By Claire West

New research questions the business impact of investing valuable resource in popular social media tools Facebook and Twitter: showing that what consumers really want from British business is to be able to give comment, post a review or make a complaint directly on companies’ websites.

The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) by the Institute of Customer Service shows that providing space for onsite reviews of products and services is five times more important to UK consumers than a company having a Twitter account and three times more important than offering a Facebook page or group.

Tweet to woo?

Just 8% of UK consumers expect firms to run a Twitter account, whilst marginally more (14%) expect to able to interact with brands through Facebook.

However, approaching half (41%) of the British public view an onsite facility to provide reviews of products and service as a standard element of any good corporate website. Indeed, more than half (54%) of consumers use such a facility when it is provided.

As expected, younger consumers are more inclined to demand a Facebook or Twitter facility of the brands they buy from than older groups. For instance more than a fifth (21%) of 18 - 24s expect companies to run a Facebook page, compared to just 13% of the 35 - 54 age group, and barely 7% of the over 55s.

The UKCSI is the national measure of customer satisfaction, gauging all aspects of customer service in the UK by surveying around 26,000 consumers.

These latest findings provide a valuable steer for British business on where to invest precious resources to best improve customer service performance and secure competitive advantage online.

Jo Causon, Chief Executive at the Institute of Customer Service, comments: “Businesses must wake up to the fact that the relationship between companies and their customers has changed irrevocably.

“Customers now hold the power, and they expect to be able to make their voice heard by sharing their experiences with the world online.

“By denying customers the right to reply on an open platform, businesses not only irritate consumers - they miss the opportunity to gain valuable feedback, leaving them unaware of, and unable to, rectify problems as soon as they arise.”

Waiting Game

The research also reveals that more work needs to be done to improve the ‘dialogue’ between customers and companies when complaints are made online.

Whilst more than half (55%) of consumers expect a response the same day to an online complaint, only a little over a quarter (29%) actually receive one. Worryingly, 12% report having to wait at least a month for a response.

The findings reflect the general failure of UK businesses to handle complaints effectively, uncovered by the Institute in April. That study showed that three quarters (75%) of UK consumers complain when encountering a problem with goods or services, yet only 15% of face to face and telephone complaints are able to be dealt with on the spot, whilst more than half (52%) take over a week to resolve, and more than a quarter (26%) remain unresolved altogether.

Jo Causon warns: “21st century consumers will post their concerns and experiences online.

“If companies don’t provide a facility to do this on their site, customers will turn to social networking sites to share their thoughts - and if it is a complaint they have to share, their frustrations will be viewed by millions around the world, resulting in significant reputation and relationship damage.

“Providing an online space to allow customers to post comments opens up a line of communication between the organisation and its customers which, if handled correctly, can help build stronger relationships and enhanced customer loyalty.

“Denying this space not only risks the consumer turning to other public social media, but cuts off this opportunity to build relationships with your customers.”