Monday, December 29, 2008

Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media

The Society for New Communications Research announced the completion and availability of the research report, "Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media." Respondents were asked how often they use social media to learn about the customer care offered by the com­pany when considering a purchase. More than 70% reported that they engage in this pre-purchase behavior at least sometimes. Nineteen percent of respondents rarely use social media to learn about customer care and 9% never do.

To assess the potential influence of social media sites on user opinions as they relate to care experience, re­spondents were asked how often they take into consideration the quality of customer care offered when making buy­ing decisions. Eighty-four percent said they do consider the quality of customer care at least sometimes, while 16% said they rarely or never do.

To determine what types of online sites are considered the most valuable sources of information about the cus­tomer care experience, respondents were asked to rate a list of common online information sources. Search engines were rated as very valuable by 29% of respondents, online rating systems were considered very valuable by 21%, and discussion forums were very valuable to 17%. Some respondents also noted that trusted sources include family and friends, word-of-mouth and Consumer Reports. It is interesting to note that some forms of social media are con­sidered of no value as sources of information about customer care.

Those rated of no value include micro-blogging sites like Twitter or Pownce (39%), YouTube (27%), and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (22%). There are only slight variations on this with the respondents under the age of 25 being somewhat less skeptical about the value of social networking sites.

Despite the strong feelings about researching products and brands and customer care experiences online, many consumers are not optimistic about businesses taking note. When presented with the statement, “In general, businesses take customers’ opinions seriously,” less than one in three respondents agreed. Ironically, when asked why they use social media to share their customer care experiences, the most popular answer was “to protect others.” Well-intended consumers are looking for someone to listen, yet openly question if they are being heard.

It should be noted that respondents reported sharing their positive as well as negative customer care experi­ences online. Several respondents commented that they recognize excellence by posting their good customer care experiences online. In terms of industry seg­ments, technology, retail, and travel companies were reported as doing the best job, while utilities, health care, and insurance were least likely to receive positive endorsements.

While much more research is needed on this new topic, in short, this initial study indicates that there is a grow­ing group of highly desirable consumers: 25-55 year-olds, college-educated, earning $100,000+ -- a very powerful group in terms of buying behavior. These most savvy and sought after consumers are using social media to research companies. They will not support companies with poor customer care reputations, and finally, 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.

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