American Express Study Finds Consumers Seek Out Negative Opinions

Companies are learning a tough lesson about customer empowerment: give your customers reasons to communicate and they’ll do so willingly, sometimes in ways you can’t control.

American Express recently released findings of a customer service survey the company conducted online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers age 18 and over. The same survey methodology was used in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan , Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.K.

The findings indicate, not surprisingly, that nine in ten Americans consider the level of customer service important when deciding to do business with a company. But only about one-quarter of them believe companies value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it.

Good News / Bad News

The good news is that, contrary to a commonly held belief, customers will talk more about a positive experience with a company than a negative one. Three-quarters of respondents said they are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience, while 59 percent said they are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service.

But here’s the bad news companies need to consider: nearly half (48 percent) of respondents report always or often using an online posting or blog to get others’ opinions about a company’s customer service reputation. What are they looking for? Negative opinions.

According to American Express’ survey over half of respondents (57 percent) say they believe more in negative reviews than positive ones on blogs, and 48 percent believe more in negative reviews on social networking sites. Jim Bush, Executive Vice President, World Service for American Express, explains:

“The Internet has made service quality more transparent than ever before. In the online space, positive recommendations are important, but people often give more weight to the negative. Because consumers can broadcast their views so widely online, each and every service interaction a company has with its customers becomes even more crucial.”

Even more telling is the fact that Americans are seemingly losing their patience with poor service. In fact, 81 percent of respondents have decided never to do business with a company again because of poor customer service in the past. Half of the respondents say it takes just two poor service experiences before they stop doing business with a company.

According to Brand Reputation CEO Graeme Crossley:

“A customer that has a good experience will typically tell 3 to 5 people, but a customer who has a poor experience will tell more than 20. When this is trend occurs via the web, these numbers can rapidly multiply and could spell disaster for brands that don’t have strategies in place to combat online negative chatter.”

How should consumer ratings impact your social initiatives online?

When it comes to consumer ratings for a product or company, for example, should a company stay silent in the face of a negative review? Given the implications of this survey, probably not. Maybe a company can ask satisfied customers to post positive reviews on the same site, or respond to the review if allowed.

A similar strategy might be wise when it comes to social media. Companies need to be proactive and react quickly to both negative and positive feedback with the objective of both engaging a consumer in a dialogue and deflecting any negative follow-on.

Gatorade recently set up “Mission Control” (video below), a central facility that’s being used to monitor the sports landscape, monitor online discussions, track sports trends and buzz, track brand attributes, track media performance, and do proactive social media outreach. Obviously, not every brand marketer can afford a sophisticated “Mission Control,” but this is an example of how seriously big brands take social media – and it’s a good lesson for every company.

Combine perceptions about poor service with reliance on blogs and social networks for opinions about companies and you can see a conundrum looming for marketers. It becomes ever more important to not just provide good customer service, but also to monitor online complaints and do whatever possible to resolve them quickly and to the satisfaction of the consumer.

When a consumer takes the time to complain about a company’s customer service online, that company had better pay attention – because it appears that’s what other consumers are doing.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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