LONDON: Companies placing social media services as the forefront of their customer relationship management programmes risk neglecting people who do not use services like Facebook and Twitter, a UK consumer watchdog has warned.

In a survey of 2,000 British adults earlier this year, Convergys, the consultancy, found that a product review on a site such as Facebook typically reaches around 45 web users.

Of this audience, it was estimated that around two-thirds would change their allegiance to another brand if such feedback turned out to be negative.

Frank Sherlock, managing director of the Global Business Unit at Convergys, said Web 2.0 portals are thus encouraging a "silent attrition, where customers switch companies without complaining directly."

Moreover, he suggested, a single, critical piece of coverage posted on YouTube can have a "definitive measurable impact" in this area.

One example of this trend related to BT, when an angry member of the public, Patrick Askins, uploaded a video detailing how he had spent £200 over six months attempting to contact the telecoms giant, but an issue with his bill remained unresolved.

The clip was viewed thousands of times, and within days, Askins was given a full refund, and was also contacted by Sir Christopher Bland, BT's chairman, in an effort to avert the negative PR.

However, Consumer Focus, a government watchdog, has argued that people who seek to raise their grievances via more traditional methods like mail or telephone may now receive less satisfactory treatment than more high-profile cases on the web.

Christopher Rawlings, head of strategy at the organisation, said social media platforms do play a positive role in CRM, but sounded a note of caution.

"There is a risk that too much attention is paid to customers those who have online influence and it is important that the traditional ways of getting problems resolved remain open," he said.

"We are conducting researching into ways consumers can benefit from social media. Equally, we recognise that there are those who do not have online access or do not want to share their personal information over the internet."

Such issues are thought to be of particular importance at a time when many shoppers have lower levels of disposable income.

Derek Bishop, managing director of Abeo Consulting, said "customers simply don't have the time, money or inclination to deal with poor levels of service this year."

As such, those firms with "a good reputation and word of mouth advocacy from customers, particularly during the pre-Christmas rush" are likely to enjoy the greatest success, he added.

Data sourced from Daily Telegraph; additional content by Warc staff