If it feels like you’re spending more time and money on an ever-increasing volume of customer complaints than ever before, you’re right.
But the rise of customer complaints is actually an enormous opportunity to gain insights and intelligence on your offering and operations.
There are three places that often host indirect complaints, making these channels ripe for a “surprise and delight” factor in service that exceeds customer expectations and keeps them coming back for more.
Indirect complaints are negative comments about your business that do not explicitly tag you and are not written on an site you control.
They vary by platform, and represent perhaps the biggest customer service opportunity. Because customers are not directly complaining to you, a response evokes an element of surprise. Consider these three places to find and thrill your customers.
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1) Facebook and Twitter
On Facebook for example, privacy controls selected by the consumer dictate how much indirect commentary a company can see and find, making software a near-must for companies serious about online customer service.
Trying to find indirect complaints unassisted by technology almost ensures you‘ll miss important opportunities to answer indirect complaints that can have a massive impact on advocacy.
Dan Gingiss from Discover recognizes Facebook as a customer service venue, saying, “There are still many brands that don‘t let you post on their Facebook wall. We do. That obviously invites more commentary and complaints, but we are not afraid of it. If you don‘t let people post to your Facebook directly, then you are left with people inserting their comments into your marketing posts, which may cause the discussion to derail from what you wanted the original marketing piece to be about. We have held fast to our belief that customers should be allowed to write on our Facebook wall.”
2) Review Sites
The results are roughly equivalent when businesses participate in review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon. Customer advocacy increases 16 percent when complaints are addressed.
When negative reviews are not addressed, as is often the case today, advocacy declines an average of 37 percent.
Of course, one of the primary benefits of participating in review sites isn‘t just to increase advocacy among the original complainer, but to demonstrate to onlookers that your business cares.
We trust online reviews to a remarkable degree. According to 2015 research from Bright Local, a local search engine optimization consultancy, 80 percent of American consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations in some circumstances, up from 67 percent in 2010. This is not just an American phenomenon, however.
Reviews drive consideration and purchases in many parts of the world. Around three-fourths of British and French adults, and about two-thirds of German and Australian adults say they will not buy something that doesn‘t have positive online reviews.
This is amplified even more among young adults.
If people believe in online reviews that much, why wouldn‘t you participate in those venues as well?
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3) The Original Social Media: Discussion Boards & Forums
The same is true for online discussion boards and forums: the original social media. Participation in discussion boards and forums creates more consumer advocacy than any other channel of customer service.
Answering customer complaints there boosts advocacy by an average of 25 percent, mostly because only 47 percent of haters expect a reply at all. Failing to respond to a complaint logged in a discussion board decreases advocacy by 38 percent, roughly on par with review sites and social media.
Companies sometimes choose not to participate in forums because they can feel like very niche places. It‘s very easy to dismiss a forum as a place where people go to debate and to criticize, not to shop or seek customer service.
But there is a big difference between the connections among friends that drive participation on Facebook and the connections by topic that power forum participation.
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The intensity of feeling in forums is significant, and far afield from the, weak ties that are present in most mainstream social networks.
Ted Sindzinski is Senior Director of Marketing at SVS, a manufacturer of audio components that is very active in discussion forums read by consumer audiophiles.
He explains the difference between forums and more mainstream platforms using a personal example:
“My friends on Facebook don‘t care that I‘m a mountain climber. Most of my friends don‘t climb mountains. They like my photos, but they don‘t know what gear I should buy. So of course I‘m going to go to forums for that. It‘s where the people that love what I love spend their time,” he says.
In terms of exceeding customer expectations and triggering positive customer advocacy, companies who pay attention in unexpected places leverage the biggest opportunity to surprise and delight their customers.
Drawn from Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, about which Guy Kawasaki says: "This is a landmark book in the history of customer service.” Written by Jay Baer, Hug Your Haters is the first customer service and customer experience book written for the modern, mobile era and is based on proprietary research and more than 70 exclusive interviews.