Complaining has become a lot easier of late. It doesn’t seem that long ago when getting something off your chest consisted of a stern letter being furiously assembled on a typewriter, followed by an angry walk to the nearest letterbox.
Now times have changed and the role that social platforms like Facebook and Twitter play in the complaints process means there’s an increased pressure to respond in a magnanimous manner.
The instantaneous nature of these new technologies has enabled consumers to take a step back from the somewhat soulless and streamlined automation and hierarchies that had previously governed the complaints process in recent years.
The dawn of digital has facilitated a reversion to more natural behaviours – talking directly to company representatives and amplifying the power of word of mouth, as well as making evidence of bad complaints handling practically indelible.
Opting to buy a house is one of the most important decisions a consumer is likely to make and it's no surprise that it's not taken lightly. As with virtually every purchase these days, reams of online research will be carried out when looking into a new build or specific developer. And if their digital profile is hopelessly tarnished, trust can be lost – along with a potential sale.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the worst responses to new builds on social media and see what we can learn from the way the developer in question handled the complaint.
How does this relate to New Builds?
The barriers to fielding a complaint are lower than ever before and people need little motivation to do so. It’s extremely simple to alert the world of a builder’s mishap and summarise the situation with a picture and a comment – naming and shaming the company behind the error.
So how do these situations play out in the real world?
In this tweet from August the purchaser of a new build has edited several pictures together of poor quality woodwork he’s found around his new home and captioned them with a damaging statement. He has referenced Barratt Developments by its Twitter handle and included the hashtags #disgrace and #newbuild. Due to the way the man has constructed his tweet, he has exponentially increased the chances that anybody searching for information about new builds or Barratt Developments will come across his complaint.
The onslaught continues as Mr Thompson posts another damaging picture and a new build review company asks him to submit a criticism on its website. The website in question is RecommendAHome.com which asks people to review their new build homes. Several sales of new builds may have potentially been lost due to damning reviews on this website, which features new build reviews from across Scotland, England, and Wales.
Barrett Developments respond to the criticism by asking Mr Thompson to send his details, which can be seen below.
Unfortunately this tweet isn't part of the conversation sparked from the original post and thus can only be seen by looking at Barratt Developments’ twitter account directly. While Barratt's social team certainly did the right thing in following up Mr Thompson’s complaint, and attempting to resolve the issue outside of a public forum (although they notably neglected to apologise), they’ve gone about it the wrong way – either by mistake, or due to a lack of knowledge about Twitter best practice.
If they’d simply replied to the original tweet then onlookers would see a demonstration of their willingness to address the problem. Their response is almost invisible, and as such casual observers may think that the company has left him hanging.
In this example we can see a similar situation play out, however, Beal Homes has replied to the tweet featuring the complaint in the correct manner and as such, onlookers can see the entire conversation.
Beal Homes reply in a polite manner, and the issue appears to have a high potential of being resolved. Furthermore Mr Mawson has retweeted the reply by Beal Homes, ensuring that all of his Twitter followers are made aware this his complaint has been acknowledged. Mr Mawson continues to vent his frustration after the response by Beal Homes, but the company chose not to reply again.
Coote Lane New Builds
In January 2013 a Facebook group was made by local residents wishing to object to planning permission for housing development scheme in Farington Moss, Lancashire.
The group’s page, which was frequently updated, inspired people to spread the word and encourage individuals to sign a petition objecting to the proposal. Anybody who came across the Facebook Group was able to access the latest news, as well as relevant links and news coverage regarding the situation.
While it's impossible to tell exactly what effect the social campaign had, it certainly played a role in galvanising those who were against the development. And the end result was that the objectors got what they wanted, and that the application was refused with no option of appeal. The final post on the group page was a euphoric “we won!”
Objectors harnessed the power of social media and were able to rally people against the scheme, which would have created one hundred new homes.
While it can certainly be tempting for developers to ignore social media during a public consultation, online engagement is becoming more of a necessity all the time.
Due to the openness of social forums and the fact that anyone can scrawl any old thing on pages – these avenues have long stood as something of a pariah for those carrying out consultations. But as the above example demonstrates – these conversations are going to happen anyway, so isn't it preferable to house them in a forum where you have some degree of control or at the very least the opportunity to respond?
Ignoring people is no longer a luxury – engaging with the public and putting across your point of view across in a rational and compelling manner stands as the only valid strategy for dealing with online objectors.
Searching for Bellway Homes on Twitter doesn’t bring up the official Bellway Homes account as one doesn’t exist – instead the top ranking search result will be @Bellwaywatch, which is an account created to “keep tabs on the wretched Bellway Homes development at Scalebor Grange”. Despite no longer appearing to be active @Bellwaywatch will continue to be the top ranked result until Bellway Homes create their own account and make an indelible imprint on the web.
Bellway Homes do exist on social media however, as it has a Facebook page – unfortunately though nothing has been posted since May 2011. It doesn’t appear to be moderated often either, as there is a negative comment that was posted on the 15th August that still exists without reply as of the time this article was written.
Not only are Bellway Homes giving a forum for people to complain, but the lack of moderation means somebody could post anything for everyone to see that would stay visible for a long time – damaging the brand perception and potentially influencing a prospective customer against doing business with the company.
Lots of people do research before opting to buy a product. A recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau found that 97% of European internet users look into products online ahead of purchasing, and therefore, actively managing the perception of your brand online is a vital part of engendering trust.
There’s an option on Facebook with which you can either allow or deny people the ability to post comments on your company’s page. In the previous example Bellway Homes allowed this option, but then didn’t moderate their page efficiently and negative comments were allowed to linger for all to see. In stark contrast, Crest Nicholson appear to be doing a great job in replying to negative comments and are portraying themselves as a company that cares for their customers.
A very short time elapsed between the complaint and the reply, demonstrating that the developer is actively monitoring its profiles. If companies ignore posts for an extended period then there is always the danger that people will take a dim view and other irate customers might even use the opportunity to jump on the complaints bandwagon. Instead, thanks to Crest's rapid response, the situation is resolved and put to bed immediately.
A Great Escape?
Despite people not always ‘name and shaming’ companies, social media posts complaining about new builds can still be harmful in the sense that people locally might be able to identify which new builds are being referred to – or they could ask the person who posted the complaint directly for more information.
The above tweet started a conversation in which there were ten replies, but luckily for the housing developer in question they weren’t referred to in any of them.
If you've got any further examples of good or bad complaints handling on social media, be sure to leave us a comment below or give us a shout on Twitter.
For those interested in learning more, we've also put together a free in-depth guide on digital marketing for the property sector, so don't miss out and download it for free today: