The Best Ways to Handle a Customer Service Complaint on Twitter

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Many Twitter feeds are getting blasted for poor customer service.  Sometimes the complaint is just ignored, or sometimes a company just puts a sticking plaster on it.

So what is the best way for a company to get involved – particularly when you only have 140 characters to deal with?

We asked our panel of experts for their opinions.

The conversation may start in Twitter but can move to email or voice

Where companies often go wrong when embracing Twitter is that the people reviewing the Twitter feeds are often marketers and not agents who are trained in the handling of complaints.


Amanda Mone

If we view Twitter as just another channel into the contact centre then there is no reason that a complaint can’t be handled in the same way as any other complaint through any other channel.

The blending of social media channels with the traditional voice and email channels allows an agent to use the correct channel for the task at hand. The conversation may start in Twitter but can move seamlessly to email and voice as required, so removing the constraints of 140 characters.

Amanda Mone, mplsystems

Replies should be warm, with personality


Nicola Brookes

On Twitter, a company must be proactive with its customer service, otherwise its presence on the site could be damaging. A complaint on Twitter is just as important as a telephone one, and companies that get it right have the opportunity to show millions of people that they care about their customers through 140 characters. Customers are impressed when they see a business fighting for their loyalty, and this attracts other people to the brand, which can equate to sales.

It is critical to respond to all customer complaints. Internally, establish goals for when Tweets should be replied to, such as 30 minutes each day. Replies should be warm, with personality – no generic corporate messages which show a lack of care and concern.

Another best practice is to take the conversation off-line. Ask the customer for their phone number and agree a time to call them. Never make the customer work by asking them to file a complaint through your website, email or letter.

Nicola Brookes, NewVoiceMedia

Be transparent, admit if something has gone wrong

The key to all social customer service is:

  • Don’t ignore it but make sure you have processes in place to respond and ensure that it’s timely.
  • Be transparent, admit if something has gone wrong and confirm what you are going to do to put it right.
  • Be positive, for example, if the problem has only affected a small percentage of customers, say so but apologise that they are one of them.
  • Don’t say ‘we will call you’ and then take the problem out of the visible communication channel, as other customers will be suspicious.
  • Revisit the customer and hopefully they will re-tweet to say that although something went wrong, they have had a good experience and would trust the brand to do more business with in the future.

Joanne Varey, managing director, Granby Marketing Services

Direct the customer to an online forum

I would suggest using the 140 characters to direct the customer to a forum or other online method of dealing with the complaint where more time and space can be dedicated to the issue. The customer would then feel that at least the company is willing to discuss the issue rather than just ignore the problem.

Thanks to Jason Blakeledge

Redirect to other channels

We use Twitter to redirect to other channels or share links to useful information (such as blogs). If the information is relevant for the group and it is not sensitive, we answer on the social media platform. If the information is sensitive, we request them to call us or email us for a more personalised reply. A key element is to be compliant with data protection.

Thanks to Silvia Planella Conrado at Arema Connect

What really matters is the way the complaint is being handled

Dealing with complaints is one of the best opportunities for a company to show its greatness. Whether online or offline, they create an interaction space that provides direct access to a customer that otherwise is very hard to obtain. Once the flow of communication is initiated, the complaint itself tends to become secondary and what really matters is the way it is being handled.

Responsiveness, interactivity and promptness are the key rules to adhere to!

Since company accounts might be perceived as impersonal, often customers make extreme negative comments on Twitter that they wouldn’t consider making face-to-face or over the phone. A quick reply (even if simply to inform the customer the complaint has been registered and is being looked into) can turn a negative vibe into a more positive experience.

This means Twitter must be constantly monitored to make sure all posts referring to an organisation, its products or services are seen, acknowledged and passed on to the right team.

Ask for contact details through DM (Direct Messaging)


Richard Farrell

On the other hand, a dialogue started on Twitter doesn’t have to continue on it. Twitter’s limited character count makes meaningful conversation difficult, so if an answer can’t be provided in 140 characters, the conversation can be easily moved to another channel by asking for contact details through DM (Direct Messaging).

The same applies for sensitive issues that could damage the organisation’s reputation and need to be handled privately. Customers might also prefer to speak to an agent to resolve a complex issue so a DM could offer a contact centre number or web call-back link.

One thing is definitely essential: Twitter complaints must be taken seriously as they are completely open and public, having the ability to quickly escalate to a major crisis. Organisations must go that extra mile and deal with them!

Richard Farrell: Chief Technical Officer, Netcall Telecom Ltd

Published On: 10th Apr 2013 - Last modified: 13th Sep 2022
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