Don't be anti-social

26th Mar 2020

Martin Ellingham, director, product management compliance at Aptean, looks at the increasing role of social media in complaints and advocacy

Social media statistics show there are 3.5 billion social media users worldwide, a figure that equates to about 45% of the global population. This number shows no sign of shrinking either, with digital natives leading the way, a fact supported by the 90.4% of millennials who are active social media users.

For businesses, social media represents an opportunity to communicate directly to its customers and prospects, and vice versa, giving consumers a direct line right to the heart of a business. In response, businesses are working hard to curate their social media presence, exploiting the opportunity to directly disseminate their core messages. But, this works both ways, with consumers taking to social media to share their experiences, both positive and negative, airing their opinions on a public forum to potentially huge audiences. While this can be a bonus for businesses, with 71% of consumers who have had a positive experience with a brand on social media claiming they’re likely to recommend the brand to friends and family, it also gives customers a platform to complain, very visibly, direct to the business.

Despite the ubiquity of social media, according to recent UK research, only 1% of complaints are made via social media channels, a surprising statistic when you consider the 3.5 billion social media users worldwide. This, for me, begs two questions. Firstly, why aren’t people complaining via social media? And, could it be that a lot of complaints delivered via social media are actually being missed, and therefore not being addressed at all?

There are definitely some explanations for the first question as to why people aren’t complaining. Usually, disgruntled customers want to complain as directly as possible and using social media doesn’t always feel as direct, especially for busier social media accounts where it’s possible to see hundreds and even thousands of comments, likes and complaints alongside your own. Additionally, the very public nature of social media platforms (excluding private and direct messages) may deter complainants, wishing instead to pursue more traditional 1-2-1 communications channels.

The second issue is more complex. People are very quick to use social media to ‘call out’ poor service or product failings, with keyboard warriors often experiencing a boost in confidence behind the protection of a screen. But, it’s how businesses then react to this interaction that often then determines whether the customer is satisfied with a response or acknowledgment, whether it turns into a fully-fledged complaint, or, worst case scenario, whether the business doesn’t get the chance to resolve the issue as the customer disengages completely and votes with their feet.

The key challenge for businesses is not how to resolve complaints that come in via social media (these should be resolved in exactly the same way as any other complaints, regardless of via which media they arrive), but how to effectively monitor and identify any customers who complain via social media, logging and responding to the complaint as required. Social media should be regarded as simply another communications channel, with front-line staff given the skills and tools necessary to firstly identify the complaint and then respond accordingly, capturing the information in the same case management systems that are used elsewhere in the business to record complaints.

While some businesses keep their social media and complaint handling teams separate, there’s a definite argument to be made for amalgamating the two. Ultimately, they need the same skillset, namely the ability to identify complaints and the empathy to deal with the complaint in a suitable manner, as well as being empowered by access to the right tools and training to take the necessary action to resolve the complaint swiftly and with a satisfactory outcome for everyone involved. With the right systems in pace, it’s possible to capture negative feedback before it escalates, reaching-out to customers to try and resolve any issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

Customers definitely want a multichannel experience, having the choice of using their preferred medium to interact with businesses, and the number of consumers for whom social media is the preferred medium is only set to grow. Effective social media management goes hand-in-hand with complaint management. If you do both well, you can secure a real improvement to customer satisfaction levels, while achieving a significant uplift in customer advocacy, making the most of a communications channel that is definitely here to stay.

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