Consumers take to the Web to Deliver Feedback.

When it comes to making their voices heard to businesses, customers are showing they’re not shy about taking to the web. An April 2012 survey of US internet users conducted by Maritz Research found that, overall, consumers preferred using email to making a phone call when they sought to provide businesses with direct feedback.

In fact, three-quarters of respondents had used email to give a company direct feedback, compared with two-thirds who had placed a phone call to a company. And as this type of communication grows, so too will consumer expectations about online customer service. Brands can respond by putting resources into customer service email management.

In terms of sending companies feedback via social networks, respondents showed an overwhelming preference for Facebook, which had been used by 29% of those polled. In comparison, only 8% had used Twitter, and the same percentage had used Google+. Customers appeared to have lower expectations for company responses when they posted feedback on a social network—27% of those who had used social media said they were “delighted” to get a public response from a company, compared with 6% of those who had used a direct feedback method. But expectations may grow as young users age and increasingly opt to use social networks for customer service.

When Maritz broke its data down among age groups, it found that the type of contact consumers favored to reach companies was closely linked to users’ age. Younger customers were more likely to embrace public feedback on a social network, while older consumers preferred older methods of direct contact with a company. Unsurprisingly, those ages 18 to 24 were much more likely than any other age group to prefer delivering feedback via Facebook.

The survey also found that most consumers are not fully aware of the ways in which businesses use information. Only 34% of respondents were aware that browsing history was used to provide product recommendations, and 37% were aware of search engine data being leveraged in the same way. When told how the data was being used, respondents showed the most discomfort with these approaches.

On the other hand, consumers reacted significantly more favorably to companies using online information to help a dissatisfied customer and were positive about brands using public data to understand what people think of their products. This suggests that as companies directly engage consumers in the public sphere, they have an opportunity to earn customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

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