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Customer service 101: complaints aren’t ‘spam’

What’s the best way to deal with a Twitter complaint? You could solve it, you could ignore it, or – in the case of Three Mobile – you could label the customer a ‘spammer’ and have their means of complaint cut off.

Last week a few Which? Convo commenters alerted us to some very odd behaviour. They said that Three was reporting their tweets as ‘spam’ because they were sending repeated complaint messages about Three Mobile’s price rise.

When I first read his comment, I thought – wait, surely Three’s not reporting its customers as spammers? But apparently, it is.

Three Mobile reports legitimate tweets as spam

Here’s what a spokesperson from Three had to say (full response in the comments below):

‘We have flagged a handful of accounts as spammers when we receive a high volume of repetitive tweets in rapid succession and other Twitter users begin to complain about an account spamming. We don’t decide Twitter’s terms but take the general view that they are there for the benefit of all users. Like any other Twitter user we have to abide by them.’

On the surface that sounds reasonable but, for those of us familiar with Twitter, the idea of being reported as spam is terrifying. Someone might ‘block’ you if they don’t want to hear what you’ve got to say (useful for people who might send loads of messages that you don’t want to reply to).

Alternatively, someone might use a Twitter program to ‘mute’ you temporarily – I confess to using this sometimes if one of my followers sends repeated tweets about a football match I’m not interested in.

But only in extreme circumstances would I use the ‘report for spam’ button. If you block someone, you’re saying ‘I don’t want to hear what you’ve got to say’, but if you report someone for spam you are actively trying to get Twitter to remove their account.

The equivalent – I think – is not just a company hanging up when you call their customer services line, but actively trying to get your phone cut off.

Companies ‘can’t shut people down’

So what of the claim that other Twitter users were complaining about account spamming? Well, surely the only way other users would see these messages was if they were following the person sending them, or if they actively searched for these messages. It strikes me as exceptionally odd that anyone would actively seek out complaints from another user and then ask Three to report them as spam.

Luckily for these users they haven’t been banned from the site – meaning Twitter has looked at their accounts and judged that they aren’t spammers. But when I asked various digital experts for their opinions, they were quite horrified that it was happening.

Patrick Klerk, online strategist for the digital agency TamTam, said:

‘We’re heading towards an economy where customers are expecting, no, demanding online feedback and empathy from companies. If a company is foolish enough to report its fans for spam when they have a question or remark, then this company is well on its way to destroying its own customer base.’

Dr Andy Williamson, freelance digital consultant, added:

‘It’s a poor example of how to use social media and a pretty unrealistic view of the real world. I think the company is genuinely lost in how to deal with social media rather than being vindictive, but that doesn’t matter – businesses need to learn that they don’t control the dialogue anymore and can’t shut people down.’

So in my mind, there is no excuse for reporting your customers as ‘spammers’ on Twitter.

I appreciate there are some problems a company’s Twitter team won’t be able to resolve or respond to. And I know it can be incredibly frustrating when they receive lots of messages about an issue that they don’t have the power to resolve straight away. But calling your customers ‘spammers’ and trying to have them banned from Twitter is absolutely not the way to deal with this frustration.

In a world where more companies are getting online, and providing great customer service via social networks, it saddens me to see one getting it so wrong.