How to complain on Twitter: A six step plan for sure-fire social justice

Whether it’s dodgy products, bad food or collective public rage, Twitter is now apparently the quickest way to get a response from a brand. But that’s only when they do respond. It’s also the least satisfying channel for complaints, with only 39 per cent of UK organisations able to answer questions successfully through their Twitter feed.

Greggs’ spot of quick fire brandter (I’m sorry) around its offensive Google algorithm mishap may have amused the internet for several minutes on Tuesday, but it left some of us grumpily reflecting on our own experiences with online customer service. So that’s what I have to do to get a swift response? Open A MILLION pasty shops?

The trouble is that plenty of companies still think of Twitter as a fancy bonus extra for their customers, something to be pruned like a flowerbed when the mood takes them; but the truth is it’s more like an extra set of goal posts they need to be defending – and too many balls are still slipping through.

‘Brand sentiment’ isn’t just a woolly idea bandied about by digital agencies, it’s actually a real thing. Apparently 83 per cent of us will abandon a purchase as a reaction to bad social customer service, so it’s in everyone’s interests for companies to take our moans seriously – not least because social media makes everything so wonderfully public.

Where once upon a time I’d have had to write an angry letter, wait for a response and then phone a local newspaper and get them to come round and take a photo of me angrily showing it to the camera, now all it takes is a full stop before an @ and the whole world can know my grievance.

‘Complaining on social media is such an easy way to feel you’ve clawed back a bit of justice,’ says my pal Florence, a senior writer for a digital agency who works on Twitter all day long. ‘I tweeted about a disappointing dinner a few months ago, and within 24 hours the restaurant had apologised and offered me a free meal.’

‘Had it not been for Twitter, I probably would have just bitched about the restaurant to a few people, said that I was going to make a written complaint and then never got round to it. But sending a quick tweet and getting a quick response now means I’m loads more likely to go back there.’

Of course being SO quick and easy means there’s the risk of complaining turning into your new hobby – which might gain you a shoebox full of coupons for companies you never liked much anyway, but is likely to lose you followers for being a whingey bore.

During my own adventures in discontent I’ve had good service from brands including John Lewis (broken handbag) and Virgin Media (not showing up), but surprisingly dismal experiences too.

(The worst was @WestfieldLondon, who I complained to after one of their security guards stood by and watched as I was street harassed, then afterwards told me the men had ‘the right’ to say whatever they liked. Despite 20+ retweets and a whole bunch of horrified replies from my followers, I never even got a response.)

While the speed of the apology and the calibre of swag are still firmly in the hands of whichever company’s pissed you off, there are a few things you can do to maximise your complaining clout:

Be clear and concise

Do spare a thought for the poor sod on the other end of your tweets. A five-page ramble about your mate’s mate’s unsatisfactory night out with a company’s handle stuck on the end will probably only lead to @CULPRIT_LTD sending their most generic apology – or nada. For the good stuff, spell out the problem in 140 characters and leave them in no doubt as to their crime.

Keep it clean

Yeah, this is hard. When you’ve been waiting half your life for a delivery/train/steak supper, taking the brand to task with a stream of Blue Peter-style goshdarnits and whoops-a-daisies is never going to properly satisfy your rage. But potty-mouthed tweeting just gives them an excuse to ignore you or dismiss you as a troll. Best to stay polite and punch a pillow instead.

Include evidence

If you can send a photo or video to illustrate your beef, all the better. (Drawing an actual illustration might not help much, unless you pretend an adorable infant did it).

Tag the right people

Brands who lurk around waiting for people to idly mention them on social media so they can leap in fast with a comment are creepy, so don’t encourage them by subtweeting genuine problems and expecting them to find you. Use a proper @handle, and take the time to check if your company has a dedicated customer service account too. They can’t pass you round the houses if you knock on the right door to begin with.

Go public… if it’s deserved

Among their other uses (gifs, sympathy, explaining your own jokes back to you), Twitter followers can be very handy for kicking up a stink on your behalf. So if @CorporateBastards have screwed you over and are failing to respond, a swift ‘Look how @CorporateBastards screwed me over!’ followed by a little flurry of outraged RTs can definitely up the ante and get you swifter results.

But that said, publicly shaming everyone who’s ever taken too long to serve you a muffin is pointless, tedious and likely to lose you half your follower mob. Don’t be the ‘FURIOUS at INCOMPETENCE of tired staff at @AuntiesLittleTeaRoom, NEVER GO THERE’ guy. Don’t be that guy.

Don’t expect too much

The dream: a lifetime’s supply of free gateaux! The reality: a sincere apology and a coupon for 40p off a gateau. Unless you found a severed thumb in it or something, don’t expect gateau-gate to bankroll you into retirement.

Congratulations, you are now ready to moan like a pro. Go forth and grumble!

Please direct any complaints about this article to my customer service account, @LaurenBravoCares.

Image: Ross Breadmore


Lauren Bravo