Social Media Complaints and Dysfunctional Consumers

By Dr. Todd Bacile | July 17, 2013

Social Media ComplaintsSynopsis: consumers who are choosing to use social media to complain to brands about legitimate issues are being met in some instances by fellow consumers exhibiting dysfunctional behavior, such as casting insults to a complainant while defending a brand. This is creating new challenges for brands from a customer service perspective.

Social Media Complaints

Social media are conduits for consumers to share complaints and seek resolution with brands. Even a brand’s most desired customers may post a complaint to a brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Google+ page. This is positive for firms attempting to resolve complaints, as research shows consumers who receive a complaint resolution have a higher probability of repeat business versus consumers who do not receive a resolution. For the brands that ignore or delete  social media complaints, watch out for the fall out!

Social media complaint resolution is an extension of traditional service support now entering virtual social media pages owned by brands. A company’s social media page is a virtual service setting, where consumers have expectations of a brand’s attentiveness to comments and complaints. Companies are realizing social media complaints must be addressed. Timeliness is a factor, too, as many consumers believe a firm should respond to social media complaints within an hour.

However, the presence of dysfunctional consumers is creating new challenges for firms in social media complaint resolution.

Dysfunctional Consumers

Dysfunctional consumers are individuals who exhibit some form of misbehavior that negatively affects other consumers, employees, or a brand. Examples include people in a service setting acting rudely, using vulgar or abusive language, making unreasonable demands, or even illegal acts such as theft or physical assault. Basically, any violation of acceptable norms of behavior in a business setting. Why should brands care? Dysfunctional consumers negatively affect other consumers’ satisfaction with a brand, future purchase intent, and brand loyalty.

Dysfunctional consumers are entering social media complaint and resolution scenarios. Occasionally, a dysfunctional consumer may interject in another consumer’s complaint posted to a brand. A typical example is a response from a dysfunctional consumer that defends a brand while insulting or degrading the complainant. Below is an actual screenshot (redacted for anonymity) from my research:

Social media complaint with dysfunctional consumer response

I interviewed a social media marketing company’s executive manager. He was asked how he deals with situations where “Consumer A” complains to the brand and “Consumer B” insults “Consumer A” in the thread. “We represent the brand and only reply to the complainant. We don’t do anything with other people who comment or respond, even when they border on insults. Unless it’s extremely offensive, we let consumer interactions work itself out.”

Stimulated by his response, I proceeded to collect data from several brands’ Facebook wall posts over several weeks. Thousands of consumer posted wall posts were content analyzed. Hundreds of posts were categorized as complaints. Several complaints had dysfunctional consumer responses that insulted the complainant, while defending the brand. Guess how many times a brand addressed a dysfunctional consumer insulting the complaining consumer? Zero!

Dysfunction and Complaints: A New Challenge

Findings from my research suggest brands are mishandling these complaining interactions. Brands are adapting traditional in-person complaint resolution tactics as if a dyadic conversation is occurring. Within the traditional complaint dyad there is a brand communicating with a single complainant, while all other consumers are uninvolved. However, social media complaints are one-to-many (or many-to-many) conversations instead of the one-to-one dyad brands are familiar with.

When dysfunctional consumer responses enter a complaint thread, companies should not only respond to the complaint in a favorable manner, but also address the dysfunctional response (i.e. ‘We appreciate your comments, but please maintain a polite atmosphere on our Facebook page’). This is how traditional in-person service settings operate. Service managers in in-person settings have a responsibility to maintain a peaceful atmosphere by attending to consumer misbehavior. Social media should be no different as consumers consider these interactions to be virtual service encounters in a brand’s environment.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. The content posted here is a small portion of larger social media complaint studies he is currently conducting. Questions or comments regarding social media complaints are welcome.

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Sears: An SST Queuing System Failure

By Todd Bacile | June 29, 2012

SearsThe economics of customer waiting is important to any service firm. For many consumers there is an economic cost associated with waiting: people value their time and waiting often is perceived as wasted time. Firms realize that waiting presents an initial negative perception of a consumer’s service encounter. Successful service managers attempt to offset the possibility of waiting by forecasting demand and managing capacity. However, nobody is perfect and waiting for service is a fact of life for most consumers.

Firms manage waiting by using queuing systems. Multiple forms of queue systems exist, such as waiting in a single file line at a bank, waiting in your choice of multiple lines at a grocery store, or choosing a number at a deli counter. An alternative queue management system is to use self-service technology (SST). These are often seen as stand alone kiosks that customers use to enter information to complete a transaction.

Really successful companies take waiting a step further and attempt to conceal the wait. The word “conceal” can be associated with a negative connotation, but in this sense I am using “conceal” in a positive way. Firms that conceal a wait do so in a manner that a customer is entertained, involved, or distracted by another activity so as to not notice how long they are waiting. A classic example is Disney’s theme parks: while patrons wait in long lines at the theme park, waiting customers watch animated characters and displays that are strategically positioned around those waiting in lines. In this manner, waiting is not lost time. Customers have something to focus on during their wait.

Sears retail stores uses a queuing system along with a strategy to conceal a wait, branded as Ready in 5 Guaranteed. The system is easy to use and a great idea — if Sears would not have set an initial expectation that it was not able to meet. You see, Sears has a large sign prominently displayed next to its kiosk (and also on its website) stating that 100% of its service encounters are completed within 5 minutes when using the system. A customer enters their purchase information into the kiosk, which then notifies warehouse workers to bring the appliance up front to the customer. Al the while, a large screen TV displays a running timer next to the customer’s name.

Sears has a great idea — and it worked initially. The person I brought with me discussed for a few minutes how wonderful the system is — and we were entertained / distracted from focusing on the wasted time spent waiting. This is a novel way for the customer to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Sears stopped the counter just shy of 5 minutes and then re-started a new counter from 0:00. Watch the 1-minute video to view my experience. Sears: you have the right idea, but you need to work on front-line employees correctly executing your strategy.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Please visit his website for more information regarding his classes and research within e-Marketing and services marketing topics. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile