BY MARIO CANSECO
Technology and social media now allow us to complain in an easier way than ever before.
This week’s astonishingly horrendous tweet from someone at U.S. Airways has reignited debate about the care that brands should take when faced with social media complaints.
If this is the first time you have heard about this story, I urge you not to look for the tweet online, especially if you are using your employer’s computer. It’s that bad.
In the mid-1990s, when companies began to use email to connect with employees and customers, much attention was placed in those ubiquitous messages sent to email@example.com. As the years went by and email became more ubiquitous, many of these messages went unnoticed. Companies began to rely on automated replies that sometimes read: “Your feedback is valuable to us.” Valuable, yes, but apparently not enough to merit a response from a human.
Technology and social media now allow us to complain in an easier way than ever before. All a person needs is a smartphone, a social media handle, and a grievance. Their dismay will be evident, first to their family and friends, and later to anyone else who decides to link, retweet or favourite.
A survey conducted by Insights West in late 2013 showed 16 per cent of B.C.’s social media users have complained about an airline online. A similar proportion has expressed antipathy towards hotels, utilities, financial institutions and e-commerce retailers.
The main target of online complaints in the province is restaurants, with almost two in five social media users (38 per cent) expressing dismay at dishes, decor and delays. Transit is second on the list at 29 per cent, a figure that grows to 34 per cent among those in the Lower Mainland.
Faced with all these complaints that clearly tie a brand name to an unpleasant experience, what are companies doing? Apparently, not much.
Seven of 10 social media users say no action was taken after their last complaint. An online apology (something that should take any social media co-ordinator a mere 10 characters of a 140-character tweet) was sent to 23 per cent of complainers. A discount or coupon for a service was granted to just 12 per cent.
The seeming inaction from brands outlines a broader problem, which is our need to have everything done immediately. The person posts or tweets, the company reads, answers and acts. That’s the proper order, in the mind of those who have been snubbed.
However, the people who mind the social media accounts are not always in a position to immediately solve problems, offer discounts or issue coupons. They should, however, have a plan in place to deal with complaints and direct them to personnel who can fix them.
The other issue that may affect how we look at this topic in the future is a generational shift. The proportion of social media complaints in B.C. is significantly higher among young adults. We can take financial institutions as a good case study: While only six per cent of those aged 55 and over and 10 per cent of those aged 35-54 have complained online about a financial institution, the proportion jumps to 24 per cent among people aged 18-34.
Companies and brands that are not paying attention to the negative feedback that is provided online, particularly from the youngest respondents, are making a huge mistake. These young consumers are going to be making decisions for entire households in the next decade. Businesses must find a way to adequately deal with this new way of demanding satisfaction, or their prospective consumers will look elsewhere for service.