Consumers who complain by letter or phone risk getting worse service as companies protect their image by concentrating on higher-profile online gripes, a watchdog warns.
Consumer Focus said a silent majority of ordinary customers who complaint by letter or by phone might be left behind as firms switch to monitoring internet postings to protect their corporate image. Recent research by information management firm Convergys found that a negative review or comment by a frustrated customer on the Twitter, Facebook or YouTube web sites can lose companies as many as 30 other customers.
Comments by popular bloggers or Twitterers such as Stephen Fry, who has more than one million followers, can have an even more damaging effect. In 2007, furious Patrick Askins became so angry with BT that he posted a YouTube video about his experiences that was viewed thousands of times, shaming the company into a response.
BT now has its own Twitter feed where it contacts users who ‘Tweet’ negative comments about its products and services, but other companies have been warned not to neglect “ordinary customers” who still have to raise complaints in person or through call centres. Christopher Rawlings, head of strategy at Consumer Focus, said greater use of social media to solve problems was to be welcomed but warned firms not to neglect consumers who “cannot access, or are simply not interested in using, the likes of Twitter or Facebook”.
He said: “There is a risk that too much attention is paid to customers those who have online influence and it is important that the traditional ways of getting problems resolved remain open. “We are conducting researching into ways consumers can benefit from social media. Equally, we recognise that there are those who do not have online access or do not want to share their personal information over the internet.”
The Convergys research, published last month, found one in three of those affected by bad customer service share their problems on the internet. It also found that each post on a social media site reaches, on average, 45 users and over 62 per cent of those who took part in the research said they would stop doing business with companies they had heard bad things about.
Among those who have taken the online route is musician Dave Carroll, whose song about how United Airlines broke his guitar notched up almost four million hits. The Consumer Focus warning came as a retail consultant predicted shoppers would be less tolerant of poor service this Christmas.
Derek Bishop, managing director of Abeo Consulting, said: “Customers simply don’t have the time, money or inclination to deal with poor levels of service this year. “It has been a difficult few months for many and the last thing they will want to deal with at Christmas is unnecessary stress on the High Street.”
He said firms that have “a good reputation and word of mouth advocacy from customers, particularly during the pre-Christmas rush” would be the most successful.