January 27, 2012, 12:30 PM

For customer service, shoppers are going social

More consumers are seeking help through online communities.

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27% of U.S. online consumers sought help through an online community in 2011, up from 7% in 2009, Forrester Research Inc. says in a new study.

The rise was even sharper among younger shoppers, as 41% of Generation X and 39% of Gen Y consumers turned to online communities for help with customer service issues, Forrester says in the report, “Understanding Customer Service Satisfaction to Inform Your 2012 E-business Strategy,” which was based on an October 2011 survey of 7,638 U.S. consumers ages 18 to 88. (Gen X consumers were born between 1965 and 1979, Gen Y between 1980 and 2000.)

When consumers seek customer service assistance through online communities, such as consumer forums, consumers typically post a question about a concern they have about a brand or product, and may get responses from other consumers who have experienced similar concerns. Retailers and brands often monitor such communities to provide their own input.

Online communities still lag behind other means of getting customer service, such as telephone and live chat, in terms of both use and levels of satisfaction, the report says.

The report notes that consumers are relying more on Twitter and live chat than they did two years ago, with Twitter rising to 19% from 1% live chat and 37% from 19%.

Following are the percentages of U.S. consumers who said they had used each method of seeking customer service, with the percentage for 2011 followed (if available) by 2009:

● Telephone, 68%, 69%

● Online self-help or FAQs, 60%, 55%

● E-mail, 54%, 55%

● Instant messaging or live chat, 37%, 19%

● Click-to-call, 27% (2009 not available)

● Online forum or community, 27%, 7%

● Simultaneous screen viewing by consumer and customer service agent, 25% (2009 not available)

● Virtual agent, 24% (2009 not available)

● Mobile text message, 20% (2009 not available)

● Twitter, 19%, 1%

Following are the percentages of U.S. consumers in the study who said they were satisfied with each type of customer service contact, based on their experiences within the 12 months prior to Forrester’s October 2011 survey:

● Telephone, 64%

● Live chat, 62%

● Simultaneous screen viewing by consumer and customer service agent, 59%

● E-mail, 58%

● Click-to-call, 57%

● Online community, 55%

● Virtual agent, 53%

● Mobile text message, 20%

● Twitter, 55%

● Online self-help or FAQs, 51%

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