Does social media affect consumer complaints? - SmartBrief

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Does social media affect consumer complaints?

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This post is written by Mirna Bard, a blogger, speaker and consultant. She serves as the social media chairwoman of the Orange County (Calif.) chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and she teaches social media at the University of California at Irvine.

SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social-media practices and issues.

Last week’s poll question: How do you think social media affects consumer complaints?

  • Social media forces companies to respond, follow up and resolve complaints almost immediately — 34.51%
  • It only increases awareness of consumer complaints — 30.97%
  • Complaining on social sites can elicit a quick response, but not get a fast resolution — 17.70%
  • It gives consumers more control over their message —  13.27%
  • It does not have major impact yet — 3.54%

What happens when customer service falls short or customer satisfaction falters because of broken promises?  Instead of complaining to the company’s customer service line or sending a private e-mail, angry customers are turning to the social Web. Take the Apple iPhone’s alarm malfunction for example — many fuming consumers posted their anguish to Facebook, Twitter and blogs about missing work, flights, and other activities on New Year’s Day because their iPhone alarm failed to go off.

Savvy consumers are well aware that brands actively monitor online communication on blogs, social networks, and forums. Thus, these consumers have figured out that complaining on social media platforms gives them a faster way to elicit the response they seek.

A plurality of our poll respondents agreed that the social Web not only increases awareness of consumer complaints, but it also can force companies to respond, follow up and resolve complaints almost immediately to protect their integrity.  Although the latter may be challenging, more companies feel the pressure and are becoming proactive in figuring out customer pain-points by closely monitoring negative comments, and acting immediately to resolve any issues.

There are many great examples of the effect of social media on consumer complaints.  A few years ago, we saw Comcast and Dell get burned by comments from frustrated customers fighting to get their voice heard through the sites and These company’s response and resolution times may have been slow then, but these companies saw the negative comments as an opportunity to rebuild customer confidence by launching Comcast Cares and

More recently, we saw a faster resolution with Fry’s Electronics thanks to the help of the social network, a consumer-advocacy platform that lets people voice and share their gripes through a petition that is later sent to the companies in question.  The companies are held accountable and are given a chance to quickly respond and resolve any customer gripes.

A few days after Black Friday, over 1,100 furious consumers signed a Groubal petition to complain about Fry’s e-mail cancellation of many orders made the weekend after Thanksgiving. Consumers were furious after orders were canceled with no sign of compensation. After the petition was sent, Fry’s Electronics publicly agreed to honor all sales that were made.  An apology e-mail with a resolution was sent to all customers by Dec. 2.  The Fry’s case proves how using the power of social media can elicit a quick response and resolution.

Social media has caused the power to shift, meaning that online griping will continue to be a trend.  Clearly, this is one of the greatest fears companies face, and we only hope many will not only see this as a threat, but also as an opportunity regain customer confidence, lessen brand damage, and grow their bottom line.

In what other ways have you seen social media affect consumer complaints?