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.

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.

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.