An increasing number of consumers are turning to social media first to voice complaints, have complicated situations resolved, and even in the case of a crisis, according to a study.
Almost one in five people (18 per cent) use social media as first preference to voice a complaint, over other contact channels including phone, face to face, email and web chat, according to a study by customer contact outsourcer Echo Managed Services.
The same percentage of people turn to social media before any other channel when a complicated problem arises and 14 per cent turn to it first in a crisis, such as when a flight is cancelled.
Social media would also be first preference for 13 per cent of respondents who would use the channel to request information, and a further 14 per cent to make a booking.
The research also reveals that almost one in three (29 per cent) consumers would move their custom elsewhere if they encountered poor service.
Experts from Echo urge companies to reassess where the social media function sits within their organisation, recommending prime responsibility should sit with the team best equipped to handle customer enquiries, most likely the customer services team, rather than in marketing.
Chris Cullen, head of sales and marketing at Echo Managed Services says that the findings clearly demonstrate a consumer willingness to use social media in a variety of situations, perhaps most notably in complicated ones or when making a complaint.
'As issues raised through the channel can be unpredictable and played out in front of a potentially enormous public audience, it raises challenges in terms of who within an organisation manages social media,' he adds.
'Customer service must be consistent across all communication channels, and due to the variety of queries coming through social media, it should be developed to be as broad as possible and not just rely on stock answers to popular questions, as is unfortunately sometimes the case with social media management.'
Cullen adds that not prioritising social media as much as other communication channels is risky business for organisations and can potentially lead to reputational damage and lost customers, especially considering the nature of enquiries coming through this channel.
'While those turning to social media first to communicate is far from the majority of customers, it's now a sizeable enough number to mean that it can no longer be ignored by service providers.'
Further reading on reputation management
See also: Retail marketing