‘Customers have always had a voice but now they can amplify it,’ says marketing expert Rohan Miller.Social media is touted as a great leveller and a challenger to corporate spin.
The common view is that the rise of social media and forums to write reviews of a product or service has empowered customers whose calls to companies may previously have fallen on deaf ears.
No longer can large companies hide behind glib press releases.
In the travel industry, TripAdvisor is one of the best known outlets for reviews of hotels, restaurants and other attractions.
Henrik Berglind, an executive for hotel chain Accor, recently told a tourism conference in Sydney that reviews on TripAdvisor are equally if not more important than traditional channels.
But Rohan Miller, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Sydney, is sceptical about whether forums such as TripAdvisor have empowered consumers.
“Customers have always had a voice but now they can amplify it. There is saturation of TripAdvisor-type tools that you can seek advice from and over time you have seen these social networks develop into business models.”
He points out that companies’ ability to drown out negative views on their products in cyberspace has grown in tandem with the size of their teams devoted to handling social media.
“The public relations industry has grown to a level where the most caustic remark is overwhelmed by people casting doubting on what I might have said,” he says.
“The integrity of these forums is fundamentally flawed.”
However, TripAdvisor says its No. 1 priority is ensuring travellers gain an accurate picture of the businesses and destinations they research on its site.
While many companies claim their service standards have improved, Miller believes they have actually dropped across multiple industries over the years as corporates have “gone from employing people to employing business systems”.
He questions how customer satisfaction scores are managed, claiming they are “micro-managed and doctored” to suit the interests of a company. “Typically, [the talk about improved customer service] is just jargon.”
Besides, he says there is a large body of research that customer service standards do not result in repeat services. “You can be fairly satisfied with your trip overseas but you may never use that service again.”
In the aviation industry, competition is often cited as a reason for improved customer service.
A dogfight between Qantas and Virgin Australia over the last four years has raised the bar in the domestic market in terms of offerings, and on international routes competition from foreign carriers for travellers is intense.
Qantas began flying its first A330 installed with new fully flat seats in business class in December.
Virgin will complete the fitout of new business-class seats on its A330 fleet by August, and start doing the same to its larger Boeing 777s in November.
Australia’s largest travel company, Flight Centre, says the products and services airlines are offering flyers are “quite mind-boggling” compared with a decade ago.
“Everyone is trying to steal a march on their competitors,” spokesman Haydn Long says.
“It’s not just at the front end [of planes in business and first class].”
The rise of low-cost carriers has transformed the industry. The disrupters have opened an industry that was previously the preserve of the wealthy to the wider Australian community.
Long says airlines are moving quickly to differentiate themselves in an attempt to appeal to market segments.
“For years, everyone had a very standard offering but then we had the arrival of low-cost carriers and then hybrid carriers that offered the best of both worlds,” he says.
“A lot of innovation has come into aviation, and people are trying to stay ahead of the game.”
The opening up of international air routes to greater competition over the last two decades has challenged the incumbents and transformed the industry. “We are getting a better service but the price has not gone up,” Long says.
Indeed, on many routes fares have dropped significantly in real terms over the last decade.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.