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What’s the point of all this technology if you don’t really use it?

That is the question a lot of IT vendors need to ask themselves in relation
to the myriad social networking sites that customers often use to offer
feedback.

While many customers are vocal about technology they like and don’t like by
posting their thoughts on the Web, it seems vendors aren’t really paying
attention. At least that is the evidence from a new study by the Chief
Marketing Officer Council, an organization that caters to marketing executives.

The study, based on a survey of senior marketing professionals, found that
only 16 percent of participants monitor online message boards and social Web
sites to collect feedback from customers.

If you don’t think that’s bad enough, consider this: The study also found
that only 23 percent of participants track or measure customer feedback
e-mails.

Take a moment to process that. What it means is that a whopping 77 percent
of e-mails containing customer feedback are ignored.

You have to wonder if that’s where it stops. You have to wonder if those
little prompts that pop up on your screen when an application suddenly fails do
any good. The prompts ask you for permission to report the problem to the
software vendor, but if they are being handled the same way as most customer
feedback e-mails, they are ending up in the trash.

The CMO Council conducted the survey to
raise the awareness on customer feedback, according to Donovan Neale-May, the
organization’s executive director. In what is probably the understatement of
the year, Neale-May says that based on the council’s findings, companies are
not doing a very good job of collecting feedback and using it to refine their
marketing messages.

“Most companies are not utilizing what is in effect free intelligence,” he
says.

Think about that. Companies spend millions of dollars on focus groups,
events and myriad marketing schemes to refine messaging, but they ignore easily
available information that is free of charge
.

It’s not just negligent, it’s potentially dangerous.

Online message boards and social networking sites could heat up overnight
about a particular customer service problem, but the company at the center of
the issue may miss it altogether because no one in the organization is paying
attention. So a problem that could quickly be addressed may instead linger and
lead to loss of business.

It’s no wonder that only one-third of participants in the CMO
Council study rated highly their companies’ abilities to handle and resolve
complaints.

Interestingly enough, Neale-May says one of the IT companies that seems to
be doing a pretty good job of this is Dell. Having suffered its fair share of
customer service complaints some years back, Dell now has a comprehensive
social networking site that encourages customer feedback, Neale-May says. The
evidence is in Dell’s current marketing and advertising campaigns, which
are positioning the vendor’s products as a solution to customer pain points
,
he says.

As any successful IT solution provider will tell you, addressing pain points
is one of the most effective ways to get a customer’s attention.

It seems that more companies need to understand that listening to customers
is critical, as is incorporating customer feedback into how they position
themselves and their products. It’s a challenge, no doubt, especially as
companies try to contain costs by laying off scores of workers.

But it’s a necessity. The CMO Council
recommends tying executive and employee compensation to customer loyalty and
satisfaction. Microsoft, for instance, is already measuring partner performance
and tying rewards to end-user satisfaction with their solution providers.

And, you know, that’s a pretty good idea. Such a move would ensure that
someone is listening.

Pedro Pereira is a contributing editor for Channel Insider.