/ 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?


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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.

I believe they load a van up with a full day’s deliveries, so set up the route that allows them to make all the deliveries necessary in the time available using minimum fuel.

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With JL you can select either morning (0700-1400) or afternoon/evening (1400-2100) on the chosen day, but the drivers organise their own rounds so it is hit and miss what time of day the van arrives but they do ring about half an hour before arrival. With non-furniture items delivered from their central warehouses they tend to use DPD [in our area] which is brilliant because their tracking system is superb and they give you a very close time slot and enable you to see where the driver is on their route. Even if you have a morning delivery, you will know by around 0900 what time it will arrive so you can get on with something or even go out for an hour or two.

If M&S really cared about their carbon footprint I could give them a few tips on how to save on lighting and and heating in their stores!

M and S web forms drive me nuts! Appalling way to do customer service, because not only do you have to know to do a screen shot because it doesn’t send you a copy, if you want to follow up you still have to go back to the form, you can’t click reply to the email you get. Then you get different people responding, no continuity of customer care. I pointed that out to them and the CEO years ago and it’s still the same. CEO email address can be found at ceoemail.com by the way. Unfortunately they don’t legally have to give you a timed slot. Mind you, if they miss the slot there will be trouble!

Contract always with the retailer so if contractor went bust Homebase would have to refund money. Paying by credit card for any items over £100 always a good idea. I’ve just paid for a weekend away using credit card for £1 and the rest on debit card to avoid cc charges!

I’ve a customer service’s email address for M&S that I use (rarely necessary). It has produced a quick and helpful response when I either complained or commented. I ignore online email forms (Which have one!) and always try the direct approach.

Thanks Complaining Cow. It hadn’t occurrred to me that Homebase might be immune from commercial misfortune. I remember when MFI went under and several other big stores on the ring road left customers stranded, with orders unfulfilled and advance payments swallowed up in the liquidation.

I if cannot attend in person, my preferred medium for a complaint is the “snail mail” letter.

For a serious complaint, an appropriate signed-for delivery service would be used.

I keep my letters short, simple and to the point.

I seldom expect to resolve the matter just on the basis of a first letter, but the costs of sending further letters are small.

I use that method too as I prefer to speak to people face to face. In my experience, telephone calls are alright for a service enquiry but less satisfactory for a complaint as the invisibility of both parties somehow adds friction to the agenda. I have never failed to get a reasonable response to a letter.

It depends. If it’s a simple complaint, the phone usually deals with it the fastest. For more serious complaints, I prefer email as I then have a record of the correspondence. Unfortunately, there are many companies that don’t accept correspondence through email. In that case, a message in an online form can be printed to a PDF before it’s sent, but that offers no proof of sending and no proof of content.

I only resort to social media after getting nowhere by contacting them in private. This is what I did when I had problems with a large windscreen replacement company. As soon as I contacted them on Twitter, the matter was resolved quickly.

If a site is so rubbish that you can’t email them like that I just email the CEO with the complaint and add in about their poor website to boot! Ceoemail.com for contacts.

Occasionally I use social media, but I find emailing the CEO gets better results, although some companies still repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again, don’t you Royal Fail !!

I’ll be emailing Ms Greene next week with another compliant.

Yup been there !

I normally phone first in an endeavour to settle a problem asap, failing that I will email or write a recorded delivery letter to the CEO.

I have just pulled out of a very unethical house sale owing to a developers one sided terms and conditions, known in the building trade (I have since learned) as conditional selling. Conditional selling works like this:

First you have to sell your existing home by establishing a buyer, plus a buyers buyer and the developer then decides the length of a chain before agreeing to proceed. You then visit their onsite sales office and listen to their sales patter about the pros (never cons) of purchasing one of their homes and agree on a plot. The developer then decides they will hold it for a couple of days whilst leaving it on the market. Having agreed to allow you to proceed, you then go along to make your reservation only to be told you have agreed to use their panel of recommended solicitors to execute the sale of not only your existing home but also the purchase of their home as their solicitors “are the only ones guaranteed to exchange contracts within the stipulated 28 days”. Other sales misrepresentations then come to light which “could easily be modified during the building process” but then company protocol cannot allow.

I ended up contacting by phone their recommended solicitor who was unable to guarantee exchange of contract within 28 days stating “we can if you can”. I then phoned the developers head office and lodged a complaint about their unethical sales practices and their extremely one sided conditions of sale. I was informed they may allow a further few days grace for exchange to take place and was then given 3 days to decide whether or not to proceed. You live and learn. It was an easy decision for me to make.

I think you are well out of that Beryl. There is no need for that sort of lock-in. I think it’s partly a try-on to persuade potential buyers that the market s hotter than it really is. Good developers don’t do that sort of thing and bad ones deserve to get their come-uppance. And house-builders wonder why they have a poor reputation!

What is worst of all is the way in which the developers wait until you have buyers in a chain beneath you and who stand to be let down if you pull out of purchasing their homes, before springing these nasty surprises upon you.

I have an on-going problem with my former power company – problems last year with my meter, no statement since last April (although direct debits were increased and no final statement since I left them three months ago. I have contacted them by e-mail but they gave a 10 working day window for replying and still didn’t resolve matters- useless. Phoned them earlier this month – still not resolved. Not on Twitter, so can’t use that. Have now escalted complaint to OFGEM. Hope to hear that they have taken matters up. Sigh…

Doubt you’ll get much from ofgem. A few posts re energy and your rights on my blog hope that helps.

I bought a hat from Kendrick imports which was advertised as waterproof. It wasn’t and I commented on their Facebook page. I was given a full refund almost immediately. Very impressed, and they now have a loyal customer.

Hurrah! And that is how companies should handle complaints!

I complained by face to face on the phone daily to follow up telephone calls that did not return my calls. In writing. On social media. The response from social media was instant from Laura Ashley. I have no complaints against Laura Ashley products but their Customer Services is appalling.

The power of social media to rectify commercial wrongs is impressive and is one of the good things to come out of it. We are not engaged with it ourselves but it is interesting to see how companies react to any negative comments. When they first joined Facebook and Twitter it was because they thought there were commercial advantages through exposure; they have quickly discovered that it can work against them, which from the consumer’s point of view is good. And they cannot back out now – it’s like touching a live electric current: it gives them a shock but they can’t let go.

Some are learning quicker than others. I like your analogy some need a bigger shock! Currys blocked me last year when I helped someone complaining to them on Twitter! True! Not before they gave her the refund though 😀 I repaid them by spending the next hour helping people with their consumer rights who were having difficulty complaining to them! Amused me, helped others.

Complaints? Nah! I just Send the Boys round………. Sorted!

I’m currently trying to complain to yourselves, however finding a real e-mail address to send the relevant information too is very difficult…………

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