Why Brands Shouldn’t Ignore Social Media for Customer Service

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Ashley Leone

Several months ago, after a heavy rainfall, 11 units and four hallways at my condo flooded from a fallen hallway pipe. The building management held a meeting about the flooding. They revealed that the building’s insurance was not going to pay for the water damage.

People stood up from their chairs. Yelling ensued. Everyone wanted answers. “It’s just wrong,” one resident said, “can’t we fight it?” The board explained, as far as talking to the insurance company, they had gone as far as they could go. They reasoned that the company was just too big to care about losing our building as a policy holder. The other residents and I didn’t buy it. Surely there was something we could do to get them to reconsider.

“No one here is to go on social media and make a stink over this!” one building manager yelled. “Posting on Twitter over this won’t do anything!” I swear this woman turned and glared at me­–she apparently wasn’t aware of the power of using social media for customer service.

Sitting in a folding chair in a community room with bad fluorescent lighting made me feel like I was back in middle school being called out by a teacher. I’d never met Madame Building Lady before, so unless she heard some vicious rumors that I ran scathing social media tirades, the only reason she had to narrow her accusations at me was my age.

I started to feel indignant at the stereotyping—just because I’m a millennial doesn’t mean I’m about to go to Twitter to air my grievances. And yet, in that same moment, I felt appropriately targeted because, yes—my first thought was to put the insurance company on blast. Go public. Expose the unethical treatment and get enough eyes on it that the company must address this to avoid a consumer backlash. And while I didn’t take to Twitter, and the insurance issue was later resolved without the threat of public shaming, it wouldn’t have been as unreasonable or outlandish as the building manager made it seem.

Consumers—Especially Millennials and Gen Z—Go to Social Media for Customer Service

To the surprise of no one, millennials and Gen Z spend most of their online time browsing social media (millennials gravitate toward text and pictures on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, while Gen Z gravitates toward video content found on TikTok, YouTube, and SnapChat), so it makes sense that we’d also turn to social media to resolve an issue with a brand. Turns out, 67% of consumers have used social media to get a brand’s attention and get a problem resolved. Not only does using social media for customer service allow for less hands-on wait time (think of the time you spend waiting for someone to take you off hold when you call customer service), but the number of eyes on the question and real-time nature of social media adds extra pressure on the company to respond. For those who don’t respond, the results are dire:

  • 56% will never use the company again
  • 52% will tell family and friends about the experience
  • 54% will escalate to a supervisor or manager

And when I say “respond,” I mean immediately. No matter the content, the majority of Twitter users (53%) anticipate a response from the brand they reached out to within an hour of posting. If their post contains a complaint, the number of those who expect a response within the hour jumps to 72%.

Brands Are Closely Monitored by Consumers on Social Media

Sprout Social found that 81% believe social media has increased accountability for businesses, and 40% attribute transparency to social media. In addition, 68% believe that brands that ignore customers on social media are not transparent. On the flip side, two of the best ways consumers say a company can be transparent is by admitting mistakes (61%) and honestly responding to customers (58%). If businesses fail to be transparent and open on social media, 86% of consumers will likely take their business elsewhere.

As FreshSparks puts it, “Just as no business would ignore a customer in their store, no business should leave a social media comment unattended online! … When a customer complains in the store, perhaps three others could overhear. When a customer complains on social media, every single one of your customers could potentially see it in their news feed.”

Successful Brands Respond to Social Media Asks

And those consumers are looking. When it comes to spending trends, as Business Clan explains, consumers “are acutely aware of environmental, political, and socio-economic problems and …  [are] keen to support brands that are ethical, caring and striving to do the right thing.” They also say that millennials in particular “undertake a significant amount of research and comparison before purchase.” With that being said, if you are not an ethical company, or if you even appear to be skirting around responding to customer questions, millennials will know about it, and act accordingly.

Further cementing the relationship between brand success and their online social presence is Boston Consulting Group, which notes: “Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands. We call this the reciprocity principle. Through the feedback they express both offline and online, Millennials influence the purchases of other customers and potential customers. They also help define the brand itself. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices greatly amplify Millennials’ opinions and accelerate their impact. Companies can expect that a positive brand experience will prompt Millennials to take favorable public action on behalf of their brand. A bad—or even just disappointing—experience can turn a Millennial into a vocal critic who will spread the negative word through social media, reviews, and blogs. And that criticism can go viral.”

We’ll never know what would have happened had Madame Building Lady not shamed me into submission. Would the insurance company—as big and bad as they were made out to be—really laugh at my feeble attempts to contact them, or would they have responded with the finesse expected of a brand in today’s social-media centric customer service environment? Or—an even bigger question—what would your company have done?

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