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Since the rise of social media, companies have been implored to 'listen' to their customers. If you listen, they are told, good things will happen.
The truth, of course, is that most businesses have never been completely deaf to their customers.
Social media has simply created new ways to listen.
That, as one social research and analytics firm sees it, could kill off one of the more traditional means by which companies have historically sought feedback from their customers.
According to newBrandAnalytics, businesses saw online customer reviews jump 25% in 2012 and "with a consistent, reliable and free source of feedback coming from the web, social intelligence has rendered solicited surveys pointless".
Kristin Muhlner, newBrandAnalytics' CEO, says that some companies have already ditched surveys and are now using "social feedback as their primary source for customer experience information."
2012 saw a number of large acquisitions of companies that help businesses manage their social presences and monitor what consumers are saying about their products and services on popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
And it's not hard to understand why: thanks to social media, there is a constant flood of data -- data which often includes brand-related chatter.
That brand-related chatter, if it can be identified and aggregated into useful forms, will arguably give businesses the ability to collect more feedback from consumers, directly and indirectly, than ever before possible. That's a big deal.
The survey is dead, long live the survey
But does this mean that the survey is dead? It shouldn't.
Even if social media reduces the survey's prominence, savvy companies won't limit their feedback collection mechanism to social media. After all, social media isn't the end-all and be-all of customer intelligence.
It can provide great insight, but it's just one view, and a highly imperfect one at that.
And there's still a lot to like about surveys:
- Well-designed surveys can obtain answers to specific questions a business has deemed important. Social buzz may have value, but there's no guarantee it will answer the questions you need answered.
- They can be segmented, making it possible to gain insights that would be difficult if not impossible to obtain using social media.
- Surveys can be tightly controlled. If the ultimate goal of listening to customers is to make better business decisions, having a methodology for collecting and analyzing data is crucial.
Put simply, there's a lot a survey can do that analysis of passively-gathered social media data probably can't, and vice versa. Which is probably why Twitter, for instance, has experimented with surveys itself.
At the end of the day, figuring out what consumers are thinking is difficult. They don't always mean what they say, and what they say will depend on where they're voicing an opinion or how a question is presented.
To make the right decisions, most businesses will realistically need to use multiple methods, including surveys, to determine what their customers really want.