Is Social Media An Effective Method for Complaining?

I often get asked if social media has changed things in the way we complain. Not as much as people think I would say.

Twitter – Has it changed the way we complain?
Last year the One Show contacted me to ask my opinion on this subject and I gave it to them. Obviously. Like I wouldn’t give my opinion when asked, give it enough when not. Anyway, I told them that I didn’t think that it had changed the way we complain much. Communicate yes but not effectively complain. I gave my reasons knowing that it didn’t really fit with what they wanted and of course they chose someone else. However they chose someone who said that it had changed the way we complain because people could now tweet train companies and ask why there was a delay. That is not a complaint. That is asking for information. Information which should of course be given at the station but invariably is not. Using Twitter to ask these types of questions is great but it isn’t complaining. To complain about the train service you have to go through certain channels to have a chance of gaining any financial redress. Complaining is gaining redress is it not? Certainly complaining effectively would be otherwise it isn’t complaining it is having a moan or a go at someone/company.

Social media memorable complaint stories
There have been some great complaints on social media. David Caroll’s United Airlines and the man who paid for tweets to complain about BA losing his luggage (that worked out a penny a tweet though so why would you?) But these go viral because they provide something different not because the company has responded well to a complaint.

Remember O2 problems in 2012 with outage and thousands of people resorted to Twitter to complain? O2’s response was good humoured and worked really well. Making jokes about their bad days and responding to everyone turned a potential PR disaster into a positive one showing how positively they dealt with complaints. That was in 2012, most companies have got a long way to go in dealing with complaints generally as well as on social media. Some companies have even been known to delete complaints on their Facebook page. Shortsighted given that the person who has had their tweet deleted will post on their own page and get it shared, post on Twitter and get retweeted etc. Far better to engage properly. Mistakes happen and complaints arise, it is how they are dealt with that is important.

Complaining on social media – does it work?
Paul Lewis money chappie asked on Twitter the other week:


The responses to Paul’s tweet were interesting. You can see his post here. Many people said it was quicker than phoning. But a) I very rarely ‘phone my complaints for many reasons and b) they were still having to email the issues in many cases. Others said that it was good for shaming. Others said it was good for getting a response but once into DMs and emails it dropped off again. (This is one of the reasons I ended up taking Tesco to court. My last shot was to engage the social media team but they were still unable to help.) No-one had any really complicated problem sorted but a few did get their issues sorted once the social media team got involved. It has been known for people to copy me into a tweet and have their issues resolved! That makes me laugh but people really shouldn’t have to do that.

What was also very interesting was what companies are alert and pro active in picking up their mentions whether included in the tweets to Paul or not. Very few!

My experiences
2014-04-30Ok, so you have seen me tweet to the likes of Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s and gain redress. Yep. Now that’s where I love Twitter for complaining. A quick picture of damaged (or whatever fault) goods and a tweet and bingo, done. Tweet back asking for order details a dm and refund made. Perfect, probably takes the same length of time to do as an email but you have to find the email address (although obviously in my case they are all in my address book!) and they can take a long time to respond. It also saves going to the shop to take something back.



So that’s an example of social media working well. Basically where it is quick and simple it works really well. However anything more than something that can be sorted quickly, how can 140 characters possibly work? When I had a problem ordering stuff with The Body Shop last Christmas I tweeted the problem and the delay in responding to me. They were overwhelmed by emails tweets and FB messages with the same complaint and it didn’t make any difference to the standard responses it was giving people. Nor did any issues get resolved. My detailed complaint to the CEO did get results though….!

Other ways of complaining
I always advocate writing over ‘phoning. More here for reasons and what to do and these apply when taking the matter into dms and emails after using social media. Update April 2016 I wrote Email, social media or phone? How do you prefer to complain? for Which? conversation with more on this whole area for people to discuss.

Rip Off Britain
Paul Lewis and I talk social media complaining on Rip Off Britain.

BBC Breakfast 06/07/2016 social media and complaining

Generally speaking, and obviously I see complaining a lot(!) the responses to Paul’s tweet confirmed what I see, get told, advise on, as well as my own experience. Social media is another tool, nothing more and nothing less. It is another means for which you can complain. It has a place and I use it. It is quick, some companies are better than others at dealing with the complaints (usually coming down to training in communication, processes etc. and if staff have been adequately equipped with knowledge and are empowered). But it is still a mixed bag out there as to who is good and who isn’t.

How have you found complaining on social media? Which companies have you found to be good and bad at dealing with complaints via social media? Results of a survey found that 37% of those who use social media find it effective sometimes.

What Happens When a Business Doesn’t Prepare for a Promotion

So bargains. We all love ’em unless of course you are too rich or idiotic to care! In which case you wouldn’t be reading my blog on either count. So last Christmas I thought I’d buy some Body Shop stuff as presents. Get this! 16% off through Topcashback* (that is the best cashback site, gives the most) then a 50% off code. So off I went to buy lots of stuff!

Website Meltdown
Apparently though, it would appear that lots of other people had the same thought and the site went down. Not completely. One could waste one’s time putting items in their basket only to not be able to checkout. I took to Twitter and Facebook, as did many other people. I emailed. I was told that due to all the problems of course they were inundated and one had to wait days for a reply. I am The Complaining Cow, I don’t do waiting.

I told the social media team on Twitter that I would get a response quicker than they said. They argued that I would not. I emailed the CEO of the Body Shop. I got a reply within five hours. Actually I got a ‘phone call within hours but as you know I don’t do ‘phone calls regarding complaints either!

I wrote explaining that I had been inconvenienced and that now the Topcashback percentage had gone down and casting doubts on the legality of the site stating that one could purchase items online when one couldn’t.

The CEO (Jeremy another one on first name terms this early on!) apologised, told me he had assigned the issue to someone else and would follow up. I thanked him and pointed out that I had deliberately finished my Christmas shopping in stores to continue on line and that the site had been down for many days. I put in a plea for everyone else too saying that I noted his remark regarding that he too would be frustrated and annoyed in the same position but nothing was being done about everyone else in the same position and that having the website down for so many days was just ridiculous. So to anyone else who had problems with The Body Shop website last Christmas I did try and sort it out for you too!

(Incidentally you can use to find contact details for any CEO.)

Anyway I agreed to a ‘phone call to get my order in time and with all the discounts. Of course some of the items had gone out of stock in this time so I got a couple of upgrades for free a gift and a £10 voucher.

Excellent. Nope, look how it was delivered:

Stained carpetBody Shop oil leakage

As you can see the oil lid was not on properly. Oil leaked over everything including my carpet.

So obviously I complained! Surely you would? Surely people would complain about this? Tell me why if you wouldn’t!

So back I went to my mate Jeremy and Sonja who had been dealing with this. (The chappie she got to ‘phone me each time was very good has to be said). I pointed out their legal obligations and of course they offered to pay for the carpet to be cleaned.

I was gutted, the professional clean got the stain out. Could have done with a new hallway carpet.

I spoke about this on ITV News:

Simple lessons for consumer and business
So consumers, if you don’t get the response you want when using social media go higher. Consumer rights, remember you have them! Make sure you have your legal rights to hand and be assertive, but not rude there is a difference. As for business, look it isn’t rocket science. You offer good bargains that close to Christmas your website is likely to have problems. To not be prepared is short sighted and the trouble caused reflects badly on your company. To continue not sorting the problem, several days later is daft isn’t it? Really? Prepare for problems and make sure you have the technical support to deal with any issues as soon as they arise. It’s no good thinking that you are going to bring in more sales with great offers if you can’t deliver. In this case deliver service and products safely! Look at every part of the team which is going to be under pressure with increase in orders which will increase with a backlog. Ensure that your social media team are geared up to help and assist customers not just spout the same useless lines all the time. It isn’t their fault if they are not helping customers IF they have not been given the tools and resources to resolve problems.

So am I right? To me, it’s just common sense. It’s not rocket science to prepare for a promotion. Getting your website to work properly and putting in measures to deal with problems before they arise? Is it more complicated than I would suggest?

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


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Consumer Reviews Pros, Cons and Who Uses Them?

I was asked recently if I used review sites. Yup. Of course I do and there are links to the best ones on the home page of the blog. I was also asked if I thought people did generally and if so which ones. Interesting question I thought, so I did some extensive scientific research over a couple of days and asked a few friends, family, and those who follow me on Twitter and those who like my page on Facebook. So here are my findings based on more than 30 responses……!! 😉

It takes longer to look up reviews than it does to write a letter of complaint. Going from all the people I know, only about 3% put a complaint in writing. The rest one assumes are content with accepting poor food, faulty goods and poor service for which they have paid. So why then would one assume that so many more people would spend far more time looking at what a best buy might be? Ah logic and common sense doesn’t always work does it? But even so, there are articles out there saying that reviews are being written and read more. This may well be the case but by how many more? A significant amount? I don’t think so, not really, not yet and not to make any significant impact on sales.

What sites get used the most?
Even what must arguably be the most well known and most used review site Trip Advisor was used by only 35% of respondents and less than 10% post reviews. Amazon was also popular with 30% using it and of course Which? with a surprisingly low score of 20% of respondents using it.

Other sites getting a mention were, AV Forums,, Argos, Review Centre, Yelp, Ciao, DooYoo, Checkatrade, B & Q and new on the scene BizAdvisor. One or two of those I hadn’t even heard of and I use review sites! But! More people went by the name of a product than used these sites.

Amazon reviews are good because if you are already on the site looking to buy it takes no extra clicks to see the review. Some of the reviews are  very funny too. Take a look at my mate Iain Duncan Smith’s first (and last?!) novel on there. (Check out the “All I know series too!)

Then of course add in the thousands of people who didn’t respond! Surely we can deduce from that, that a similar amount or less use the sites? So we could safely say a tiny tiny percentage of people actually use review sites.

How much can you depend on sites anyway? Anything less than having 5 reviews you are going to disregard. There isn’t nearly enough reliable information. Let’s take Trip Advisor. Now I do write reviews there! Lots of ’em! Not just bad ones either (I know you were thinking that!)  but I do take just as much delight in being given a “found this helpful” vote on reviews which clearly would stop someone staying somewhere as I do with ones where extra business will be gained. I think writing reviews helps people and it doesn’t take that long. Part of my principles – if people complained more then service would have to improve, it’s the same thing really, the more we share good and bad service the more accountable businesses become and the more people will use review sites. A good review site will allow businesses to comment on reviews. It happens surprisingly little on Trip Advisor. A site where businesses are able to have the last word when someone criticises them on one of the (if not the) largest reviews sites out there and still very few businesses use their right to reply. So the business is missing many a trick a) to thank customers to encourage them to return and b) risk other people accepting a review that may not be wholly true.

The point about relying on reviews was picked up by people who said they didn’t use review sites citing them to be unreliable. That why I advise only really taking on board reviews where there are at least 5 entries so you can discount the top and bottom.

“Ah” said someone “TrustPilot is good because you have to verify that you were a real customer” You’d think that would be good wouldn’t you? Not necessarily. Last year a company tweeted that they would give people a £20 M & S voucher to the first 10 people (may have been 20) who wrote a good review. Totally backfired, people retweeted this and it did them no favours. They deleted the tweet later but the damage was done. Some of it by me it has to be said. I felt it my duty. Me being me tried to do something about it and I contacted Trust Pilot. I left a review stating what this company had done and the business got the review removed within an hour because I was not a real customer. I did it again and got abuse from the company! I contacted Trust Pilot and told them what had happened and they asked for my customer reference clearly not having read my email stating that I wasn’t a customer! Followers of this blog know how much that sort of thing annoys me so I emailed again, and again they came back with the same thing! I got really cross and made myself very clear but so did they, that they would do nothing about the company which had attempted to buy reviews, a clear breach of their own rules.

Update 22/10/15 Interesting article regarding Amazon suing people for fake reviews and some pointers on spotting the fake reviews.

So, given the above my opinion on review sites remain the same. It is a good guide but should only play a small part in your purchasing decision until more people start writing reviews. How much do you write and or use review sites?