More people are using Twitter and Facebook to contact businesses instead of dialing the 1-800 customer service number, but companies are slow to respond on social media, leaving concerns unanswered and even deleting questions, according to a study released Monday.
The findings, released by Redwood City-based LiveOps, which sells cloud-based customer service technology, and marketing research firm Harris Interactive underscore what many consumers already know -- customer service can be lackluster on social network sites. More than half of companies don't respond to questions posted on Facebook and Twitter, the study said, even though social networks are quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to connect with businesses.
"You're destroying your brand by not responding," said Natalie Petouhoff, a business consultant and lecturer at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, who conducted research for the study. "Companies are going to wonder where they went wrong and went down the drain."
The study, paid for by LiveOps, surveyed 1,255 consumers age 18 and older and researched customer service centers at retail, financial and telecommunications companies and other businesses over four months.
About 70 percent of complaints on Twitter and Facebook are ignored, according to LiveOps' findings. Most customers wait more than two days for a response on Facebook, when an appropriate waiting period is less than an hour, researchers said. More than one-third of retailers have erased a customer's question from their Facebook page, according to the research.
"They stick their head in the sand and they think if they're not looking it's not happening," Petouhoff said.
Most companies want to provide good customer service, experts say, but many don't have the technology to address customer complaints on multiple channels. For instance, some copy and paste tweets into a complaint database rather than replying on Twitter. Other companies restrict social media sites for advertising only, and even today, some are "still waiting to see if this (social media) phenomenon thing is real," said Marty Beard, president and chief executive of LiveOps.
But while they wait, businesses could be losing out. Customers are likely to spend about 30 percent more money with retailers that interact on social media Petouhoff said. And social media can do a lot of damage -- and good -- to a company's reputation, because comments spread in seconds to huge populations of customers. United Airlines took a beating in 2009 when a passenger's YouTube video about how his guitar was broken during a flight went viral. In 2011, Los Gatos-based Netflix (NFLX) suffered a strong backlash when consumers, outraged by plans for a price hike, took to social networks to protest.
"They were not prepared at all on the social side," Beard said. "They were not handling it."
Some companies have figured out how to keep customers happy on social networks. Nordstrom, for instance, was quick to address one customer's complaint on Facebook recently that a clothing model looked too skinny.
"You're better off getting in front of the fire than being on the back end of it," said Marshal Cohen, consumer behavior and retail expert with The NPD Group. "To do nothing you just allow yourself to be blasted."
Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.