Friday 16 January 2009

The social value of detractors

I found an interesting presentation last week that I happened to stumble across while reading another blog. This presentation was from Masterfoods and looked at their internal employee networks – who knew who – to see how information and ideas flowed, with a specific focus on the R&D efforts. Now this in itself is interesting because although it has been around for a while, not many companies truly look at the value of their employees and how to unlock individual subject matter experts for the greater good of the organisation. As expected within the document, it identified a few key individuals who essentially channel information around the organisation – from a consumer point of view these would be the Influencers or as Gladwell puts it – the Connectors – the people who have the relationships and move key information and ideas.

The reason I thought this was interesting was because they actually highlighted a negative aspect to this – these people essentially had the power not just to move good ideas across the organisation but also to prevent good ideas from moving. From their position they could decide what was good and what was bad and this opinion may be biased based on what they thought was the right thing and their experience. This potential suppressing of ideas was highlighted as a risk – termed network "domination" - with the recommendation to break these silos by creating new connections.

This got me thinking about whether the same thing could be happening within consumer social networks. We all know about the Net Promoter Score where Promoters (people who would recommend you to a friend) are measured against Detractors (people who wouldn't) to arrive at a score that measures the relative loyalty value of an organisation. However, after a brand has this score what do they do with it. Best practice suggests they look for differences between branches, regions, etc. to understand what may be contributing to any differences with a view to creating more Promoters – all at an aggregate level – but what about the individual customers themselves? Obviously Detractors are themselves not satisfied and this is something to be addressed at an individual level - but what if I knew which other customers these detractors were connected to and more importantly, what if I knew WHICH of these detractors could be considered an "Influencer" – albeit a negative one. All of a sudden these detractors become more powerful – potentially dominating their social network and creating more detractors.

Taking this thought on – if I knew who the socially connected detractors were or could see someone who had had a bad experience and changed from a promoter to a detractor, wouldn't I want to speak with their friends to reassure them about my brand – to try and diffuse any negative feedback or indeed to try and connect them with a promoter instead within their network? If as is estimated, 1 in 10 people can be classed as influencers then this is 90% of my customer base which is swayed by the opinion of a minority – surely this makes it worth trying to understand a customers social connections further.

What would it take to do this though? Well we all think we're very clever in loyalty marketing (well some of the time) – and that data is king. We know the customer individually, we know what they have bought and can predict (or at least try to) when they will buy again. Increasingly with NPS we also know if they like us – or not. What we don't know in most cases is who they know – most programmes don't track, collect or facilitate members connecting with each other. Even where a programme does provide ways to connect people through "send to a friend" or "member get member" promotions, this information is typically not used or even retained.

I think this is increasingly a big mistake – the more we can understand a customers relationships and their opinion of a brand the more we can understand the power they may exert. I've yet to see anyone proactively engage with detractors and their social network – but looking at the work done with Masterfoods this could potentially reap real dividends.


Vaughn said...

The best/most efficient way to influence a detractor's friends is through the detractor. Even if you identified them, how would you communicate directly with the friends of a detractor? Give them your side of the story? What's that prove?

Truth is, when it comes to friends of customers with whom you have no other contact, a bad experience thoughtfully remedied is actually worth more than an experience where expectations are unremarkably met, because it is so much more likely that the detractor will talk about it. People are just more willing to volunteer stories about bad experiences than good ones. The only discretion the detractee has is over where the story ends and if it ends happily.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vaughn - thanks for your feedback. I completely agree - if you can solve the problem for the customer that will probably do more to turn them into a Promoter than anything else. However my point was that in addition to that - if we could know who they are linked to this may provide additional opportunities. If nothing else, it's worth trying to gather this additional information to see what the effects may be.

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