Addressing Customer Complaints: Truth – Or Consequences – Of Using Social Media To Help Protect Brand Equity and Customer Loyalty


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A recent MarketingProfs article by Susan Marshall ( did a nice job of bringing to light the serious issue of expressed and unexpressed complaints. But, though building on the reality that more b2b and b2c customers are now using social media to voice their experience complaints, the article seems to suggest that the road to protecting brands and customer behavior lies largely in how responses to these online negative posts are addressed with the individual complainer.

The ‘complainer personas’ identified in the blog post are interesting, as are the suggestions for social response. However, the article, having identified the fact that few b2b and even fewer b2c customers will ever complain after a negative transaction or experience, misses the real world of online positive and negative informal content.

First, recent research indicates that the Huba and McConnell online ’90-9-1′ rule (90% lurkers, 9% commenters, 1% active bloggers) among those using online social media, identified several years ago, has now morphed into statistics more like 70%, 20%, and 10%. So, in actuality, online complaints are still being expressed by very few negative customers (though it is well understood that, though representing relatively low numbers, they can do a lot of reputation and purchase damage). Also, consistent with ongoing research by KellerFay, the vast majority of informal peer-to-peer communication continues to take place offline, that is face-to-face and via mobile devices.

Bottom line: While there is definite value in identifying types of complainers and how best to respond to their issues, companies wishing to protect brand equity and customer loyalty behavior should make it a priority to gather a complete, and prioritized, inventory of negative customer issues: This will facilitate a strategic deployment of communication and resources to address, and mitigate, the individual and collective impact of complaints.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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