/ Shopping

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.

dan barker says:
25 June 2012

You’re right – the defence that other users are complaining/asking them to report people doesn’t ring true.

On the actual issue of reporting people, it’s tough to say either way without specific examples, and with no info to show whether these were spammers or genuine complainants.

For example, if Which raised prices & a handful of users bombarded you with tweets, I would think you quite right to report them for spam. If they simply complained, I would think it very odd.

Further info/examples would be great.

Kal El says:
25 June 2012

Looking at the disregard Three has got existing customers I am not surprised they are taking this action.
It is nice to see they will respond to your specific question, you might try asking them why 10.1(d) doesn’t apply as a result of their price increase as no one else can get them to acknowledge the question.

Tim Musson says:
25 June 2012

I completely fail to understand the relevance of the last two sentences of three’s response. As I understand this Three decides that when they “receive a high volume of repetitive tweets in rapid succession” and other Twitter users begin to complain (complain to whom?) then they decide to flag the accounts as spammers – their decision, nothing to do with Twitter’s terms.
Three #fail.


First of all, as one of those targetted in this manner, I am so glad to hear Which? speak out so forthrightly about the positive role of feedback via social media, be it deemed negative or positive, and equally about the upholding of account users rights of access and expression on Twitter.

My own tweets I can assure you were very MUCH worded and delivered (in terms of frequency) well within Twitter’s guidelines.

I also would add that it would appear at present that Three have listened, and since your discussions were completed, I am finding no further evidence of interference by them in allowing tweets, which are attempting to raise the profile of the RPI increase issue, appearing in the timelines of @ThreeUK @ThreeUKSupport or #ThreeUK.

However I will continue to monitor the situation.

And many thanks once again to Which? for their continued support.

Ian Betteridge says:
25 June 2012

Sean, could you clarify: Did you post identical tweets over a short period of time at any (or all) of the Three accounts? I’d be interested to hear your side of the of the story.

It’s worth noting that Three *cannot* get anyone banned just because they’re a brand: Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team looks at spam reports independently of anyone else. Unless the behaviour obviously violates their ToS, they’re also extremely unlikely to take action quickly based on a single complaint, no matter who complains. The more people that complain, the faster they tend to act against an account.

Hi Ian,

No, as I have already indicated above, both the frequency of my tweets, and their content, were well within Twitter guidelines, and I also asked Nikki from Which?, whilst talking to her over on Twitter, to look back through the timelines of @ThreeUK @ThreeUKSupport and #Three to check that that was the case, and she herself seemed satisfied that it was indeed so, whilst engaging with Three on the matter.

A few people I believe were initially affected, but not only immediately “blocked” by Three, but some almost equally quickly temporarily suspended as “spammers”. Not only that, but later, individual tweets were being selectively “lost” from the timelines in question too, I noticed that happening to some of my own tweets, as did some friends of mine, and also Sunjay, who has also been a frequent poster in these Which? forum discussions.

I honestly do believe it was another example of a series of “knee-jerk” reactions on the part of Three, who are attempting to cope with surprising backlash of comment, action and customer reaction over the switching and shakiness of their ever changing T&Cs and the dubious wording and lack of support that they lend to the spiralling RPI price increase issue.

For me at least it also mirrors the “organic” and changing nature of their initial Customer Service responses via phone, as the matter has continued to snowball beyond their expectations in terms of negative customer response and potential market impact.

I honestly think they were not equipped to deal with all of this as they underestimated the intelligence of their audience, and thought that simply attempting to continually “state” something as “true” would indeed make it so in the minds of their customers.

And if that didn’t work, then a firm closed rebuttal should be the next approach.

Now I hope they, and indeed other companies who adopt similar strategies when it comes to milking their customers whilst completely ignoring and undervaluing their opinions in true “steamrolling” fashion, are beginning to see just how wrong they can be.

Stamping on this fire, they will find, is most certainly NOT going to put it out.

Ian Betteridge says:
26 June 2012

Thanks for that Sean.

To be clear though, there’s no way that Three themselves can delete tweets (only Twitter can do that, and it’s rare for them to do so unless there’s been a complaint about that tweet for a lot of complicated legal reasons).

And while Three can report an account for spam (just as everyone else can) they don’t have the ability to have an account suspended – only Twitter can do that, and it’s rare for them to do so on the basis of a single complaint unless the account is very obviously spamming. Having worked on the brand side of social media (not with Three, but with many others), I know that even the biggest brands don’t have the kind of influence over Twitter that would let them get individual users banned or tweets deleted (although I bet some of them would love it if they could! 🙂 )

You see, it worries me in this day and age that a reputable company would rather get rid of complainants than address their issues and help them out.

What a business needs to realise is that such decisions will cause an outcry from the public and that you are going to have to put up with some stick – except, these days you have more avenues to be attacked by.

Now, I’m sure before the invention of social networks and social media customers still complained, except this was probably done by more traditional means where it was the ‘front line’ customer service teams who had to put up with the flack. Now I really doubt, and hope, that a telephone call wouldn’t simply be barred because a customer wants answers – so why do the equivalent for users on a social network?

This was an extremely poor decision on Three’s part and will hurt their reputation as a result. There are numerous examples around the internet where businesses use negative feedback and complaints to their advantage – boosting their PR by looking good on twitter. Ignoring these people alone is enough to look bad, let alone trying to get them removed from twitter.

Will says:
25 June 2012

I guess the amount of negative tweets Three were receiving increased by an amount that was detrimental to them so they thought they could cancel their customers.

Sunjay Bhogal says:
25 June 2012

I am that example tweeter by the way @marathonrunner. I was only tweeting three very few hours, I was being very open in about how bad they are, nothing wrong with that. They are blocking me in telling the truth.

I thought excessive spamming was sending tweets every few seconds or minutes which I avoided.

Anyway I give up, just to going to serve my remain contract and leave.

Good bye.

Tom says:
25 June 2012

This smacks of incompetence rather than deliberate malice.

Three have every right to ignore their own customers (even if does not make good sense to snub your customers), but abusing the “mark as spam” feature rather than clicking the other button to block them just shows ignorance as to the difference.

That said, would I trust a company who’s “social media experts” can’t figure out how twitter works with all my telecommunication, or internet access needs? No. Not in a million years.

Someone needs to read the instruction manual before they are let lose on the internet again.

Mordan says:
25 June 2012

What does “customer service 101” mean?

Is it a web word or americanism??? I mainly clicked on the headline to find out what it meant, sorry, not a 3 customer.

I agree with Tom – this does strike me as more an issue of ignorance than maliciousness. Yet I still don’t think that is a good enough excuse to treat your customers this way.

If you are a large brand, as Three is, you have to take some responsibility over your social media presence. It doesn’t take experienced social media managers to point out that this sort of treatment on Twitter is not okay – even most casual Twitter users would be able to spot the faux pas here.

Rob McKenzie says:
25 June 2012

This company has no customer service skills at all. I have been treated terribly by them after I complained over price hikes for existing customers. The two people I dealt with in the Executive Office got my complaint wrong and bullied me over this. When I filed an online complaint it went to the same person who handled my original complaint. When I then complained about the way i was being treated by trying to email the CEO it went to……yes, the same person who handled my original complaint. I was offered the ability to leave but this was withdrawn and I was told a deadlock letter would be sent but this has also been withdrawn. I realise this post may be on the wrong forum but I am astounded by the way Three have treated me.

Three are not the best at handling complaints at the best of times. But flagging complainants as spammers is unforgivable. I suspect they thought it was akin to sending complaint emails to a spam folder in their email account- where mine always seem to end up as I never even get an acknowledgement. Next time, I might try twitter it would seem that they at least read them!

john mccolgan says:
25 June 2012

I’m afraid that this incident with Three is just more evidence of customer care less skills that they seem to have. I’m afraid they have joined the “Never use again” pile in my house. Sony UK were the first one to start the pile. Their lack of customer care less skills are industry legend. When will these companies learn? They spend loads on afvertising and marketing consultants only to blow it away by poor customer relations

Rich says:
26 June 2012

Anyone fancy a laugh?


That was at the end of last month… 😉

Kal El says:
26 June 2012

Up to this whole price increase fiasco I would ave agreed with everything in that article. Would YouGov like to ask me my views now?

Hilarious! The network was never the issue in the first place. Customer service has always been the problem. It’s the worst we have ever experienced anywhere and that is saying something!

Sunjay Bhogal says:
26 June 2012

Need a favour, does anybody have any of the Three directors email address, I going to make my feeling know to him (very politely of course) about my tweets being marked as spam by @threeuk and @threeuksupport when I was making a negetive comment about the price increases. I now have a case to take this further.

Aware you not allowed to publish the email addresses on here so please send a private message to my twitter account @marathonrunnerr, make sure it a private direct message and not a tweet 🙂

Will says:
26 June 2012

Doesn’t matter who you address your email to, it’ll be redirected to their Exec Team (at best) which is apparently linked directly now to the Social Media “Care” Team who are behind the ThreeUkSupport twitter account anyway.

I asked for a reason why business acounts (confirmed as having the same contract terms as individual Pay Monthly customer) couldn’t pay their share of the increased costs and was told in no uncertain terms to shut up and go away. The dismissive nature of this team’s communications has disgusted me beyond belief. They’re doing the digital equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “lah lah lah” at the top of their voice to ignore us.

Their policy makers have failed to plan for the obvious customuer response of demanding their right to justfication of this “business decision” and left their customer facing teams stranded with no answers to give.

J.D.Baines says:
26 June 2012

Don’t have time for either Facebook or Twitter – both pointless except to the ‘chattering classes’.
The old Chinese saying “Speech is silver, silence is golden” seems to fit the bill!

I am sorry to report that Three have stooped once more to selectively preventing tweets, specifically including links to Andrew Dyson’s legally supportive paper, from appearing in their timelines @ThreeUK @ThreeUKSupport and #Three.

I and some friends have been trying for over the past two hours or more to place a simple tweet with embedded linking information to the document as it resides on Google (the same has been linked to many times from within the Which? forums here) into their timelines and we have only managed between us to do so ONCE, all other attempts have mysteriously and simply NOT APPEARED within their timelines, critically I would imagine as usual so that other Three customers are deterred/prevented/forbidden from reading it.

Can I please ask WHICH? to investigate this issue once more with Three?

Many thanks.


Could I ask then that you yourselves attempt the following tweets, to see if you see them appear in the the appropriate public timelines of the mentions and hashtag searches accordingly?

The tweets’ subject is the paper by Andrew Dyson, and the two tweets I will quote here reference a link to google docs on which the original paper is stored, and a link to dropbox repository where a copy was placed for testing purposes.

Despite myself and a couple of friends sending these tweets from our respective accounts, they were continually failing to show up, despite the fact that all our other tweets did appear in the respective timelines?

@ThreeUK #ThreeUK @’ThreeUKSupport Andrew Dyson: Third Time Unlucky? TheLegal Effect of Three’s Decisionto Raise Prices http://ow.ly/bPtSG

#threeuk @ThreeUK @’ThreeUKSupport Advice on contesting RPI price increases! ow.ly/bQ1L6


Hello Sean, I’ve just had a look in the #ThreeUK and @ThreeUK public feeds and I can see a number of tweets from yourself and others (loganjack, sonarfreq, smipaddy) on Andrew Dyson’s paper . As Nikki says, make sure you click on ‘All’. The search defaults to ‘Top’ which tends to put tweets from influential tweeters, or those tweets that have lots of interaction. Thanks.

Hi Patrick, and thank you for taking the time to look at the feeds in question. I myself was using Hootsuite, which I believe shows by default the “All” option to which you referred. The others were using a variety of tools including the web version of Twitter, Hootsuite and possibly iPad and Phone versions of Twitter also.

I have just been through the same web (“All” carefully selected) version of the Twitter feeds that you looked at yourself, #ThreeUK and @ThreeUK, (as we are only talking at present within the last 12 hours or so) to see exactly how many of the relevant tweets there did contain the links in question, and none of loganjacks actually got through at all to those feeds, only those containing a link to the article on Andrew Dyson by the Independent, and other generic ones, which are distinct from the tweets containing the links I listed above.

As for the rest of us, for the @ThreeUK feed, Paddy (smipaddy) managed three successful tweets it would seem, and sonarfreq two, with neither those from myself (dudtwo) or Jack (loganjack) being successful at all.

For the #ThreeUK feed, Paddy managed one, sonarfreq two and myself one.

So considering we sent far more tweets than this in trying to get through, and all tweets that were sent were in fact duplicated to both feeds @ThreeUK and #ThreeUK, that seems a rather inconsistent result?

This may indeed be caused by how twitter works (indexing etc.) I am not sure, but it seems odd that all of the other tweets appeared as they should?

No matter, I won’t be deterred and will be posting again later today and will try and recruit more help if I can.

Many thanks for your feedback for the moment.

Hi Patrick/Nikki,

I have sent you a couple of emails already with spreadsheets attached, demonstrating the frequency with which it has been proving IMPOSSIBLE over the last four days for myself and my friend Paddy to post certain “tweets with links” to the “public facing” timelines of Three, even during the early hours of the morning when those same timelines are silent as the grave except for his (or indeed my) activity.

ANY tweets he or I have attempted to send with links either to Andrew Dyson’s legal paper, the complaints procedure with the Advertising Standards Authority, or even the pages of Three’s own site regarding the controversial TRAFFICSENSE data management, have simply completely and consistently failed to show in their timelines!

Any and all other tweets HAVE shown up in their timelines, and indeed the same problematic tweets when sent to others timelines show up perfectly!

Even in the early hours of this morning, he tried again and harvested EXACTLY the same result!

I am sorry but neither one of us can accept the official stance that Three’s Twitter Moderators are not in any way able to affect what appears in their public timelines (from “certain” Twitter users it would seem), should they decide to do so.

Can you please investigate this further as I am getting tired of playing mind games with Three on this matter. Even Jo, one of Three’s moderators responded at one point with the clearly sarcastic “Well we are getting all of them here :-)”.

Whether you yourselves will get the kind of honesty from Three’s staff that the situation requires is another matter, but I can assure you there IS an ability to control being used there having spent three whole days on their twitter streams monitoring and testing them.

Many thanks,