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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.


If the primary purpose is simply to embarrass, then maybe it is unfair if you haven’t tried a more private route first.

But what if you have and that hasn’t succeeded?

Earlier this year I had an ongoing issue with my Thames Water bill and grew increasingly frustrated when their customer service staff couldn’t sort it out.

I spoke to numerous different members of staff over an 18 month period and felt like I was going round in circles.

It was only once I had fired off a couple of tweets that I got a response within hours and the problem was sorted within days – which led to my bill being reduced from nearly £900 to about £380.

If I hadn’t done that, I’m not sure if the issue would have ever been resolved – and I could have been about £500 out of pocket!

I’m keen to know other examples of big wins on social media when other more traditional routes have failed.