How Social Media and Smartphones Breed a Petri Dish of Negativity

photo from

photo from

Jay Baer Blog PostIt’s time to recalibrate your expectations about customer complaints.

57% of Americans will have a smartphone this year, meaning that the majority of your customers (and in some industries, the vast majority) now possess two things, at all times, in their pants:

  1. Access to almost the entirety of the world’s knowledge
  2. Several different mechanisms to instantly express their displeasure

As Amber Naslund and I wrote in The NOW Revolution way back in 2010, every customer is a reporter. But now, smartphone proliferation and the app-ification of interaction is enabling and encouraging them to file their reports more easily than ever.

I don’t know what business you’re in, but I’d be willing to wager that your customer complaint volume is going up, not down. Even with your commitment to humanization, social outreach, customer experience and all the rest, you’re still getting more angry missives than ever.

It’s certainly true in the airline industry, where LA Times reports that complaint volume is up 30% year-over-year. It’s happening at McDonald’s, too, despite their major commitment to real-time customer service via social media (listen to the Social Pros interview with their social media head Rick Wion for details). A recent Wall Street Journal article about the chain’s customer service issues noted that perhaps complaints are up because customers have more ways to complain:

The reason behind the rise in customer complaints is unclear, but some franchisees say it could be partly because customers now have more ways to supply feedback.

I Hate You (but not to your face)

I absolutely believe this is at least a contributing factor.

Customers don’t dislike you more, we’ve just removed all barriers to complain. (Tweet this)

If nothing else, social media and always-on Internet access has made us all passive aggressive. I have witnessed people sitting in a restaurant and tweeting negativity without first speaking to waitstaff or a manager. Hotel managers have told me that they are seeing more Trip Advisor reviews than front desk complaints.

Psychologically, it all adds up. Why go through the emotional toil of calling someone out face-to-face when we can hide behind our avatars and mobile devices?

This trend will not ebb. The genie will not go back in the bottle. You need to start measuring results of social media customer service via survey-driven satisfaction indices, rather than cases handled and call deflection, because the idea that socializing service will result in fewer overall complaints is a misconception. Or so it appears to me.

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