All this social media must be having a real impact, wouldn't you think? I'm not talking about cool case studies, but significant trends showing sustainable results that demonstrate a payoff for all the prosletyzing going on (by me, among others).
Look at the story we tell: Companies can't get away with bad behavior because social media puts them under too much scrutiny; it only takes one blog post or tweet or YouTube video to kick-start a flood of criticism leading to damaged reputations and lost customers. All those conversations are the motivation companies have needed to start providing excellent service, if for no other reason than to avoid fast-spreading conversations about just how bad they are.
If we're rightâ€"if social media is a catalyst for improved business practicesâ€"then there should be some evidence. Where's the evidence?
It could be here: According to a report in the Wall Street JournalM.a>, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has hit an all-time high.
The Index, the result of a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, is not alone. The WSJ article notes that other customer satisfaction studies are also reporting gains. These improvements in customer satisfaction are confouding a lot of the experts, since satisfaction typically plummets during tough economic times. But the numbers aren't vague. Customers are increasingly happy with the companies with which they do business.
Nobody is crediting social media with these results. In fact, experts are cautioning that the numbers could be deceptive because earlier customer satisfaction numbers were so perilously low; they had nowhere to go but up. And, while the trend is clear, it's not a tide that lifts all boats. Some companies have seen their numbers dip.
Spokespersons for each of the companies profiled in the articleâ€"Sprint, The Cheesecake Factory, Comcast, US Airways and Southwest Airlinesâ€"give good, solid reasons for their focus on customer satisfaction. For example, the desire to maintain customer loyalty prompted The Cheescake Factory to enhance a mystery shopper program, resulting in information about customer dissatisfaction with wait times for tables. The restaurant's CEO, David Overton, said, ""We are carefully balancing our cost containment efforts so as not to reduce the experience that guests have in our restaurants."
The article also points to handheld scanners US Airways is using to improve baggage tracking. The airline was the target of 35% fewer complaints in the first quarter, and its ACSI rating improved 9.3%.
It's easy enough to shrug off these results by arguing that most companies want to be profitable and will take the steps necessary to protect and grow their market share. But as I consider what has changed between now and, say, 10 years ago, social media emerges as a significant factor. Complaints about table wait times used to be delivered to the restaurant host and maybe a few close friends and customers kept showing up. Today, those complaints are available for anybody checking out places to eat on Yelp. The population of people talking over the backyard fence, where consumer complaints are a typical subject of conversation, has exploded ever since the fence went digital.
So, while reporting of the ACSI results haven't singled out social media, I keep thinking about Sherlock Holmesian logic: "henever all other possibilities have been ruled out, the improbable, however unlikely, must be the truth."
What has changed is the amplification of customer complaints and the credence customers' peers put in their opinions. If one couple decides never to return to The Cheesecake Factory or defect from Sprint to Verizon, that's a shame. If hundreds or thousands make the same decision based on the experience the customer shared on Facebook, that's an entirely different story.
So even though I'm making a very long leap in logic, I say let's hear it for social media. The social customer has spoken, companies are listening, and everybody wins as a result.