Ignore Customers at Your Own Risk


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last few years, the news media has delivered a seemingly endless stream of stories describing how consumers resolved nettlesome problems using Twitter. Horrible hotel stay. Tweet. Bad customer support at the cable company. Tweet. Bogus bank fee? Tweet.

In many cases, these tweets lead to positive results. But anecdotal evidence aside, most companies do an abysmal job at monitoring tweets—as well as other types of customer complaints. According to a study conducted by Maritz Research and evolve24, a whopping 71% of companies systematically ignore publicly viewable posts about their products and services.

Meanwhile, nearly 50% of respondents expect companies to read their tweets, and 86% say they would either like or love to hear from the company regarding their complaint.

It's perplexing that so many companies totally ignore social media. This is especially perplexing since research shows that these complaints tend to come from extremely upset customers who haven't resolved matters using the phone or online. The upside to responding? Happier customers and a better brand reputation—usually at a minimal expense. The downside of not responding? Lost customers and the risk of incidents going viral and generating an unseemly reputation problem.

This problem extends to e-mail and web-based forms as well. A couple of months ago, I personally encountered a completely pulseless online retailer, Relax the Back. Messages about a problem went nowhere. Apparently, the customer submission form at the Website is for decoration only. In recent days, I've had two other companies—an airline and a software vendor—go MIA. Messages go in but responses don't come out.

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success in life is merely showing up. It's remarkable how many companies don't show up while companies committed to excellent customer service—Apple, FedEx and Charles Schwab, to name a few prominent examples—stand out so prominently. It's no irony that they also tend to pull down solid revenues and impressive profits.

CIOs should lead the charge toward more responsive online customer service. Social media and other electronic messages might seem like a big hassle. Executives who adopt this view are right about one thing: ignoring customers makes the problem go away—sometimes permanently.