BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Who in corporate America owns the consumer relationship, the customer experience, word-of-mouth or social media? The answer appears to be nobody.
For all the talk about listening to consumers, few marketers think their companies are doing so effectively and even fewer are monitoring what people say about their brands in social media, according to a new survey by the CMO Council.
The survey of 400 executives found that 56% said their companies have no programs to track or propagate positive word-of-mouth; 59% don't compensate any employees based on improvements in customer loyalty or satisfaction; and only 30% rated their companies highly in their ability to handle or resolve customer complaints.
Few have a system in place
Despite all the hype about social media, only 16% of respondents said their companies have any routine system in place for monitoring what people are saying about them or their brands online.
The survey comes, however, as big marketers are paying growing attention to monitoring and leveraging social media. Procter & Gamble Co. has a Social Media Lab that's about 18 months old, and Unilever last month hosted a word-of-mouth summit at its U.S. headquarters dedicated largely to understanding how social media affect its brands.
Another big marketer, Johnson & Johnson, became acutely aware of the trouble social media can cause when complaints on the microblogging site Twitter led it to pull the plug on an ad campaign for Motrin in November.
One problem for marketing executives is that they're not clearly in charge now of managing the customer experience, customer loyalty or social media today, given that public-relations, sales, consumer-affairs and research-and-development departments all have a stake in those areas now.
Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, said marketing should take the lead in overseeing the customer experience and satisfaction. And he said addressing deficiencies in tracking and analyzing consumer feedback and buzz may be the key way CMOs can stake a claim to leadership.
Buck stops with CMO
"From our standpoint, if there's anybody who needs to be accountable for the customer experience, it's the CMO," Mr. Neale-May said. "Clearly what marketing needs to do to cover a lot of ground we've lost in the organization is more analytics, predictive modeling, and data integration and aggregation."
How three big package-goods marketers are addressing social media, however, shows just how varied functional ownership even of that aspect of the customer experience can be.
P&G's Social Media Lab has been led largely by corporate digital-marketing specialists. Unilever's word-of-mouth summit last month appeared to be spearheaded by market research. And J&J last fall appointed corporate-public-relations executive and part-time corporate blogger Marc Monseau to focus full time on social media, both monitoring how J&J is faring and reaching out to help exert corporate influence.
Regardless of who's in charge, the CMO Council survey suggests "companies generally still aren't very sophisticated at capturing or managing either positive or negative word-of-mouth," said Laura Brooks, VP-research for Satmetrix, the company behind the "Net Promoter Score" and a sponsor of the study. Aside from the leadership vacuum, she said corporate silos mean that disparate data streams are never brought together in a way that could help identify and solve problems.
But Pete Blackshaw, exec-VP of digital strategic services for Nielsen Online, isn't sure separation of duties is such a bad thing.
"You could argue that tension is positive," he said. "It's probably a good thing that the consumer-affairs department is freaked out that the digital-marketing team is doing listening. It's probably a good thing that the research team is kept on its toes by the social-media team."
He also said marketers, even those with extensive customer-relationship-marketing programs, are hamstrung by databases that don't take into account the word-of-mouth potential of consumers by asking whether they blog, participate in social networks or post to message boards. One exception, he said, is beauty marketer Coty, which does ask consumers about some of those things.
On the social-media front, while Ted McConnell, P&G general manager for interactive marketing and innovation, generated controversy late last year with his dismissal of Facebook and other so-called consumer-generated media as places for P&G ads, the company remains intently focused on tracking and working with social media.
P&G's Social Media Lab has worked with 15 P&G brands and 70 external partners in an effort to better understand and leverage social media. Among the more interesting projects has been working with Ripple6, acquired last year by Gannett, to develop tools for monitoring social-media buzz and building online communities. Among other things, Ripple6 is helping P&G Productions' soap opera "The Guiding Light" develop a new online community.
To be sure, wherever there's consumer data, P&G will try to mine it.
"Aside from technology, it's almost been a natural thing for P&G to [listen to consumers]," said Stan Joosten, innovation manager-holistic consumer communication. "What technology does for us is truly extend what we can do. For the first time ever with this technology, conversations are visible to us. ... You cannot start in social media without knowing how to listen."