A survey finds that Internet users are making widespread use of social networks to express their discontent with companies.

Social Networks Driving Increase in Customer Complaints

Companies are still falling short when it comes to customer relations. This finding comes from the 2012 Eptica Social Customer Service Study, carried out in May among 2,000 Internet users, half from the UK and half from France, to try to understand how consumer behaviour on social media is changing. According to the Eptica study, almost a third (31%) of all French consumers are complaining more now that they can use social media to communicate with companies. Over a quarter of these use this channel in the hope of obtaining a faster response. However, the study shows that in practice a large number of companies don’t respond to these complaints and that 78.8% of consumers never get a satisfactory answer to their question. More than 21% of their complaints remain unanswered and 82% of those who posted negative comments remained dissatisfied with the replies they subsequently received. This level of dissatisfaction illustrates the difficulties some companies encounter in satisfying customers. “Social media provide a megaphone through which complaints can quickly escalate, and customers may decide to vote with their feet,” warns Dee Roche, Marketing Director at Eptica. Customers criticise some sectors more than others. According to the study, the most criticised companies in France are the banks (24%), mobile phone operators (20%), fixed-line telephone operators (16%), and retailers (18%).

Companies still have a lot to do…

These findings make sense to Bertrand Duperrin, consultant and specialist in social networks, as consumer problems have now become more apparent through the use of these new communication platforms. “Companies which have never before seen customer relations as a means to compete have come under attack over their inability to respond to questions from their customers,he points out. The explanation for these shortcomings is that to date managing social networks has generally been regarded as part of the job of the Corporate Communications department, whose people often do not possess any particular skills in this area. So these spaces were just used as new channels for corporate image projection, with no thought of responding to the real needs of the customers who had signed up to their page.

…but better late than never

Now that companies have become aware that they need to catch up – a positive development – they can start redesigning and restructuring their social networks. This is an expensive investment, since it requires input not only from the IT department and from management, but also from Human Resources, because of the need to recruit trained people to take charge of the company’s social network. It is also extremely time-consuming because it is still difficult today to get this particular tree to bear fruit. However, a number of success stories are pointing the way. Bertrand Duperrin’s favourite example iswhat happened at the time of the volcanic eruption in Iceland two years ago. “It caused chaos for European and indeed worldwide air traffic, but the airlines set a great example, using their Facebook pages and other platforms immediately to suggest other ways for customers to get home and explain how to obtain reimbursement.” Meanwhile, as customers wait for companies to get themselves organised, a quarter of the consumers interviewed by Eptica say they count on fellow-consumers to help them out with any problems.