Most consumers believe that social media has made businesses more accountable — if their tweets are any indication — but that doesn’t mean Facebook FB, +0.05% and Twitter TWTR, +0.17% should be people’s primary avenues to address customer service issues.
Most consumers aren’t necessarily looking for a refund or a discount when they choose to call out a company over social media. Uncovering unfair treatment and, by implication, naming and shaming companies is far more important to them, according to 80% of 1,000 consumers and 289,000 profiles surveyed in a recent report by Sprout Social, a social media management software company.
Sprout found that 70% of people criticized businesses on social platforms to raise awareness among other consumers. Additionally, 55% were looking for an apology or solution, while 51% were trying to get the attention of the news media. Just 38% were seeking a refund — an even smaller share of consumers (19%) wanted a discount. And 81% said social media has increased brand accountability.
In the past, consumers might have felt powerless to stand up to businesses alone, but social media has changed that, the company said in its report. “Even a single, seemingly isolated issue has the power to spur thousands of retweets, memes, comments and hash-tagged posts.”
In fact, social media is one of the main methods of communication people use to lodge a complaint (47% of respondents). It now tops email (42%) and phone (35%) as a channel people use to address customer service problems — only in-person communication (55%) was more popular.
@Forever21 when it says my item will deliver in 2 to 3 working days I expect it to arrive in that time limit... not 8 days later 💁🏼— Danielle 🐝 (@danieleanorxo) September 12, 2017
If your employees are sick please don't have them answer phones @BankofAmerica. Hearing someone blow their nose/cough on the phone is gross.— Molly Walsh (@MollyWalsh) September 13, 2017
All I'm getting is a busy number from @Equifax Can you help me understand this breech and my risk?— JOHN NOSTA (@JohnNosta) September 13, 2017
But consumer complaints can be fairly complex, and social media is not always the best route to resolve these issues. And consumers don’t always get it right.
Case in point: Last week, one person claimed on Twitter that Delta DAL, -0.12% was raising the prices of airfare for flights from Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma. In reality, the high price she saw was the result of an algorithm on the third-party travel website she was searching for flights on and not the fault of Delta.
The tweet went viral — receiving nearly 40,000 retweets and more than 58,000 likes. As the user later tweeted, “Note to travelers, always call [the] airline directly if something doesn’t look right.”
But addressing customer-service issues primarily through social media is not always the wisest choice. Contact the company first out of courtesy, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America.
If a company did something really egregious? Then take out your smartphone, open your Twitter and go for it, she said. A United Airlines UAL, +0.69% customer being dragged off a plane will forever be the gold-star example of that. [The passenger later settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and the airline apologized.]
When making a complaint publicly, Grant said consumers should avoid using profanity or sarcasm to get their point across. That doesn’t mean they can’t get creative. Grant cites the 2009 viral video “United Break Guitars” as an effective way of using humor and social media to communicate customer service-related concerns.
The video prompted the airline to offer compensation to Dave Carroll, a Canadian songwriter and the video’s creator. The airline also later paid the video’s creator, Canadian songwriter Dave Carroll, a one-time fee to use his video in customer-servicing training.
“That example was great because it’s funny,” Grant said, and it made one very clear, salient point. (United did not immediately return a request for comment, but in a statement to CBC News following the video’s release a spokeswoman for the company said the video “provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us.”)
Grant added that consumers should always get in touch with their state or local consumer-protection agencies.