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Here's How GM Uses Social Data to Improve Cars

Brands employ Twitter and Facebook feedback in new ways

Photo: Getty Images

When owners of the new Chevrolet Trax drive off lots in January, they will comment on everything from its built-in WiFi to its trunk space on Facebook, Twitter and auto blogs. Like all marketers, General Motors will keep an eye out for recurring complaints about features; but unlike most, the carmaker will troubleshoot and make alterations at its factory in real time. 

Brands increasingly are taking social sentiment seriously, and GM is among those closing the loop between customer feedback and its engineers.

"We are becoming more precise," said Whitney Drake, GM's lead for social media care. "We can resolve [issues] really quickly instead of waiting for a survey to come back."

After GM’s latest Cadillac Escalade hit the market in September, the passenger-side backseat’s cooling-ventilation system was actually heating up the seat directly in front of it. And in no time, Drake and her team of 20 could see on their Oracle-powered data dashboard that a wave of owners were posting about the flaw via social sites. She alerted the engineers, and repairs were made on the Escalades that were shipped to dealerships a few weeks later.

Similarly, the latest Chevy Silverado drew the ire of owners in southern states because the steering wheel had been designed with metal. "It got warm to the touch," Drake explained. "So the team was able to feed that information back to product development, which looked at it and then [nixed] that steering wheel as an option."

The retail sector is also improving customer service thanks to real-time pushback.

Dick’s Sporting Goods discovered from social data that in-store customers got less-than-stellar service in the hours leading up to closing time, so the retailer added more staff and trained personnel for evening shifts.

And Five Guys is currently testing milkshakes thanks to fans clamoring for frozen treats; the move came after data-driven decisions this year to add a smaller fry option to the menu and add more Coke "freestyle" soda machines. While working with tech firm NewBrandAnalytics, the burger chain observed that the freestyle machines boosted positive social sentiment by 20 percent. Additionally, Facebook and Twitter posts have led to fine-tuning Five Guys' soundtrack.

"We realized that our music was kind of stuck in '70s and '80s classic rock, so we let the '90s in," said Molly Catalano, the rep for Five Guys. "And then positive sentiment increased."

Of course, these data-based decisions are more about gross revenue than grunge riffs. So do they make cash registers ring? GM's Drake thinks so. "That social relationship proves valuable for sales consideration and retention," she said.

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