Customer service evolves in UK

13 January 2011

LONDON: Many UK consumers still prefer using traditional channels rather than social media to make complaints about brands, but habits are changing rapidly.

Trade body the IAB partnered with Lightspeed Research to survey over 1,000 adults to understand how shoppers air their grievances.

The internet was the most popular medium when expressing dissatisfaction about companies and products, on 44%, beating the phone, registering 36%, and writing a letter, recording 22%.

Just 8% of those polled had utilised Facebook for this purpose, the same figure as online forums, while Twitter scored 2%.

However, a particular challenge facing corporate users of Web 2.0 services and other digital platforms is meeting the response times expected by netizens.

Twitter received the highest rating when it came to demanding a reaction in one hour, at 25%, and Facebook generated 23%, compared with 19% concerning forums and 13% regarding websites.

A further 42% of contributors believed it was realistic to hear back a day after posting Facebook or Twitter comments.

This can be measured against the 43% logged by internet communities and 50% in reference to official portals.

Another 27% of panelists set a 72-hour limit once they had uploaded feedback to a brand site, slipping to 21% when doing so via a forum.

Facebook secured 18% on this metric and Twitter yielded 16%, despite the instant interaction such properties allow.

Nearly a fifth of interviewees suggested a month was an acceptable timeframe for marketers to react using these networks, and communities, doubling the total for formal websites.

Having been asked how brands should be positioned on social networks, 37% of the sample selected "professional", with "friendly" on 33%, "funny" delivering 12% and "cool" hitting 9%.

Virgin Media, the communications group, has adopted a nuanced model covering customer service issues, attempting to reflect emerging behaviours.

"The rate of response does vary for each channel," Asam Ahmed, the firm's head of consumer media relations, told New Media Age.

"Sites such as Twitter, which has a natural immediacy, encourage an expectation from users that brands use them in the same immediate way they do."

Elsewhere, eSpares, an online venture selling parts for electrical appliances, regularly deals with queries relating to these products.

It thus fills a void resulting from the fact several leading brands have proved slow to establish a Twitter presence.

"None of the major manufacturers is on Twitter," said Rory Dunne, eSpares' community manager.

"Complaints are going unanswered, which enables us to step in and offer people advice and parts instead."

B&Q, the DIY chain, is hiring a new "customer officer", responsible for monitoring internet buzz, alongside assessing purchase data.

"We'll have all the information coming together in one place, with a customer officer whose job is to make sure that we are absolutely listening to the customer," said Ian Cheshire, ceo of Kingfisher, which owns B&Q.

The firm also runs B&Q Voice, a membership-only platform where shoppers share their views, and has created a "youth board" of consumers aged between 16 and 20 years old to provide insights into future trends.

"Making that transition from being a seller of products to someone who can read what customers are doing is a big cultural shift," said Cheshire.

"The key thing is to realise that you don't have control ... But I'd much rather hear what the forums and chat rooms are saying about B&Q, rather than say we can't let that in, we have to control it," he said.

Data sourced from New Media Age/Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff