask:  “who is the competition and what do they do particularly well?” Plus, interviews can be designed so that the sample group is large enough and balanced in a way that accurately represents your complete customer base.

Why are customer interviews underused? Sometimes, because they are more costly than generic email surveys; although they are rarely as expensive as focus groups and usability studies. But mostly, because companies don’t know customer interviews are an option and the lure of social media has obscured some of the best, existing methods.

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