LONDON: Consumers in the UK are using online platforms such as social networks in a nuanced way when it comes to the area of customer service, new research has found.

Sitel, the customer service outsourcing group, and TNS, the insights provider, polled 1,024 shoppers to discover how they interacted with companies when experiencing issues with goods and services. The report found that 67% of respondents agreed they preferred engaging with firms on the phone.

This figure stood at 56% for email and 16% for chat and instant messaging tools. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter logged 6% on this metric, ahead of text messages on 4%.

Totals for these channels peaked among 16-24 year olds, on 15% and 11% respectively.

When it came to getting help with products they had purchased, 33% of the panel turned to chatrooms or online forums, and 25% accessed video tutorials or demonstrations on YouTube.

A further 19% posted queries on question-and-answer properties such as Quora or Yahoo Answer, 11% viewed tips provided on a blog, and 4% tweeted their enquiries.

Women were more likely to use Q&A websites, while male shoppers displayed a stronger preference for most other digital tools.

Some 54% of participants experiencing problems with products searched the web for a solution as a first attempt to resolve the matter, 35% contacted the manufacturer or retailer they bought it from, and only 2% immediately complained on social media.

In identifying the ways customer service could improve, 68% of interviewees suggested making phone numbers easier to find, 35% cited video demonstrations and tutorials, and 11% desired rapid replies to Twitter posts.

Lawrence Fenley, Sitel's managing director for the UK and Ireland, said: "Social media is dramatically altering the customer service landscape. With easy access to real-time information, a new generation of 'always-on' consumers is more empowered and demanding than ever.

"This trend is on the rise as social media proliferates, both online and on mobile, across all age groups and demographics."

Data sourced from Sitel; additional content by Warc staff