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Customers vent fury on Facebook before complaining to a company, research reveals

Monday December 14th 2009

Dissatisfied customers are turning to Twitter and other online social networks to complain about poor service, rather than go to the organisation responsible, new research reveals.

Ultra-fast online complaints are forcing companies to play catch-up with their customers in efforts to repair their reputations.

That’s according to the latest study into customer complaints by the Institute of Customer Service, conducted by Robert East, professor of consumer behaviour at Kingston Business School.

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His review of the latest trends, called ‘Analysing Customer Complaining’, found online social networks are both popular and influential, while only a small minority of dissatisfied customers bother going to the organisation that let them down.

But, he claims, those who are adept at monitoring customer satisfaction online and are able to put things right can repair the damage, especially as vocal critics are often keen to air positive comments too.

Professor East said in his report: “It appears that those using negative word of mouth are much more likely to produce positive word of mouth. So firms may turn complainers into satisfied customers.

“Evidence shows that about half of all negative word of mouth emanates from past customers and about a quarter from current customers. So firms with customer databases can direct information to most of the people who are airing criticisms and may be able to tailor appropriate messages for past and current customers.”

Professor East said it made financial sense for companies to encourage complaints from dissatisfied customers and review evidence on complaining.

“The benefits of good complaint handling are customer retention, reduced negative word of mouth, increased positive word of mouth, market research and, sometimes, increased sales,” he said.

“We criticise some of the orthodox thinking about complaining and suggest that, in addition to complaint handling, there should be a more direct focus on defection and word of mouth.”

Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, said: “The rise of social network sites as a forum for customer complaints could be viewed as a threat to organisations, but also as an opportunity for them to address consumer complaints head on.

“The majority of consumers are more likely to air their grievances without even consulting the company concerned, so organisations need to respond proactively online and see this as another communication channel.’
 
“Running an effective complaint handling process will help them establish feedback quickly and enable them to put measures in place to reduce a repeat of the complaint.”