/ Shopping, Technology

Email, social media or phone? How do you prefer to complain?

Complaint written on typewriter

When you’ve got beef with a company, what’s the best way to make a complaint? Here’s Helen, otherwise known as The Complaining Cow, debating whether it’s best to complain on social media, by email or over the phone.

The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index figures from the Institute of Customer Service show that, in the three months to January 2016, 13% of customers had experienced a problem that required resolving. However, 25% of those with a problem didn’t report it. The types of problems encountered related to the quality or reliability of good/services (21%), late delivery (18%) and the availability of goods (12.5%).

So what’s the best way of complaining effectively about such problems? Some people will say they always complain by email, others by phone, and more recently others take to social media. But what’s actually the best?

Making a complaint on social media

Twitter is good for naming and shaming a company, particularly if you have a large following and/or it gets retweeted a lot. I know of many people who say they use Twitter to make complaints and always get results. But at some point, unless your tweet is very simple, you’ll be taking the conversation off your public Twitter feed and into longer direct messages or email.

Twitter may get you a quicker response, but in the end aren’t you actually resolving the matter elsewhere? So actually the resolution doesn’t come from Twitter – Twitter has just been helpful in finding the right contact.

Take Richard, for example, who took to Twitter to complain about Waitrose’s service. After this simple complaint, it was taken offline and he was sent a £15 voucher.

Facebook allows for more conversation, but the drawback is that frequently one is talking to the social media team, which is usually not part of the customer services team. I have also heard stories of some companies deleting complaints from their page!

Complaining in writing on email

The benefits of making your complaints via email are vast. You have an evidence trail, you’re able to add attachments, you have time to think and you have time to rewrite!

You can bullet point issues and you don’t get interrupted either! Should you need to go further, you can use all of this written evidence. If you’re not happy with the responses you’ve received, you then escalate things higher up the corporate chain. You can then also use your evidence through a relevant Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, trading body or small claims court if necessary.

Making a complaint over the phone

Using the phone is good for when you need quick action, such as getting your electricity back on! But it’s not so good for a complicated complaint or when you’re on your second call.

To be effective on the phone you need to ensure you have all your records with you, including notes of dates and times. You also have to be calm, which is not so easy for many of us. You can also forget stuff and lose objectivity if you lose your cool! Guidelines around whether you can record the calls and use them in court are unclear. If you are phoning a call centre there are a number of issues to contend with too.

To be effective for anything more than a quick complaint you will need to ensure that you’re prepared with everything you need – your legal rights, a list of evidence and possibly even preparing what you’re going to say. So, considering all of this, why don’t you just email it anyway?

Then again, if you’re lucky, calm, prepared and your complaint isn’t too complicated, perhaps the phone works for you?

I like to be sure of my facts and I have a bad memory, so I like taking my time to write an email so that I don’t forget anything. I can shout and swear at the computer screen while I do so, which wouldn’t be a good idea on the phone!

How do you prefer to complain – on social media, by email or over the phone?

This is a guest contribution by Helen Dewdney, who runs the blog The Complaining Cow and is author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results. All opinions are Helen’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


The phone Helen and only the phone . I like and want to deal personally with human beings related to what I am complaining about ,not a computer voice, or email . I wont stop till I speak to someone who will take action on my behalf or if they refuse then I point blank say I am no longer doing business with your company and say I want to speak to accounts to stop any service they supply and will immediately phone another company to start business with them . I am a “burn bridges ” type, muck me about and its Goodbye -cheerio- you,ve lost my order etc . I dont waste time arguing with a company that operates a policy like a doctors receptionist who thinks its her duty to block patients from her beloved doctor. I can forgive faults ,errors etc if they apologize to me but not blatant ignorance.


If I am going to complain, I prefer to start off by speaking to someone, but may follow this up by email.

Vodafone increased the price of my rolling monthly contract without informing me beforehand. It had been a year since I had arranged the contract and they had simply removed the agreed discount.

Although I have called the company in the past, it was quite clear from the website that they wanted me to use ‘live chat’, something I have avoided in the past. I did get Vodafone to apologise and agree to refund my overpayment for the current month, which will let me shop around.

Live chat may have lost Vodafone a customer.


I’m in process of moving home and want to do some decoration when there is little furniture to get in the way. I want a bed so that I can stay overnight and moved in a bed base but decided it would be worth buying a new mattress. Encouraged by a friend, I placed an order with Marks & Spencer. I had a call to arrange delivery and after rejecting Good Friday and Easter Monday, I agreed on 6 April, the next available date.

I was then told that I would be informed two days beforehand of a four hour delivery slot. That could be from 7am in the morning. I explained that I could not stay in the house overnight because I did not have a bed with a mattress but they were not prepared to offer an afternoon delivery even though I could be flexible about the delivery date.

To get to my new home I would have to set off at 6am to arrive in time for a 7am delivery. I’m an asthmatic and not in a good state early in the morning. I phoned M&S Customer Services to discuss delivery time, but got nowhere. The person I spoke to was quite unpleasant, referring to considering the ‘majority over the minority’.

Like many other companies, M&S uses web forms rather than proper email, so I will use the CEO email in the hope of getting M&S to give me a convenient delivery time.


I am getting fed up with companies that insist on taking your money before giving a delivery or installation date. I had not realised that M&S was bad on this. Arranging a convenient delivery date is where John Lewis scores time and time again; they still require payment in full at the time of ordering though, but most furniture is either available from stock at the nearest store or on seven-day delivery. We recently ordered some armchairs with custom upholstery and were advised delivery would be about ten weeks but they were ready in eight.

A friend of ours is having a replacement front door and windows from Homebase; they would not give a clear indication of installation timescales until she had gone back to the store after the survey and estimate process and made payment in full. They still could not give an actual date however – she had to wait for a phone call from the contractors. She now finds the installation will be six weeks after making payment – and Homebase hold the money, not paying the contractor until after satisfactory completion of the work. This is how things go pear-shaped for customers when companies fold; other than paying by credit card and taking advantage of S75 protection I don’t know whether there is any way people can safeguard their payment in the event of a commercial collapse and non-fulfilment. What happened to deposits?


I have no recent experience with M&S deliveries, but was guided by their website. For furniture deliveries:  “We’ll contact you usually within 2 days of placing your order to arrange a delivery time.” I should have scrutinised the Terms & Conditions before ordering. According to my credit card bill, M&S charged me immediately and the goods will not arrive for another 16 days, but I don’t think this is uncommon. I very nearly did order from John Lewis instead.


M&S: Unfortunately we are unable to specify an AM/PM time slot as, to make sure we use the minimum amount of fuel to minimise our carbon footprint, we schedule all our deliveries around the distance from our warehouses.
JLP: “The delivery window is 7am- 9pm, Monday – Saturday”

If you want to save the planet ( 😀 ) you have to get up early ( 🙁 )


With an adequate computer system it should be perfectly possible to arrange morning or afternoon deliveries if the customer is able to be flexible about delivery dates, without using more fuel. Once I have a bed I can stay overnight which will save me making daily trips, which should save more fuel.

I’m retired and even when I was working it took ten minutes to get home for a delivery, but what about those who have to take a full day of work to take in a large item that cannot reasonably be left with the neighbours?


JLP now charge £2 for Click and Collect if it is under £30.
They also offer timed delivery slots if you are prepared to pay:
For larger items such as some furniture and appliances:
Delivery options
2-hour delivery slots £19.00
4-hour delivery slots £8.50
JLP used to deliver everything free – even small items which came through the post.