UK consumers don't stand for poor quality customer service. In January 2016, the Ombudsman Service reported that 82% of people said that they would likely take action against a company that let them down - an increase of 15% since 2013. Where did we complain? Thirty-seven percent of us ended up taking our complaints to the Ombudsman Service, but 36% turned to social media instead (five percent more than in 2014).
But what do we expect to achieve when contacting brands on social media? What can brands do to make things right when problems occur? What are our expectations?
We choose to post questions and complaints to social media because we expect it to be a quicker way to get the issue resolved than calling a helpline or sending an email. Plus, we all know that social offers that added bit of pressure - we're putting our issues with the company out there for anyone to see, rather than keeping it strictly between us and them. This added pressure should also help us get a quick response.
We expect these responses quickly. According to research by The Social Habit, 32% of respondents expected a reply within 30 minutes, while 42% would permit brands up to an hour to respond to their social media queries.
If no one responds to the social post, or if we're provided with another method of contact - such as a feedback link - we may not bother taking the social customer service route again, or if we do, it's likely that our previous experience will have jaded us. We go on to link the brand with a negative experience, which could impact our perception of it in the long-term.
We don't just feel bad about this though, we act. Around 1 in 3 people would switch to a competitor if they did not receive a response from a brand on social media, and 36% would post a negative comment about the unresponsive brand.
Brands that do respond quickly on social media have the advantage here. They are seen to be receptive to feedback, and crucially, they are seen to be listening. Let's be honest, many of us have fired off a tweet or posted a Facebook comment to let off steam and in those cases we need to know that we have been heard.
A seamless experience
When a brands' social media team does refer us on to another method of contact - say the customer service call centre - it can be frustrating on a number of levels. First, we have chosen to contact the brand via the best method for us, let's say social media. Now we have to make a call, and probably wait in a queue or speak to a machine.
What makes the experience worse is that we often find ourselves having to repeat the same things again, because the call centre and the social media team aren't aware of each others interaction with the customer.
Brands need to provide us with a seamless experience - a response that is cross-platform. Organisations need systems in place to track customer interactions across a range of communication methods and do what they can to unify the data we've provided them - rather than asking us to repeat our story.
As consumers, we all have certain expectations when we shop, or communicate with, a brand. When the Ombudsman Service asked respondents what their minimum expectation was when complaining about a brand, their top two requirements were that the brand attempt to make the problem right (75%) and apologise (48%).
No matter how charming the person running a brand's social media account is, if they can't help fix a problem, or they ignore critical feedback, they aren't providing high quality customer service.
We need the brand to set expectations. If we email a brand with a question we'll often get a response saying the email will be dealt with within a certain timeframe.
Brands should set similar expectations on their social customer service presences - this includes adding the office hours of the social customer service team - so people won't get frustrated with a normal delay. If the issue can't be resolved quickly don't wait until it can before you respond. Let the customer know you are looking it and will get back to them, just as automated email responses reassure customers that everything is in hand.
Brands should aim to limit the times we need to say: "I want to talk to someone in charge". People staffing the customer service social media accounts either need to have the authority to act, or there needs to be a rapid escalation process in place to get quick approval.
Front-line staff on social media should be able to display confidence and authority. As customers, we need them to be able to deal with, and resolve, complex issues over social media.
Great customer service isn't just about having a friendly team of social media experts managing a brand's account. It requires all five elements running smoothly. Those running the accounts need to be listening, they need to be responsive. They need to have the ability and confidence to resolve issues, and they need to ensure that they are managing our expectations.
But businesses also need to make sure that they're supporting their customer service teams with technology and processes that make tracking customer service issues easy across different platforms.
As long as social media is around, we're going to use it to complain, to ask questions and to give feedback. While brands will always have the option of ignoring our posts, they run the risk of alienating their own customers when the do so. Great customer service doesn't start with reaction, but the way brands react when things go wrong tells us a lot about the truth behind the image.