Companies ignore social media as vehicle for consumer complaints at their peril

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Too many companies still think of social media as a marketing communication tool and ignore the fact it is now a preferred method for many customers to make complaints, according to a social customer service expert.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by contact centre optimisation specialist Datapoint, Martin Hill-Wilson of Brainfood Consulting said: “The fact so many brands are failing to recognise social media in their customer service strategies is a clear signal they are finding it difficult to move beyond a simple broadcast mode of marketing to one based on dialogue. Social media is a two-way street – when you communicate your marketing message out to your customers, you had better be ready to listen to their reply; it will lose you business if you don’t.”

According to Datapoint, a stagnant economy has led to many businesses deciding to reduce costs, delaying updates to their contact centres to include social media as a communication channel. This has kept the tool locked in the marketing department, it said. While marketers were early adopters of the medium in the business world, they now lack the skills or resources to handle the direct communication from customers they are now receiving, Datapoint claims.

Social media is still a minority player as a way for customers to complain, but it is growing fast and now accounts for between 5-20% of total complaints to many organisations, said Datapoint. Also, because a complaint can be seen by a huge number of people, the potential to damage a brand’s reputation is significantly larger than other forms of communication used to complain. The power of a complaining customer is now massively expanded.

Jim Close, managing director of Datapoint, said: “The delay in the use of social media in the contact centre is understandable, but this must now be rectified if many companies are to protect their reputations and keep their competitive edge.

“Software can be deployed that not only fully integrates social media into traditional complaint resolution channels, but also forms part of a wider contact centre optimisation strategy. For example, peak times for complaints received via social media can differ from other communication channels and software can be used to plan staff allocation to meet these variations effectively.

“Social media tools are for two-way dialogue with customers as well as a (mostly) one-way marketing channel. They differ from more traditional media because often the interaction is globally-visible and there is potential for massive reputational impact. The organisations that learn this lesson the fastest – and use contact centre systems to do this effectively – will be the ones that win the customer retention race.”