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When Consumers Tweet Complaints, Should Brands Respond?

Consumers view brands that respond via Twitter positively

October 26, 2011

For many social network users, Twitter is both a water cooler and a complaint department. Although most are there to engage with peers, many consumers are using Twitter to talk about their experiences with brands—and from time to time share their grievances. As more and more brands have joined Twitter, consumers’ expectation for interaction with brands has risen.

According to customer experience research company Maritz Research, nearly half of consumers who tweeted a complaint directed toward a brand expected the company to respond—or at least to read their tweet. However, only a third of those consumers received a tweeted response from the mentioned brand.

Consumers ages 55 and older are particularly expectant of a company to read their complaint on Twitter. Gen Y and Gen X consumers, who tend to be more active on Twitter, were less hopeful that a company would read their complaint—perhaps because they believe those expectations will not be met.

US Twitter Users Who Expect a Company to Read Their Complaint on Twitter, by Age, Sep 2011 (% of respondents in each group)

Despite the gap between consumer expectations and brand delivery, consumers are overwhelmingly positive when brands take the time to actually respond to them on Twitter. The Maritz study indicates that 86% of Twitter complainers would have liked or loved to hear from the company regarding their complaints—and out of those who heard back, 75% were satisfied with the company’s response.

Satisfaction of US Twitter Users with the Response of a Company After Being Contacted About a Complaint They Made on Twitter, Sep 2011 (% of total)

Many brands are responding to tweets and mentions in order to maintain their reputations and sustain important customer relationships. According to a Forrester Consulting social media report commission by Dell, 58% of US marketers believe that listening and engaging with consumers through digital media will help with customer perceptions of their brand. Also, 56% said their social media efforts would aid in building long-term customer relationships.

Business Areas US Marketers Believe Their Listening and Engagement Initiatives Will Help with Most, June 2011 (% of respondents)

Responding to customer complaints, although often thought of as a customer service function, can help increase positive branding—and therefore work in a marketer’s favor. Social media-savvy airline Virgin America has found that engaging with consumers via social networks helps build loyalty.

When consumers tweet @VirginAmerica during their travels—whether it be a question about the airline’s in-flight entertainment or a complaint about a flight delay—the airline does its best to respond.

“People are surprised that anyone there is listening, especially in the airline category,” Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications, told eMarketer in a September 26, 2011, interview. She added that the engagement bolsters positive experiences and helps the airline improve its services. It also leads customers to fly with Virgin America again.

“Engendering loyalty is really important and definitely has a strong economic component,” Lunardini said. “Because once people fly with us, they usually stick with us.”

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Check out today’s other article, “How Young, Urban Consumers Respond to Digital Marketing in China.”


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