Common thinking would suggest that many organizations should flock towards social media analytics tools in something akin to the great gold rushes of the 19th century across America. While this is not an unwise choice for capturing the Voice of the Customer, I would suggest examining the merits of direct feedback as well.
Many organizations are scared by the looming colossus that is the internet and the many stories about share prices being slashed overnight after a viral YouTube video has taken off. The question is, if the experience wasn’t broken in the first place, or you have already engaged a customer about the experience, is this something you should be worried about? There is some logic to the argument that by surveying every customer after an interaction you have given them the portal in which to praise, or criticize, the experience they have had without heading online. Indeed this type of feedback is in a far more closed and controlled environment, and as an organization you are in a position to leverage those insights whether it be through customer recovery or employee praise.
But perhaps this is simplifying the issue. Ultimately some customers will not respond to surveys. They will not want to engage with you about a negative experience and in fact will want to damage the company as much as possible by taking their complaints online. This can occur regardless of how good an experience you offer. In organizations with thousands and millions of customers, not every interaction will be as successful as the company wishes. And this is precisely why social media analytics still have a part to play.
I would go one step further and say that social media analytics need not be seen just as a damage limitation tool, to quickly pinpoint the next Dave Carroll. Social analytics should be seen as a solution to promote success within the business, leverage positive word of mouth, and develop sales opportunities. With advanced analytics engines, organizations can achieve all of these. They can also enhance the customer experience and their own employee engagement.
So, to answer the question posed in the title – social media analytics or direct feedback? – the answer is both. Both have their place within Voice of the Customer solutions, and neither can be ignored. To really understand the customer experience, and operationalize VoC within your organization, no business should be without both of these solutions.