Friday, May 26, 2006

Pete Blackshaw's Comment Reponding to "Is Negative WOM More Frequent Online than Offline?"

Pete made some excellent comments in response to my last post "Is Negative WOM More Frequent Online than Offline?". In the interests of promoting dialogue and involving as many others as possible I wanted to "elevate" his comment into a post so that more people might have access to it. Please find his post below (edited only for typos and paragraph spacing to make it easier to read):

Great post, and it truly is an important topic and question. To lend further perspective on my opinion, I do believe consumers are as inclined to provide positive feedback as negative feedback, but as the barriers to providing that feedback increase, the ratio of negative to positive feedback (or recommendation) increases.

This was very clear to me in the early days of developing a consumer feedback portal after leaving P&G. We carefully studied why consumer feedback to companies (and the ensuing "recommendations to others") tended [to be] so negative. The vast majority of consumers (24 or 25) who have a so-called "feedback moment" would fail to provide that feedback because of (1) contact barriers, (2) cyncism that no one would listen or bother to respond, (3) didn't know who to find, etc. Consequently, only the really negative would push through the pipe, and that in turn would cascade (in a highly cathartic manner) to CGM venues like message boards. In so far as it takes time to invest into the feedback process, the emotion behind the negative tends to dominate the exercise.

That said, as CGM venues have become easier and more effortless, we're seeing a growing percentage of neutral to positive commentary, especially in blogs, which are becoming highly transparent mirrors into everyday behavior. Often the "word of mouth" or "recommendation" is incidental or implied, not delibrate.

If what Keller and others suggest is true, I'm even more convinced that companies and brands must be more aggressive in actively inviting -- nay, encouraging -- feedback, and lowering the barriers at all cost to that expression. If a friction-free feedback experience ups the odds of Pampers capturing an evangelist who speaks generously of the brand both offline and via high-impact CGM venues, that's a great payout. I'll think more about this.
Thanks for this Pete! Two comments on your comment:

Your points about customers not able or motivated to tell the company is definitely consistent with other research on this topic. For example, the Customer Dissatisfaction Study released by the Verde Group found that people were 5x more likely to tell friends about a negative experience rather than a company for the following reasons: a) it's not worth customers' time to contact the company; b) customers tried before but had a negative experience in contacting the company; c) customers don't know who or where to contact; d) customers thought it might negatively affect future service; 5) customers didn't think it would do any good. In an interview with Paula Courtney from the Verde Group I learned that about 10% of the people who have a negative experience actually contact the retail store (20-30% in consumer sector).

The other comment is that there is a great research opportunity for a study to be done that demonstrates the hypothesis that 1) there is a growing percentage of neutral and positive commentary in CGM venues, especially blogs, and that 2) this increase is due to CGM venues becoming easier and more effortless to use. Is there some graduate student out there who wants to do a thesis or dissertation on this? ;-)