Using Social Media to Improve the Consumer Complaint Process

Our social media driven culture is used to posting, sharing, Tweeting, chatting, pinning, blogging, and Skyping – with friends and strangers alike. But, in the past decade, businesses have emerged as a new player in the social media hierarchy. This has given consumers new tools for reaching out to businesses, and has created a whole new type of online customer service.

Consider an airline passenger who, on a long flight, was frustrated when the television screen in front of him was not working. From his phone, he wrote a short Twitter message to JetBlue, the airline on which he was flying, to describe the problem. Before his plane landed, representatives from JetBlue issued a personal response, apologizing for the problem and offering him a $15 credit on his next flight.

This story serves as a great example of the power of social media to reach companies. There are several advantages to this new system. First, social media platforms provide a forum where consumers and businesses can correspond directly. Neither party has to wait until the other is available, which means no waiting on hold and no missed callbacks. Not only does this make the process more convenient for consumers, it benefits businesses by simplifying the complaint resolution process and saving time. Noting these benefits, many companies have started training customer service representatives to respond to social media complaints.

Second, the consumer’s compliant — and the company’s response — are visible to millions of internet users. This creates a virtual handbook of consumer Q&A, where consumers can learn from the resolutions provided for prior customers. More importantly, it also puts pressure on companies to respond fairly to customer concerns. Observers can also see the time that elapsed between complaint and resolution. This can help customers get an idea of how long the process should take, and keeps the business accountable to its consumers for its response time. Companies who do not help their consumers in a fair and timely way risk offending their customer base.

Consumers can use this new approach with relative ease. Twitter and Facebook, the two most common social media forums for customer complaints, offer free accounts. To sign up, all the user needs to provide is a name, birthday, and an email address. After joining, consumers can use the search bar to find the company they wish to speak to, and then type a simple message. The next step is to wait, and follow any instructions that the company provides in its reply. After a few days, if no one responds, the consumer should try other contact methods like email or telephone.

Just because the process is easy does not mean it is foolproof. In fact, some consumers who have posted complaints on social media have later been sued by the company for harassment, defamation, or libel. MyConsumerTips already has a blog (link here) describing how to avoid those lawsuits, but the key takeaway is: use good judgement. Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, and don’t be malicious. For serious complaints, the consumer may consider contacting the state attorney general’s office or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau instead.

There are some other drawbacks to social media complaints. First, a response is not guaranteed, and it may not come in the timeline that you expect. Second, social media is a bad forum for some types of questions. Imagine Tweeting to Ikea for help putting a bookcase together. The conversation might take hundreds of back-and-forth messages, which would overrun the company’s Twitter page.

Questions which require personal information are also bad for social media. Imagine posting a question on your bank’s Facebook page, asking whether your recent foreclosure has impacted your line of credit. Not only have you broadcast your recent foreclosure to millions of strangers, the bank will probably need more information (at a minimum, your account number) in order to fully answer your question. You should never give out personal information on social media sites.

Noting the obvious benefits of social media customer service, some industry analysts believe that it will displace email and telephone as the primary means for consumer complaints. Whether or not that occurs, consumers who follow the tips outlined above may find that reaching out via social media is faster, easier, and more successful than other means. Happy Tweeting!

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