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Business

German customers take their grievances online

About half of Germany's consumers won't give a company a second chance if it takes too long to respond to a complaint. That's according to a new survey that might be useful to customers and managers alike.

Internet cafe

More and more disgruntled consumers are venting online

A new survey by the market researcher Toluna and public relations company Faktenkontor has found a deep dissatisfaction with customer service in Germany. Four out of five Germans said they've had a complaint ignored, while over a third said this has happened to them often.

The survey, which gathered data from around 1,000 consumers, also found that people are more and more likely to share their bad experiences on the Internet, potentially turning away new customers.

Spreading the bad news

As many as 42 percent of people who brought a complaint told their friends and family immediately, while over a quarter wrote about their experiences on online forums, review websites and social networks.

Deutsche Bank logo

Banks had relatively good results for customer service

"What's new is the element of the Internet," said Carsten Heer of Faktenkontor. "There was a similar survey a couple of years ago, and it did not show that people were venting their complaints publicly online so much."

Heer added that most companies weren't aware of this growing trend. "I'm sure that companies are not aware that these Internet forums can develop into such a threat. I don't think they are aware of the dimensions."

But Ralf Beunink, spokesman for the telecommunications and information technology umbrella group BITKOM, was more cautious about coming to such conclusions. "It doesn't surprise me, but a lot of companies are becoming more and more aware of the power of social media on the Internet," he said.

Complaining about complaint management

Public authorities received the worst of the complaints in the survey, but airlines, Germany's rail operator Deutsche Bahn, and energy providers were not far behind. On the other end of the scale, only 8 percent of respondents complained about customer service at travel agencies and banks.

E.ON boss

People complained about the customer service of large energy providers

Heer thinks there's a good reason why some sectors look better than others.

"The fact that banks have relatively good results is probably down to the fact that a lot of them got burned when their customer service has not been good – they've lost out to the competition," he told Deutsche Welle.

"Big energy providers still have these strong monopoly structures, and can rely on still being strong in the market. But smaller, local energy companies are starting to use customer service as a tool to distinguish themselves from the competition."

The survey found that customers make some fairly tough demands of companies: seven out of 10 Germans expect firms to reply to their complaint within 48 hours, while 30 percent want to hear a response within a day.

Two thirds of consumers said their preferred mode of communication for complaints was email, though nearly half also said they were available by phone. Around 20 percent made their complaints in person or by post.

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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