A report by VB Insight has revealed that modern consumers complain about brands an astonishing 879 million times a year on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media portals, with 10 percent of those consumers making a complaint on social media every day.
In a survey of over 11,000 internet users across the United States, VB Insight’s research also found that 17.4 percent of consumers complain to brands using social media on a weekly basis, and somewhat worryingly, that 32.8 percent of brands never offer a response to social media complaints, meaning up to 289 million complaints go unanswered every year.
And one doesn’t need to look too far for an example of how at this very moment, consumers are using the channel to voice their dissatisfaction for a brand. In the past week for example, disgruntled customers who used Uber services on New Year’s Eve have been uploading receipts for their taxi services on the night. The astonishing fares, often numbering hundreds of dollars for a journey of just a few miles, have shocked and appalled and the backlash has done no favors for the company’s surge pricing system, which algorithmically increases fares in instances of high demand.
@Uber You are despicable. $116 for a 7 mile ride? Next year we’ll just drive drunk, I guess. Thanks, Uber!
— Colin Griffith (@colingriffith) January 1, 2014
Just a couple of weeks earlier Uber were criticised for increasing fares by up to four times the normal rate during a Sydney hostage crisis, punishing those who attempted to get away to safety. While Uber later apologized for the incident, the combined negative sentiment towards Uber’s pricing strategy on social media in the past few weeks, shows how negative social media complaints can begin trending, and have the power to negatively impact the perception of a brand.
As expected, in many cases it is the 18–34 year olds, or so called GenX’ers, that are leading the charge in terms of using social media to complain to brands, however the report identified “Digital Grey Foxes” – 55- to 64-year-olds increasingly at home with technology – also making the most of social media channels to address brand grievances, with individuals in this age-group having double the complaint rate of younger consumers.
5 Reasons Social Media Complaints Must Be Taken Seriously
There are a number of good reasons why consumers are turning to the channel to voice their complaints, and why the brands who aren’t properly addressing their customer’s grievances ought to reconsider how they are conducting their operations on the social media platforms they are active on:
- Social media is the most convenient way for customers to complain: Social media provides a much more appealing medium for consumers to address their gripes for two reasons. One, it provides a quick and stress free means for consumers to open a discourse with a brand – much easier than navigating a intricate switchboard that puts you on hold for long periods and charges by the minute. And two, it allows them to share their experiences with their friends and followers, something we seek to do naturally when stressed or aggrieved.
- Social media represents empowered consumers: For the reasons outlined in point number one, social media provides consumers with a sense of empowerment. Complaints on social media can negatively influence the perception of a brand and market. If you brand isn’t perceived to be listening and attentive to a customers needs, then you’re sending a message to consumers to look to one of your competitors the next time they are seeking out a service or product.
- Consumers have high expectations for your brands: Brands that are doing well in addressing consumer complaints on social media, those addressing customer complaints quickly and efficiently, are raising the bar in terms of common expectations. It means that consumers are coming to expect a first class service from all the brands they have a relationship with. To illustrate this, research has shown that as many as 53 percent of consumers now expect brands to respond within one hour, and 70 percent are not expecting to be ignored.
- Unhappy users share negative experiences: As reported in July 2013 by Lithium Technologies, customers who don’t receive a satisfactory response look to their social media channels to share their negative experiences to ‘vent’. Lithium’s research suggested that 29 percent of consumers who didn’t receive a satisfactory response from a brand would tell friends and family about their experience, and a further 26 percent would “escalate their concerns through other sources of communication”.
- Social media complaints are an opportunity for your brand: This one’s the kicker. Social media complaints aren’t all doom and gloom, when handled correctly they offer a great opportunity for brands to turn something negative, into something that can actually serve to benefit a brand’s reputation. Social media is part of a brand’s overall public presence, a direct connection to the consumers on which a brand depends, and in that sense it’s a great opportunity to share brand values and show consumers what you’re made of!
How Can Brands Best Turn Complaints Into Something Complimentary?
VB Insight’s stats suggest that there is a shortfall in the number of brands that are responding to customer complaints adequately, or at all, but there are some brands who are building up their reputations on social media for their adeptness at listening to their consumers.
While there are challenges to dealing with consumer complaints, an obvious one being the 140 character limit on Twitter for example, with a little creativity and organization of a company’s social media support, there’s a good chance brands can turn potentially negative complaints into something positive for the brand.
Here are some examples of brands dealing with consumer complaints well, with insights that you can use in your own marketing.
JetBlue are often acknowledged as one of the most adept companies on Twitter at handling consumer complaints. A study by HubSpot showed the extent to which the company’s social media team were willing to the extra mile, affirming their reputation among consumers.
The company averages an impressive 10 minute response time (especially impressive considering the company receives 2,500–2,600 mentions a day on Twitter alone).
While JetBlue’s response rate is admirable, the goals of the social media team are not merely to respond. The airline also prioritize responding to tweets where staff can contribute value. Said Laurie Meacham, manager of customer commitment at jetBlue:
“We recognize how important it is to measure the ROI of our social media efforts, but we actually make a point of not measuring response rate on Twitter. We want our employees to engage smartly, and for the conversations to be organic and natural. We look for opportunities to add value and connect with our customers, not just respond to every single mention that comes our way.”
Airlines have a particular obligation to provide excellent customer service, in times of bad weather or delays for instance, keeping customers well informed and updated can work wonders in placating frustrations. Showing customers that you are listening and care about their wellbeing can be the difference that wins the loyalty of a customer.
In the past few years, Dell have introduced a comprehensive a customer first social media complaints handling process in a move encouraged come right from the top of the business. The company have an appointed ‘Listening Czar’ responsible for the overall integration of Dell’s social media support offering.
The company now employ a team of 70+ social media customer service officers operating from a state of the art “Social Media Listening Command Center”, managing up to 25,000 social media interactions per day.
Another airline who have prioritized first class complaints handling via social media, KLM’s drive towards being a leading brand on social media was necessitated by the disruption to European air travel as a result of the Eyjäfjälläjökull eruption in 2010. The company, who at the time was merely ‘experimenting’ with social media, found their Twitter feed inundated with confused, desperate, and often angry customers seeking guidance or a response from the airline.
In a bold but necessary move, the airline gathered 100 non-operational personnel to respond to the backlog of customer complaints on social media, and thus their social media team was born. KLM’s social media team now consists of a dedicated team of 200+ employees who monitor the airlines social media channels to provide 24/7 support. The average response time is generally under an hour for all customer complaints, and in fact, a ticker of the current average response time is updated in the airlines cover photo on Twitter every five minutes.
The companies included all have a dedicated social media team in place, devoted to providing an excellent customer service, and such as in the case of JetBlue, have transferred the expertise of a companies established CS teams for into a social media setting. Handling consumer complaints well can have a hugely positive impact for a brand.
According to David Schneider, Comedia, Twitter expert and co-founder of social media consultancy That Lot:
“A bad review or negative comment can be retweeted by millions, and companies are often keen to defuse customer anger very quickly in a public space such as Twitter. If it is done cleverly, it can even work in a company’s favor.”
Sometimes all it takes is clever bit of thinking to provide consumers with the reassurance they are seeking, as well as raising the awareness and perception of a brand. This classic tweet from @ArgosHelpers did more than win the “respect” of the dissatisfied customer, it won the attention of the media, and a bunch of new followers.
While this may be an extreme example, it does illustrate the key points brands should be aware with in streamlining customer supports and complaints handling on social media.
Key Takeaways For Brands
- Have a dedicated customer support team on social media.
- Consider running a separate support channel (e.g. @NikeSupport, @DeltaAssist).
- Aim to respond to complaints within an hour.
- Don’t obsess about KPIs.
- Instead look to provide value, and allow your staff the license to use their initiative.