The power of customer opinion

by Jeff Hodson on August 15th, 2011

Did you know that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society?  This finding, by Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was recently published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled, “Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities.”

The minority rule

SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, a distinguished professor at Rensselaer, states, “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like a flame.”

The post on Rensselaer’s website further explains how this research was concluded:

“To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks. One of the networks had each person connect to every other person in the network. The second model included certain individuals who were connected to a large number of people, making them opinion hubs or leaders. The final model gave every person in the model roughly the same number of connections. The initial state of each of the models was a sea of traditional-view holders. Each of these individuals held a view, but were also, importantly, open minded to other views.

Once the networks were built, the scientists then ‘sprinkled’ in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.”

Maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon. You or your company’s idea, opinion, or agenda doesn’t seem to be getting any traction with your friends, colleagues, or customers. Suddenly, an unknowing critical mass of 10 percent of unshakable believers has accumulated through dialogue, collaboration, or experience, and “Wham!” a movement has begun―seemingly out of nowhere. Of course, this movement can have either a positive or negative effect depending on what the 10 percent minority’s conclusions are.

UC center impact

Quite often, today’s sales and support centers default to reactionary measures, meaning that they pay attention, usually, to majority-based situations. Issues or concerns are noticed and addressed after the flames have been fanned and are raging by the community of customers or users. This puts the center staff in the role of acting like firemen and firewomen addressing only critical path conversations and taking precious time away from listening and understanding the underlying minority swell of opinion that is occurring.

As one Rensselaer researcher states, “As agents of change start to convince more and more people…People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further.”

These observations are useful in understanding how opinion spreads.

“There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion,” said coauthor Gyorgy Korniss, Associate Professor of Physics, according to the release.

No question, increased integration of social networks (similar to those simulated in the study) as an additional form of unified communication feeding into the modern contact center is taking place. Taking these findings to heart in relation to social network integration could have a noticeable impact on center operations and the company’s bottom line as a result. Listening to and understanding the groundswell of minority opinion as it is happening is becoming more important.

With social networks now feeding into the ops center, the critical mass for reaching the tipping point may be driven even lower. As TrendsSpotting’s post points out “Once people get an illusionary image of the mass (and social networks interactions can generate such effect), they will address it accordingly.”

This could mean that with the integration of social networks into the contact center, one might expect spikes in opinion, ideas, and agendas to occur:

  • More rapidly—rising faster than before
  • More often—greater frequency than before
  • More broadly—across a wider range of topics

Managing social media

With the newness of social media in the contact center, there is much debate on how it should be handled. Several models exist, some more successful than others.  In general, there three common and related practices threaded into most attempts to manage this volatile area:

  1. Retain a quality social monitoring service. Covering all available social network information pouring in is inefficient, even impossible, to address humanly. Locating and partnering with a good social monitoring service whose core competency it is to find, filter, and forward relevant social information that is pertinent to your business concerns is essential. Working out the proper search and filter criteria may take a few iterations to perfect, but once satisfied can dramatically remove the chaff from the valuable kernels of information you are looking for. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself refining your filter from time to time in order to get to the right information.
  2. Tap information in the contact center to support collaboration. With “pre-qualified” social media in hand, continue to leverage what your contact center does best: treat the information with the appropriate prioritization, time, and attention to win the collaboration―however that is measured in your business. Many monitoring services want to provide customer relationship management (CRM) as an add-on to the core monitoring services they provide. I recommend against this, as CRM is usually one of the core competencies of the contact center. That’s what it is designed to do best.  With the addition of social media, this may require interactions via new channels that traditional contact centers aren’t quite up to speed with. For example, responding on a customer’s Facebook wall with several hundred friends watching. Or maybe it’s a tweet to an analyst with lots of followers. Or more commonly, responding with a comment to a blog post or online article that may contain positive or erroneous information about your business. Whatever the media, it takes special “social interaction” treatment and collaboration to make an impact―which brings me to my third point.
  3. Develop a skilled social staff within your customer service representative (CSR) pool. Fortunately, many newer CSRs already have the social savviness to jump right in and interact. This must be coupled with a degree of freedom to respond appropriately but within the guidelines of the business and its public message. The number of social skilled staff should be few, trusted, and preferably with the ability to establish credibility for themselves and the business in the social world. The cream of the crop.

This area continues to evolve before our eyes, with many different approaches. The fact that a minority opinion can quickly turn into a majority, especially within the context of social networks, is something that should be noted. Whether your contact center participates directly with social media or not, it can be assumed that your business (its products, services, support, quality, responsiveness) is being discussed by your customers somewhere in the wild, forming opinions and ideas, seeking to reach a critical mass. I think it’s better to be part of the conversation from the beginning.

How do you handle social media within your operations? Is it working?

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