LONDON: The past year has seen a sharp rise in the number of people in the UK taking to social networks to make complaints with one in four social media users having done so in the past three months, research has shown.

The Institute of Customer Service surveyed 2,195 consumers and carried out 12 in-depth interviews with senior customer service executives for its report 'Service Goes Social: how organisations can deliver customer service through social media'  and reported an eight-fold increase between 2014 and 2015 in the use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Google+ to make a complaint.

It further revealed that 12% of consumers used social media platforms to escalate their complaints if those made through traditional channels brought no results.

But the Institute reassured organisations they had no need to fear increased levels of activity on social media: "the data goes on to suggest that two-thirds (64%) of customers describe their interactions as 'a good experience', with just 14% suggesting their experience was less than positive".

Many consumers, it said, like or follow those businesses they buy from and 39% actively gave feedback. Almost one third (31%) also turned to social media to make pre-sales enquiries – effectively using social as a shop window.

"We have reached a point where social media is not just a necessary component of a credible customer service strategy but one which offers powerful insights that drive better innovation, co-creation and collaboration," said Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service.

"To make this a reality, social media needs to be a central part of a coherent, sustained and long-term focus on customer service strategy, something that many organisations are yet to do," she added.

That means, for example, reducing response times, finding ways to ensure round-the-clock service and taking responsibility for dealing with queries in order to avoid any reputational damage from social media failures.

At the same time, they will have to ensure employees are fully trained in how social media works and empower them to make quick decisions, which in turn means ensuring they have a good range of "soft skills", cross-organisational knowledge and the ability to exercise good judgement.

Causon suggested that those organisations that did this would have a competitive advantage over those that were slow to adopt.

"It's all about choice and enabling the consumer to interact with the company in a way that they choose," she said.

Data sourced from The Institute of Customer Service; additional content by Warc staff