COMPANIES should brace themselves for a boom in the volume of online complaints as the social-media generation reaches the optimum age for airing their gripes about substandard goods and services.
A study found that the average consumer sacrifices the equivalent of two days a year complaining to companies and organisations – either on the phone, in person, by letter or via social media.
However, 18-24 year olds are 60 per cent more likely to use social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter to voice their grievances than other age groups – and are about to enter the phase in their lives when they will begin to experience poor service from organisations such as banks, retailers and utility companies.
The report found that 25 is the age at which the propensity to complain matures – meaning that companies are likely to experience a major increase in online gripes in the coming months, as customers use social networks both to find a solution to their problem and vent their anger online.
“Passing the buck simply isn’t going to work as consumers get more adept at social media,” said David Moody, head of product strategy for Kana Software, which compiled the report.
“It is easier than ever for customers to make truly informed choices and it is also becoming easier for consumers to shift service providers if they are disenchanted.”
The firm said it believed that the vast majority of complaints will take place online within five years as an increasing number of internet-savvy consumers become disgruntled with their service experience.
Mr Moody added: “Complaining customers are already tech- savvy and for the first time in the history of technology, they’re ahead of most organisations that they complain to.”
Earlier this month, the potential impact of social media-savvy complainants on organisations was highlighted when disgruntled customer Hasan Syed paid for a promoted tweet to raise the profile of his complaint to British Airways about his father’s lost baggage.
The tweet went viral, generating substantial media coverage and broadcasting Mr Syed’s gripe to the world.
Colin Borland, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said companies needed to raise their game to cope with the onslaught of complaints already filed online.
“People are learning that if a complaint is in the public domain and is not handled correctly, it can be damaging,” he said. “Large companies are already employing someone to look after the social-media side of their business – but it is something which everyone needs to do now.”
Mr Borland said the tourism industry had already had to adapt to a high level of online complaints through the advent of sites such as TripAdvisor, where travellers can post reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions online.