A new survey finds that consumers rate Target, Safeway, Subway, Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Walgreens, Bank of America and Verizon Wireless as being the best retail and restaurant brands when it comes to using social media to communicate with customers.
The survey, commissioned by social media customer service company Conversocial and conducted by Liel Leibovitz, an associate professor of communications at New York University, measured sentiment across eight different industries to rate the best and worst in social customer service – as well as garner consumers’ feedback on their social customer service expectations. The eight sectors and 38 companies featured in the survey were selected from a list compiled by the National Retail Federation’s Stores Magazine. 589 consumers representing a gender and age balance roughly reflective of the U.S. population were surveyed.
Channel-wise, respondents rated department stores and the dining sector the best at communicating with customers via social media, while supermarkets and the retail banking and telecommunications sectors were rated worst.
Brand-wise, results highlights include:
*Subway beat Starbucks, McDonald’s and Burger King in the dining category.
*Best Buy beat Apple in the electronics market (albeit by a small margin).
*Target swept the department store category, with a comfortable lead.
Highlights of findings relating to consumers’ social media customer service expectations:
*More than half (55%) described their experience of communicating with brands via social media as “disappointing” or “mediocre.”
*About 30% said that they expect companies to reply “within hours” when contacted via social media; 29.2% expect a response within the same business day; 16.6% expect a response in less than 10 minutes; and 13.1% expect a response in less than an hour.
* Contrary to general assumptions, different age groups expressed more or less similar expectations/behaviors.
*21% said that they had used their mobile devices to contact companies via social media while still in-store.
The research clearly indicates that “consumers have grown to expect faster and more attentive customer service via social media,” observed Leibovitz. “Consumers are looking for greater transparency and efficiency, and social media channels can certainly provide that.”
“The conversations a company has with its customers via social media truly represent its brand, often at the very dynamic moment when point-of-purchase decisions are being played out,” added Conversocial CEO Joshua March. The survey results confirm that “ignoring or delaying a response to complaints and questions has consequences among the buying public.”
Having more or less maximized returns from the supply chain, top-performing food, beverage and household products companies are increasingly focused on the “demand chain,” according to the 2012 Financial Performance Report from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and PwC.
A relatively new term, the demand chain refers to activities that drive growth by driving customer interactions with a company’s brands and products.
“The demand side consists of innovation, marketing and sales—and I would say the key is how these activities are integrated to identify and exploit opportunities,” says Sunny Delight CFO Bill Schumacher, as quoted in the report.
Today, operational excellence is a given, the researchers stress; what will differentiate companies and drive their bottom lines is anticipating and meeting emerging customer needs.
“Companies can still drive competitive advantage through the supply chain, but the margin on that advantage is getting narrower,” observed Don Mulligan, CFO of General Mills. “Going forward, the winners will be whoever has the best marketing ideas, the strongest sales organizations and the right service delivery. That is the demand chain.”
“There is a greater focus on consumer trends and exploring the consumer landscape now,” agreed Hershey CFO Bert Alfonso.
The report, noting that a quarter of global consumers and a third of U.S. consumers say that companies usually fail to satisfy their expectations—and that most say they’d be willing to spend more with companies capable of doing so–stresses that “the gap in companies’ ability to anticipate and create demand is huge, and therefore so is the opportunity.”
Companies are just starting to truly grasp that consumer expectations and attitudes are changing radically, and that keeping pace is critical to their survival, the researchers point out.
CPGs that shift new strategic investments to their demand chain “will stand the best chance of creating new growth,” sums up Susan McPartlin, PwC’s leader, retail and consumer industry.
Consumers are now “omnichannel” shoppers, and they “expect a seamless experience,” McPartlin says. CPG companies need to address consumers in all channels of choice, and map their demand chains based on consumers’ “shopping journeys,” she says.
Consumer preferences and insights should be the core of all CPG growth strategies, influencing all functions and driving change, McPartlin emphasizes. The challenge—and the opportunity—she adds, is that companies need to reach consumers not only through physical stores, e-commerce and social media. And those involve considerable research and groundwork, including determining which brands and products are suited to e-commerce platforms, and how to glean and make sense of the fragmented, unstructured but hugely valuable insights in social media.
Consumers are now “omnichannel” shoppers, and they “expect a seamless experience,” McPartlin says. CPG companies need to address consumers in all of their channels of choice, and map their demand chains based on consumers’ “shopping journeys.”
Three-quarters of CPGs report that they’ll leverage social media for brand promotion over the next 12 months, and nearly a third will use social media to increase consumer loyalty (versus 17% saying the same last year).
To stay relevant to consumers, CPGs must rethink their demand chains to drive awareness, conversation and loyalty across channels, the report sums up. They must be on the digital platforms that their customers prefer so they can influence the buying process directly, and they must also be ready to adapt as digital touchpoints evolve. And they must also, of course, develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of digital efforts.
Further, since emerging markets continue to represent the largest growth opportunities, CPGs must stop thinking that they can simply rebrand legacy products for these markets, and invest in R&D and social media conversations with consumers in these markets to glean meaningful insights.
Financial Performance Trends
The relevance of all of the above becomes clear in the context of the CPG 2011 financial data in the report.