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Social media is changing the way customers complain

The new battleground for customer to air their grievances about companies

Is social media the new battleground on which individuals air their grievances about companies?

A survey conducted by communications agency Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research points to this phenomenon. It polled 2,000 UK adults in April 2012 and found that:

  • A fifth of respondents (19%) said they had dealt with big companies through social media in August 2011, rising to 36% in April 2012
  • Two-fifths (40%) of them believe that communicating through this medium leads to improvements in customer service
  • Most of those (68%) that have used social media channels to communicate with brands believe it gives them greater customer “voice”
  • Most of them (65%) believe social media is a better way to communicate with companies than call centres, some nine times more than the 7% who felt they had a worse experience on social media

There are many examples:

  • Sony came under bushfire for raising prices on Houston’s music in the UK
  • A consumer backlash led to Bank of America Corp. canceling a $5-per-month fee for debit card users
  • When Harlem resident Minhee Cho ordered a small pizza from a Papa John’s restaurant, she was shocked to find that a staffer ID’d her as “lady chinky eyes” on her receipt
  • Netflix users protest against proposed price increases with social media
  • BP was under heavy social media attack in the wake of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Twinings changed the flavour of the popular Earl Grey and its drinkers where rising in revolt against Twinings

Bashtag – situations in which a corporate Twitter hashtag is used to criticise the company

The use of social media – particularly Twitter – to engage with customers can also backfire.

Qantas discovered this when it encouraged people to use the Qantas Luxury hashtag to share positive experiences of flying with the Australian airline, incentivising participation with a prize of luxury pyjamas.

Instead, it was inundated with thousands of complaints and sarcastic comments from disgruntled customers who felt the service they received could not have been further from what they considered to be luxury.

McDonald’s was also stung by the unpredictability of social media when it created the McDStories hashtag in January, hoping it would unleash a stream of positive tweets extolling the virtues of its dining experience.

The fast-food behemoth reportedly stopped using the hashtag after just two hours, saying the effort “did not go as planned” following a barrage of negative tweets. But by then the hashtag had taken on a life of its own and continued to be used.

Such behaviour led to the term “bashtag” being coined to describe situations in which a corporate Twitter hashtag is used to criticise the company.

Better avoid social media

Companies had previously enjoyed a “controlled” conversation with customers in which they promoted their wares through advertisements. Unhappy consumers could only respond with a small voice, through letters or calling a customer relations team.

But social media is here to stay – and for disgruntled customers, it’s can be a powerful weapon. However, properly handled it can be a powerful weapon in the corporate communicator’s arsenal too.

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Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland View full profile

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