While most shoppers prefer customer service and support by email (49%) or telephone (43%), younger shoppers are most likely to turn to social channels, with 46% of under-25s and 33% of 25-33 year-olds using social media to air grievances with brands publically, according to research into the customer service preferences of UK shoppers from Rakuten, operator of online marketplace Play.com. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

  This independent research also found that each generation has a different set of complaints about customer service delivery. For example, more than one third (37%) of 18-24 year olds being frustrated when they felt their customer service representative lacked the knowledge or expertise to answer their query.

But for 25-34 year-olds, the speed of response was the biggest grievance with 33% feeling help through their preferred channel was too slow.

However, for the over-45 age group, the local language fluency of customer service representatives was the greatest concern.

The study also found that more than one third of shoppers (37%) believe that the quality of customer service is more important online than in-store, and that while traditional email and telephone channels are still essential as customer service touch points, some 11% of the technologically savvy 18-34 age group now prefer the social channel above all others for customer service.

"In the retail business, customer service is vital," said Adam Stewart, director of marketing for Play.com. "Channelling best practices from Japan, our goal at Play.com has been to offer 'Omotenashi' - a Japanese service style that steps away from the 'vending machine' retail model and aims to go the extra mile to deliver even greater customer experiences."

But, apart from customer service, when it came to building repeat custom online, the company's research found that customer loyalty programmes were seen as the biggest incentive to make a second purchase online by 39% of the shoppers surveyed. The second most important factor was after-sales support at 20%, and was particularly important to over-55s, who were the only age group to rank this higher than either offers or rewards. But, perhaps surprisingly, the younger generation seems most susceptible to the personal touch with 24% saying that personalised offers were most likely to encourage another sale.