Customer service and social media -a new two-way dialogue?

It has long been posited that social media allows consumers to engage in two-way conversations with companies, thereby shifting the power balance from one to many in favour of the company, to one to many in favour of the consumer who can post, not only to the organisation in question, but to hundreds or even thousands of followers (Stern, 2010).

Clearly, this represents a significant shift in relations.  Additionally, consumers and businesses have different communication priorities: while companies want to promote ‘new products and campaigns’ customer priorities are ‘complaints and suggestions’ (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014).  So, where does this leave firms seeking to retain and expand their customer base?

Perhaps most importantly, companies need to monitor and scan social media channels (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014) – without this, there is the potential to lose valuable customer feedback and miss customer complaints which require a response.  It is essential to be proactive, catching possible issues before they have a chance to escalate.  In order to do this, developing a “comprehensive social media analytics process” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.286), allows for a systematic approach to what, certainly for more well known firms, can seem an overwhelming number of contacts.

Realistically, how important is this?

The growing importance of engaging customers on social media cannot be over-emphasised – complaints on social media saw an eight-fold increase between 2014-2015, and this continues to grow.  Choose to not respond, and companies risk alienating customers who, in essence, are taking the time to give feedback and a chance to correct mistakes.  Get it right, and the positive benefits can be enormous: not just for the individual customer but for brand perception.  Just look at the positive publicity for the train company who turned on the heating in response to a customer tweet, or the fishy exchange with Sainsburys…

Those who post or tweet want and welcome a response.  Currently, however, less than one third of Twitter users who tweeted a complaint received a response.  Of those who didn’t, 86% would have liked or loved to have received a reply.  These are big numbers and need to be taken seriously.  Although research shows Facebook is being used more successfully in processing customer complaints, Twitter offers the opportunity to establish a fast and effective dialogue with customers, through which issues can be resolved quickly.

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