Well, it’s done. My final research project has been signed off on by my supervisor and delivered to the program coordinator. So, I figure now that it’s done, I’d share with the world the results of this crazy ride to completing my degree. It’s been over 2 years since I started my ‘final project’ however I changed the entire topic last fall and the direction still veered away from that in early spring. Eventually, I settled on the idea of enabling online customer feedback mechanisms to support social customer relationship management and customer loyalty. The end result it summarized below in my extended abstract.
ENABLING ONLINE CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
Support for Social Customer Relationship Management
Introduction and Problem Definition
In what has been coined “The Age of the Customer”, it has never been more important for companies to build strong, long-lasting relationships with their customers. Customer retention has become one of the more important concerns within organizations, as research suggests it is far more cost efficient for organizations to retain current customers than to acquire new ones. With the emerging and rapidly changing online world accessible in nearly every home, pocket, and cafe, it is necessary for companies to use these new channels to monitor, engage and support their customers in a meaningful way. Enter: Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM).
This research sought to look closer at the cognitive reasoning behind the submission of online customer feedback. Using an interview method of data collection, the researcher probed participant’s individual and unique thoughts, perspectives and experiences throughout the process. Instead of making general assumptions about the motivations for the behaviour, this study took a qualitative analysis approach to look for broader trends which could be funneled into actionable buckets that support the use of SCRM in the context of Hirschman’s theory of Exit, Voice and Loyalty.
Ten subjects were interviewed and their responses recorded. Interviews took place between April and June 2012. Responses were professionally transcribed and subjected to a qualitative analysis based on reoccurring themes within the various responses. A grounded approach was used for coding, as themes emerged throughout the data collection with all analysis taking place following the interviews.
After being qualitatively analyzed as outlined above, the following themes emerged and results showed that four elements were prevalent in the participant responses:
- Customers must be able to easily connect with the organization from their most desired contact point.
- Customers do not want to have to go looking for the opportunity to provide feedback, they want to communicate where they are (Facebook, Twitter etc)
- Customers are likely to be familiar with the web and quite likely to be digital natives.
- Customers want to be able to provide feedback via multiple means – smartphone, PC, tablet, telephone etc.
- Customers who provide feedback are likely to be extroverts who are comfortable with technology.
- Customers are likely think highly of their opinions and want recognition for their contribution.
- Customers are likely to be social with others online and are eager to share their opinions and experiences.
- Customers need to feel a connection to an organization in order to see the value in providing feedback.
- Customers are more likely to provide feedback to regarding a service or product that they use often.
- Customers are more likely to provide feedback to a company which they want to see succeed and have an interest in the outcome of their service.
- Customers are more likely to provide feedback if they’ve had a negative experience with a service or product.
- Customers may be more likely to share positive feedback with others regarding a smaller organization.
- Customers feel a sense of goodwill after sharing positive experiences with others.
- Customers are likely to be more vocal regarding a negative experience that goes unacknowledged.
- Positive experiences lead to the opportunity to create brand advocates and increase positive sentiment through word-of-mouth.
- Customers want to provide feedback to help organizations improve their service or products.
- Customers want to ensure that others do not experience the same negative service they have.
- Customers want to be acknowledged for their feedback contributions.
- Brand loyalty may increase as a result of feedback implementation.
The following conclusion addresses each of the above results as framed by Hirschman’s theory of Exit, Voice & Loyalty and provides suggestions of practical application for management consideration:
Exit – To combat customers from exiting the customer cycle, this research suggests a benefit to online channels designed to collect customer feedback which are easy to locate online and available to customers in the most convenient location possible. Actively look for opportunities to surprise current customers and engage positively with potential new customers. Know when to stop.
Voice – Build unique, individual or emotional elements into the feedback process which allow customers to feel as though their thoughts are valuable to the organization and in turn that they are a valuable customer as a result. Make the experience unique to each customer – avoid using general website Feedback Forms” and generic email addresses if at all possible. Depending on your customer demographic, they may be more inclined to use different tools or technologies. Do the research to understand their preferences and monitor those spaces for opportunities to engage in a positive manner.
Loyalty – Look to create internal processes which complete the feedback loop with the customer – this means funneling the customer feedback to the appropriate departments or stakeholders, and it means communicating back to the customer, what the result or outcome of their feedback is. This may be online, or it may incorporate more traditional means, but customers want to be acknowledged, ideally by a person – not just an auto-response to their submission. Organizations should be clear about this process and outline on their website or in another accessibly location, what happens to feedback once it is submitted.
The research results and theory explored above provide support for an overall social customer relationship management strategy which would help to decrease customer Exit, validate and facilitate customer Voice and as a result increase customer Loyalty.