Consumers now have a voice through social networking, and it can be a very loud voice indeed. Any industry that ignores its power, including the telecoms industry, does so at its own peril. Just as social networking is playing an ever-increasing role in national uprisings and social unrest, as seen in countries like Egypt most recently, it is also being used effectively as a conduit for exposing customer concerns.

The viral nature of sites like Facebook and Twitter means that a complaint or gripe is bound to be picked up, pushed and even embellished by support from other disgruntled customers. The results can become a marketing nightmare if not monitored and addressed, and companies in the know are doing exactly this. Surprisingly, when customers get good service they are also more likely to spread the word online than in conversation, and reach a far greater audience.

One good friend, and long time colleague in the UK, Jonathan Jensen, is an ardent tweeter (@Sevendotzero), with over 1,200 followers. He is quick to roll out the ‘brick-bats’, particularly with regard to his rail commute into London, and he has a lot of supporters, but never seems to get any response from the rail company.

However, when his son had a problem pairing an Xbox he broadcast for help on Twitter. Within minutes it was picked up by Xbox Support who mentioned several things he could try. As it turned out the controller was faulty & I had to send it back to Amazon for a replacement. However, he was very impressed by how quickly his tweet was picked up and by the quality of the response.

A couple of years ago he commented on Twitter about how he disliked traveling by EasyJet because of the mad rush to get a seat and that was picked up by their Twitter rep. Even his local council, (@Tandridgedc), tweets about service info and proactively jumps in if people chat about stuff in the local area – like holes in the road or snow on the pavements. In those cases they responded to explain it wasn’t actually their responsibility but they suggested how to contact Surrey County Council that was responsible.

‘giffgaff’, the O2 owned MVNO, uses forums and social media to support its customers. In fact, here is no phone helpline – if you have a problem, mention it in the forums and another user will likely respond within minutes. giffgaff themselves pick up Tweets and Facebook comments asking questions. giffgaff also proactively updates Twitter, Facebook and the fora when there are service issues with the network, website, etc.

Vodafone UK is also active on Twitter and responds to questions posted via Tweets.

Does this mean that customer service, like almost everything else remotely digital, will find a home in social networking? It would appear that companies in the know are already using the same tools that people use to level complaints against them as a means of showing how responsive they can be. In this cyber world one disgruntled customer addressing thousands can be placated very quickly and those same thousands get to see a positive side almost immediately.

Woe betide those that fail to respond to this new way of providing customer service. Complaints made in the electronic ether have a tendency to fester fast. Is your company responding?