Clickable quibbles: has the ease of complaining warped our expectations?


You no doubt already know that half of consumers expect a response to their complaint on social media within 60 minutes.

That’s crazy, right?

One hour to process and resolve the issue, not to mention ensure you’re responding in the right way. Multiply that by the hundreds or thousands of complaints that organisations can receive every day on social media and it’s clear to see that managing customer complaints is a full-time task.

Act first, think later

Not long ago, I came home from work to find that two large cardboard boxes, which wouldn't fit in my recycling bin that morning, hadn’t been taken away. I was irritated and intent on searching for my local council’s Twitter account to vent about the injustice. Of course, minutes later I’d folded the cardboard in the now-empty bin and forgotten all about it. But if I’d made it to Twitter and complained, the council would have been obliged to answer my grievance – and within an hour, no less, in case I got really annoyed.

It got me thinking. Is it now too easy to complain? Has technology and the social media explosion lowered the barrier to to vocalising our displeasure so much that it’s distorted our perspective of what good service actually is?

Changing habits

We’ve heard how the internet and associated technologies have clipped our attention spans, changed the way we consume content – and even negatively impacted our memory retention. This “instant gratification” driven by ubiquitous access to knowledge and methods of communication has now firmly taken hold in customer services – for better or for worse.

Of course, the digital customer service revolution has so many benefits – brands are now accountable for their actions, they have to be transparent and consumer queries and complaints are resolved in a fraction of the time – to name just a few. And organisations are pivoting their operations around the customer to provide “experiences” that go beyond merely offering their core products and services.

But could the ability to publicly air our grievances with a company in just a couple of clicks just be creating a deluge of unnecessary quibbles that take away from the significance of genuine customer complaints?

Nowhere to hide

More than 80% of consumers say they would share a bad customer experience online. The percentage illustrates what brands are up against when it comes to keeping customers satisfied.

As little as a decade ago I would wager that figure was a lot lower. Limited to email, phone and the good old-fashioned letter, the methods of communication available weren’t as instant as sending a tweet or writing on a company’s Facebook wall. Customers had to carefully consider their complaint and weigh up whether it was worth their time contacting the company. Issues like a faulty product, being over-charged or not receiving the service provided would be the source of the majority of customer complaints.

Fast-forward to 2016 and every single element of a brand’s service is up for scrutiny, such is the ease of complaining. You only have to look at these complaints made by holidaymakers to their travel agents as (admittedly exaggerated) evidence of this trend.

The game hasn’t changed

A paper from the University of Florida defines five types of complaining customers – from the “meek” customer who generally doesn’t complain to the “aggressive” patron, who criticises a company at every opportunity. Technology has turned an increasing portion of customers from meek to aggressive.

But despite this evolution, the game hasn’t changed for brands. It doesn’t matter how frivolous the complaint or the motivations behind it, brands have a duty to acknowledge, respond and resolve them all – the customer’s satisfaction and the brand’s reputation depend on it.

The most proficient brands at handling customer complaints on social media embrace the increased volume of customer feedback – good and bad – and have integrated social media customer service into their core business operations. Dutch airline KLM and its dedicated 150-person team is an oft-cited example of this – with the firm’s Twitter account in particular gaining a lot of praise for its fast response rates and live cover photo that displays the current waiting time for response. But KLM’s not alone – 99% of brands have a Twitter account and a third have a dedicated support handle. Even Apple, notorious for its reluctance to engage with mainstream social media, recently launched its own support account.

There’s no doubt customer service has transformed beyond recognition. And an increased volume of complaints is a result of that revolution. Our view of what constitutes a “good service” has changed – but the most successful brands don’t see our expectations as unrealistic. Instead they are ensuring that they continue to meet the ever-rising bar we set for them.

Does your brand see higher customer standards as a hindrance or an opportunity? You have less than an hour to decide.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks

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