NEW YORK Forget focus groups. Consumers are giving it straight to brands, and each other, via online social media in big numbers, according to a recent study by the Society for New Communications Research, Palo Alto, Calif.
“Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media” surveyed more than 300 active Internet users during February and March.
The study found that 74 percent of respondents choose companies or brands based on customer service experiences shared by other Web users on the Internet. Eighty-one percent of those polled said they believe blogs, online rating systems and discussion forums give consumers “a greater voice” in customer service. However, only 33 percent of respondents felt that companies take customers’ opinions seriously.
“This study indicates that there is a growing group of highly desirable consumers using social media to research companies,” said Ganim Nora Barnes, a senior fellow at SNCR, in a statement. This demo includes adults 25-55 with a college education, making over $100,000 a year. “These most savvy and sought-after consumers will not support companies with poor customer care reputations, and they will talk about all of this openly with others via multiple online vehicles. This research should serve as a wake-up call to companies: listen, respond, and improve.”
The study also found what marketers might find somewhat counterintuitive. While search engines were deemed the most valuable online tools for researching customer experience with a given brand, 39 percent of respondents rated blogging services like Twitter and Pownce as being of “no value” to such research. Similarly, 27 percent found YouTube useless, and 22 percent said the same of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Of those industries judged to be doing the best job in using social media to respond to customer service issues, technology, retail and travel companies took top honors. Dell and Amazon were noted most often as those companies doing the best job handling customer care problems via social media.
Utilities, healthcare and insurance firms fared the worst.