THE BLOG
03/25/2014 03:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2014

Want to Save Your Company's Online Reputation? Make It Very Easy to Complain

The 2013 National Customer Rage Study found that despite the fact that most companies have good intentions, their online reputations are suffering, and it's costing them. Customer service isn't working, and as a result, customer rage has gone up almost ten percent from last year.

Since 2011 the number of people who have gone online to post information about problems they've had with a company has almost doubled. More people use social networking sites (35 percent) or go to the company's website (26 percent) to complain.

Overall though, people are ten times more likely to call than go online to complain. However, that one percent hurts most. "The best thing for a company is if people complain on the corporate site or call you. Those are private communications. If they go to social networking sites, or even worse, review sites, that can hurt. It can cost your business indefinitely," said Don Sorensen, President of online reputation management firm Big Blue Robot.

When extrapolated out, based on only the most upset respondents, the study projects revenue at risk to business is almost $76 billion dollars.

Related article: "Is Online Reputation Management Dead?"

The study also confirms what we already know; people who are dissatisfied are more likely to tell someone else. Almost 30 percent of those who were unhappy told people, while just over 10 percent of those who were satisfied told others.

Most of the time those who complain they are dissatisfied with how companies handled their complaints. The study found that 56 percent of complainants felt that they got nothing as a result of complaining. Interestingly, most of them wanted something that cost company's nothing -- an apology. Though 76 percent wanted one, only 32 percent got one.

Companies who address the issue and apologize have a big opportunity to build brand loyalty. "When companies added non-monetary remedies (e.g., an apology) to the monetary relief they give customers, complainant satisfaction doubled from 37 percent to 74 percent."

There's a huge disconnect. Companies are doing more than ever to improve their customer service however their customers are more dissatisfied than ever. The biggest problem? Companies make it way too much of a hassle for their customers to complain. Their 800 numbers might be too complicated to use, it takes too long to talk to someone, or customer care agents are not empowered to solve issues.

What Can Companies Do?

Besides the obvious, such as apologize or provide better service, what else can a company do to improve their customer service? In an article by CSI Software, the advice is to let people vent. "If you don't give them an outlet, they will vent anyway. The longer they hold that in, the more eruptive it can become." If you can calm the anger soon, it's less likely they'll get online and complain or tell their friends.

Make it easy to complain and give people multiple options. It might be an email or follow up survey, but let people go to you first. Tech can also help. Mobile app, OwnerListens, lets customers to file a complaint anonymously. The manager or someone who can respond gets a text or email and then can respond immediately. Customers who don't want to be confrontive don't have to share their contact information.

Last of all, if you can't respond immediately, be sure to acknowledge the problem or even apologize. Respond more in-depth when you're ready.