The days of listening to greensleeves on hold for hours while waiting for a customer service operator is over, as new research suggests that more and more of us are using the internet to lodge complaints and contact customer services.
It makes sense to utilise free, instant communication like email over using the phone or snail mail, but the most interesting development in customer service is that which takes place on the ever-important social networks.
As brands fight to “friend” their customers on Facebook, how do they respond when the relationship turns ugly?
Businesses Ignore Social Media at their Peril
The thing with email is that it’s easy to ignore. Unlike a phonecall, an email can be buried and forgotten just like a letter. It’s easier to put off replying to an online customer service enquiry than it is to put off answering the telephone. The beauty of complaining via social media is that your complaint, question or query is aired in public. For some companies, Facebook is more of a shop window than their own website, and if it’s a sales channel then they need to be red hot with their customer service to ensure that that window is not full of negative mentions, criticisms and rotten tomatoes.
Consumers Complain Online
A survey by eGain at the end of last year highlighted how British consumers were making complaints. They found that 60% of 18-35 year olds preferred to complain online, with email being the preferred method of choice. 5% said they would complain first through Facebook or Twitter before utilising any other method of communication.
Predictably, 18-35 year olds were twice as likely to use the internet to make a complaint, with letters and phonecalls remaining the most popular with older age groups. It’s a shame that more people aren’t making use of social media as a customer service channel; it’s often one of the best ways of getting a succinct, prompt response from a company or organisation.
Of course some social media users are more equal than others. Stephen Fry is more likely to get a fast response if he tweets a customer service complaint to his 4.1 million followers, compared to less authoritative and well-known individuals. The loud can have a disproportionately large voice on social networks, and these tend to be the users that customer service teams try to satisfy.
Companies Turn a Blind Eye to Social Media
Amazingly, a piece of research conducted by Maritz found that 70% of businesses ignore customer service requests on Twitter. They polled 1, 298 Twitter users and only 29% ever received a reply to their customer service tweet. There are some good reasons why companies should not be ignoring these 140-character pleas for help.
The study also found that 83% of complainants that did receive a reply appreciated it, regardless of how, when or why the response came about. Sometimes just acknowledging problems and apologising can be enough to keep a customer happy and prevent them from posting more messages which are detrimental to a brand or business. Ignoring tweets and status updates is worse than ignoring the telephone.
Companies should develop a social media customer service plan and response map to help them deal with online enquiries and customer service communication. Creating a response map should help customer service representatives to respond to social media communications promptly without having to negotiate masses of red tape and compliance teams. It’s not always easy to know how to respond to public complaints but staying silent can do more harm than good to a company or brand. Connect with customers online and ensure that they are totally satisfied with your products or services.
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