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By letter, phone or tweet – what’s the best way to complain?

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We all know the frustration you feel when you’ve been badly treated by a company. Not only should you complain – you also really need to vent your anger. But what’s the best way to make your views heard?

Perhaps you’ve stayed in all day to wait for a repairman but no one’s turned up? Or your online shopping has arrived but it’s not what you ordered? You’re going to want to complain, but is a letter or phone call still the best way to do it? The rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is shaking up the way most of us complain…

Complaining on social media

It used to be said that for every bad experience, a disgruntled customer would tell 10 friends. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, that can be tens of thousands of people.

You’ve probably heard the story of businessman Hasan Syed, who hit the headlines last month. He became so fed up with the way British Airways handled the problem of his father’s lost luggage that he paid for a promoted tweet criticising the airline’s customer service.

And earlier this year, Facebook user Jim Boyden posted a photograph of a Virgin Media bill for his late father in-law; which acknowledged he had passed away before including a fine for late payment. The post was shared more than 90,000 times.

Unsurprisingly, both men got pretty swift apologies – and probably a fair bit of satisfaction at sharing their bad experiences with others. Real David and Goliath stuff.

So, I want to know – does social media really get the best results for customer service? And how much does it depend on what you are trying to achieve?

Taking your complaint to Twitter

If you want to embarrass the company or seek revenge for bad treatment, then social media is a good bet. Firms spend a huge amount of money on their image so complaining publicly really can hit them where it hurts.

And of course, firing off a tweet is much quicker than trekking to the post box. It’s also much speedier than spending your lunch hour in an automated telephone queue. Not to mention the fact it’s free.

It’s something our Which? Conversation team talked about on Twitter last week, while they were watching BBC Watchdog. On the BBC1 show, Richard E Grant shared how he tweeted directly at Mini to raise the profile of a fault his daughter’s car had had. Our Twitter followers responded with lots of their own examples, including Lindsey and Rebecca:

Bhavesh always takes his complaints to Twitter:

I’m keen to know your experiences of the different ways of complaining. Do you only resort to social media when more traditional methods don’t work? Or are Twitter and Facebook your first ports of call? What big successes have you achieved using social media?


If I have something really worth complaining about – which is very rarely – I prefer to send a polite letter so that it is on record and receives serious attention. The sort of companies I do business with tend not to let me down in the first place and tend to respond properly to a written approach. I don’t have any time for embarrassing companies or broadcasting my whinges [Which? Conversation doesn’t count!].

I wonder whether companies will continue to give priority to reacting to tweets and social media comments; anecdotal evidence suggests it is the better way to get speedy redress. In some ways its not good policy for firms to expose publicly the number of complaints they get even if they think that demonstrating their goodwill in resolving them is good for their image – I wouldn’t deal with a company that had a history of resolved complaints but never fixed the product.

My complaint via Twitter and email last week fell on deaf ears – it was only once I was able to speak to somebody on the phone (on a premium rate number, of course!) that my complaint was addressed.

I think – as you mention in the convo – as a general rule I would turn to social media to cause the company embarrassment rather than with expectations of better and more immediate customer service.

Complaining doesn’t always help.

Look at BT. Thousands of email accounts were hacked, and some people wrote in. Nothing happened.


I have no plan to tweet anything. Like John, restrict my public whinging to Which? Conversation and anything that I complain about would take more than 140 characters to explain and provide relevant information.

I can see that Twitter might be useful to ask a company to provide and email address or an alternative to an expensive phone number.

I agree. In fact I’d go even further and say that Twitter is a complete waste of everyone’s time. I have absolutely no interest in it, although I do have a Facebook account that I use several times a day. If I need to complain to a company about their services/product, I call/email/write(!) until I get a satisfactory result. I don’t air my dirty laundry in public!

I also hate the way the media uses Twitter to generate their stories. I realise that things have changed and social media is important these days, but I feel that newspapers and news websites are much less proactive in the way they generate their stories these days. Rant over!!!

When I (rarely) have to complain it is politely by email, and it usually produces results.
I don’t like the idea of going public by Twitter or Facebook – the complainant may not be in the right (even if they think they are) and to vent their view to a wide audience without going through a “private” process with the company involved first is unfair. If there is a clear and blatant failure with a refusal to correct it by a vendor, then perhaps more drastic action may be warranted.

If a company promotes themselves on Twitter or any other form of social media, then they automatically open the door for people to vent or raise issues in these public forums – something they must be well aware of. With restaurants or holiday rentals I, along with many other people, don’t hesitate to post reviews on one of the many public forums about the brilliant or terrible service I have received – not just to vent or even to receive any sort of compensation or media recognition, but to tell others about my experience. What is so different about Twitter – apart from the mass media coverage? Why not publicly expose companies you think are offering a sub-par service? Maybe social media will get you the response you are looking for without any cost to yourself, as well as showing any potential customers what they may be dealing with – good or bad.

It’s quite wrong to charge a premium rate to complain…. the wrong done shd be
capable of a speedy remedy or satisfactory resolution. (Probably before mobile phone days),
a projected free drinks event or demonstration at a supermarket was cancelled w/out explanation.
On phoning to enquire, profuse apologies were offered AND the Manager insisted
on ‘drinks on the house’ that was delivered at an agreed time and date at my home
: a whole crate of beer the type they were trying earlier to promote.

I wasn’t really expecting that much…. come to think of it wd be lucky to get a voucher
or two at best nowadays as to any repeat of unforeseen circumstances or events.

The idea that all Tweets are legitimate complaints is quite an interesting one. There is plenty of evidence of review sites where spite, rightly denied claims, and black propaganda is used to denigrate a business. Of course there are also organisations prepared to say wonderful things about your company, your YouTube video, your product, for not much money.

I won rasising disability issue on First Great Western regarding taking my fully assembled pavement scooter after I had spent days unsuccessfully with their Customer Services. It was taken up by someone in charge & resolved unlike National Express Coaches .Call centres have noone to address discretion even the Leaders are on remits.As for Complaints Procedure it is not investigated fairly because those on remits have a bias. Even the regulatory authorities have the same structure.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 October 2013

Serious companies prefer to receive negative feedback face to face if possible, and if not, by telephone, letter or email. This gives them a chance to redress a situation before things get out of hand. Complaining publicly serves little purpose to start with (“to start with” in italics) other than make the complainer feel better for a short while.

However, if companies don’t treat the complaint the way they should, naming them and shaming them can sometimes spur them into action. I wouldn’t use Twitter/Facebook to name and shame though, I would be more likely to use the local paper, which has worked well for me in the past.

An ombudsman has NO finality in its findings as all
the staff they employ-adjudicating- are not qualified lawyers
at all…. if an issue serious enough falls to be determined
or looked into by a third party, probably wd invite their own MD/chief
executive OR a suitable senior staff to take a second look failing
which it is the Courts every time for recourse, where,
subject to appeal, its decision is final, binding and absolute.

Twitter or Facebook has slight persuasive effect at best
if at all, has no intention of using that.

I wouldn’t know how to complain by twitter

Well you could start by complaining that the 140 character limit places a serious limitation on what you can say. 🙂

I’ve contacted a few companies by twitter but as my account is protected ( yes I am a very private person ) I tend to get ignored all the time. I guess I should create a public account to contact companies, that might make them respond. Simple things like when is TV progam xyz going to be aired, so not even a complaint

Facebook I use either direct message or post on their wall, and I’ve managed to get responses on both methods except from Royal Fail. Although the reason I contacted them did change within a day of contacting them so I guess they did read it, action it, but just not bothered to say thank you. Tesco on the other hand are very good at responding to comments/suggetions via facebok. Their CEO on the other hand not so good at actioning comments via email.

Publicly shaming a company seems to be a bit excessive, but sadly its all they seem to care about. Anything that might put potential customers off using their services/goods.

Jane says:
10 October 2013

I would like to complain about which its self I phoned for your free smartphone booklet about three month ago did not get anything phoned afew times usal rubbish we will send it out to you as you can guess still not got anything

I’m sorry to hear that Jane – I’ve passed on your complaint to our customer service team. Thanks

Interesting subject, but why are all your example message from 2013 – tha’ts over 6 years ago. I thought that you would be far more up to date.

You have joined a very old Conversation and posted the first new comment for six years. This can happen because all Conversations are left open. In this case there might not be any new information to add to the Conversation and the examples given remain valid. I cannot recall any later Conversation on this topic generally, although in the meantime a number of new Ombudsman services have been set up and they have had dedicated Conversations to introduce them to consumers.

Hi Nigel – As John says, this is an old Conversation, but there are many others that cover complaints about common problems such as faulty goods, secondhand cars.

Although Which? sometimes mentions the value of social media in dealing with problems, this is not mentioned in this article on the Which? website: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/how-to-complain-to-a-company

One of the benefits of social media is that with common problems, the answer to one complaint can help many other users. For example, I see that Twitter and Facebook have been active with people complaining about fire risk Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines and that Whirlpool has produced some prompt responses.

I’m happy to read information posted on social media by companies and other organisations, but if I make a complaint it’s in person, by email or phone.