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Long gone are the days where irate phone calls and strongly worded letters were the key to getting your complaint heard – nowadays, customers are finding that the use of 140 characters does the job much more succinctly.

Endless hours spent in telephone queues to customer service departments – listening to upbeat music and paying premium price for the pleasure – never really were that effective, leaving many of us even more frustrated than before. It was only ever really you, the friends you vented to, and the unfortunate worker receiving your call who got to hear of your grievance. But now, the use of social platforms as popular as Twitter allows you to get your complaint in to the public domain quickly, leaving many companies red-faced when they fail to respond properly.

Getting your complaint ‘out there’ for potentially millions of people to see can prompt companies to rectify the situation in hours, rather than the weeks and months it seemed to take in bygone years. Companies tend to react quickly to any negative comments or reviews published on social media in order to protect their reputation from being damaged.  For many companies, if a reply is executed correctly, it can actually work in their favour.

Recently, Argos’ customer service team won the respect of thousands of Twitter users with its ‘street style’ reply to the following customer query: @Argos_Online YO wen you getting da PS4 tings in moss side? Ain’t waitin no more. Plus da asian guy whu works dere got bare attitude #wasteman.” Its response, which was retweeted more than 6,000 times, read: “@BadManBugti Safe Badman, we getting some more PS4 tings in wivin da next week y’get me. Soz about the attitude, probz havin a bad day yo.”  Although this approach was a huge risk on their behalf, Argos received a flurry of positive media coverage, catapulting it into the public arena.

A more extreme example of complaining via Twitter came to light last year when businessman Hasan Syed paid to get his complaint promoted on the site. Mr Syed, who was fed up with the manner in which British Airways were handling the issue of his father’s missing luggage, tweeted: “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.” Now, I’m not suggesting that we all need to splash out on promoting our tweets, but it definitely got him heard – British Airways delivered the missing luggage later the same day.

Due to the popularity of social media, many brands are now actively encouraging their customers to take to Twitter to give them feedback. Companies such as BT and Halifax, have created specific accounts using the handles @BTcare and @AskHalifaxBank in an attempt to tackle queries in a much more timely manner.

For brands responding to any Twitter-plaints, there are some golden rules that should help stop you finding yourself in the middle of a Twitter-storm.

  • First of all, it’s important to remember that Twitter is a 24/7 platform and needs monitoring outside of the usual nine-to-five hours to prevent detrimental comments being left unnoticed – and snowballing into something much bigger.
  •  Always be honest – creating a web of lies as a quick response to a complaint will only make the situation worse in the long run.
  • Finally, think about prevention, rather than cure! Be sure to provide good customer service from the outset to prevent customers from having to complain in the first place.