The rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others means businesses run the risk of irritating customers, who are becoming used to the instant contact such platforms provide, if they don't adequately respond to their requests and complaints, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.
By 2014, organizations refusing to participate in customer-based social media would face the same level of wrath as those that ignore today's basic expectation of responding to customer emails and phone calls, Gartner predicts.
"The dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers," Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said in a prepared statement. "It's crucial that organizations implement approaches to handling social media now. The effort involved in addressing social media commentary is not good cause to ignore relevant comments or solvable issues."
Gartner researchers also recommended businesses develop a framework to deal with social media commentary on relevant topics, as not all comments on the social Web are aimed directly at organizations, noting that any such framework must complement how a business deals with a direct inquiry received through social sites and should help the company determine whether a response is warranted, who should respond if it is, and what action is necessary following any response.
Because issuing responses to every social media posting would require exorbitant time and resources, businesses should execute based on a strategy where a person or team has the power to decide whether a comment is relevant and whether the issue presented is solvable, or whether there are positive dimensions to what is being said that should be recorded. Depending on the issue brought up by the customer, different methods might be needed to adequately respond, according to the report.
"We urge organizations to do three things. Firstly, participate--it's important that organizations don't let a fear of someone saying something bad about them stop them from participating in social media," Rozwell said. "Secondly, don't assume all comments require the same level of attention--develop an appropriate response for the different types of interaction your business faces. Thirdly, plan for an increase in social commentary and adapt communications practices to cope--this will require changes to job descriptions, performance metrics and business processes."
The report also noted companies also run the risk of allowing negative comments from unhappy or aggressive customers to be posted where other social media users can see them, and suggests that if a comment is clearly inflammatory and unsolvable, it is usually best not to respond at all. However, if a person is an existing customer logging a harsh but legitimate complaint, the issue must be addressed publicly, promptly and within the same media it was made. "Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline," Rozwell said.