Social media has been embraced by more than just avid web users – it has become the place for the general public to share their sentiments and find out how others feel about brands, service, and experiences. However, despite a plethora of popular and emerging social tools, from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, to Pinterest and Google+, enterprises seem to be struggling with this new medium.

Is it simply a new channel for marketing? How can customer service teams manage the sheer volume of conversations flowing through the social web? Who in the enterprise “gets” social media? What are the barriers to social media adoption by the enterprise?

As these questions loom over big companies, a 2012 social media survey tapped over 20,000 professionals to try to understand what drives or hinders social media adoption in enterprises.The survey aimed to capture perceptions on social media and the need for understanding and responding to customer sentiment.

If sentiment is such a hot topic in the social, marketing, and customer analytics world, how come so many enterprises are “behind the times” when it comes to leveraging social media to understand why customers are upset or satisfied?

Case study: Getting to the root of customer sentiment

About four years ago, a senior customer service executive in a large technology company found that his organization’s Net Promoter score had made a large decline, and the entire executive staff were pointing their fingers at him and his team. What was going on? Was the root of the issue the recent outsourcing of customer service to an overseas group? They had been getting complaints about service reps with accents.

Using data analytics, the company looked across social media and found something completely different than they expected. Yes, there was negative sentiment, but it became very clear, very quickly, that it sprung mostly from the latest version of their software product —apparently their breakthrough new release was also extremely problematic. Although the new version of their software was functionally superior, it had huge performance problems. Many customers complained about system performance after installing the new version.

As a result of these insights, the technology company reorganized their development and QA groups, and created a performance center of excellence. Within a few months, they completely overhauled the new product to improve performance, and rolled it out to their customer base. As the improved version penetrated the market, the company experienced a significant increase in satisfaction, and customer sentiment across channels greatly improved.

In this case, as with so many others, the WHY behind the sentiment was so critical to their business. Being able to understand the sentiment and, more importantly, transform negative sentiment into positive customer experiences was key to influencing their customers’ satisfaction and improve retention. Furthermore, this insight drove the company to focus in the right place. While blame initially fell on customer service, it was the product itself that was brewing negative sentiment.

More snapshots

Below are a few more examples that illustrate how understanding the WHY behind customer sentiment can make all the difference to a business:

  • Prioritizing improvements — One of the world’s largest hotel chains has turned to social analytics to identify at the property-level what drives poor satisfaction and negative sentiment. By looking at hotel surveys, Trip Advisor, and a myriad of other social sites, the company has a daily, prioritized list of the top things they can do at specific properties to make improvements that directly impact customers and their feedback.
  • Repositioning to increase brand impact — A consumer technology company was losing market-share, and sentiment about them, compared to their competition, appeared negative. With social analytics, they were able to see exactly why they weren’t being recognized as a technology leader. They used this insight to change their marketing approach, products, and branding to better meet market demand and perception. As a result, they saw a significant improvement in sentiment and sales.
  • Targeting social influencers — A large telecommunications provider not only monitored social media to look for customers who expressed extremely negative sentiment, but also used social analytics to determine who these customers were and how much influence they had when they spoke out negatively. This helped the business prioritize who and how they responded to “grumpy” customers to turn these brand influencers into brand advocates.

With the proliferation of customer feedback available in social media, more and more enterprises are jumping on board and incorporating business processes that take action on social data and customer sentiment.

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About the Author

Michelle de Haaff is vice president of marketing at Attensity (www.attensity.com), headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. Prior to joining Attensity, Michelle worked in marketing roles at Adspace Networks, Blue Martini Software, and Levi Strauss & Company. You can contact the author at mdehaaff@attensity.com.