Study also finds 72 percent of respondents used social media to research a company's reputation for customer care before making a purchase.
It's no secret that blogs and social networks have become the preferred sounding board for consumers fed up with poor customer service. Now, a study from Society for New Communications Research has attempted to quantify the impact on brands.
Sponsored by Nuance Care Solutions, a Burlington, MA-based provider of voice-recognition solutions, the online study found that 72 percent of respondents used social media to research a company's reputation for customer care before making a purchase, and 74 percent choose to do business with companies based on the customer care experiences shared by others online.
Meanwhile, 59 percent said they regularly use social media to "vent" about their customer care frustrations, suggesting that consumers looking to make a purchase decision first wade through a mass of negative commentary.
Savvy consumers "will not support companies with poor customer care reputations, and they will talk about all of this openly with others via multiple online vehicles," said Dr. Ganim Nora Barnes, senior fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. The research should serve as "a wake-up call" to companies, she said, who need to improve their customer service.
Only 33 percent of respondents said they believe companies take such online complaints seriously. However, a handful of brands were singled out as using social media effectively to address customer dissatisfaction. Amazon and Dell were cited most often. As for which industries made best use of social media, technology and retail ranked highest, while insurance, utilities and healthcare ranked lowest.
Exacerbating the situation are increasingly high standards for customer service among consumers who've grown accustomed to instant access to information, said Julia Ochinero, director of communications at Nuance. "Search allows consumers to find their information without being tied to the company, and now we have social media, where the customers voice is not only heard, it's louder. A customer's voice can now be global," she said. "If companies provide that care it can impact the reputation of the company itself."
The study, "Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media," will be presented at the SNCR's New Communications Forum in Sonoma County, Calif. later this week. It was conducted online with 300 respondents who voluntarily opted in.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
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