How Complaining Via Twitter Is Changing Consumer Psychology

How to complain on Twitter

Posted May 03, 2011

Every day, more businesses are monitoring Twitter for complaints. Twitter allows companies to respond to customers with such unprecedented immediacy, it is changing consumer psychology.  The question is, is it changing it enough?

How Twitter is Changing Consumer Psychology

Our complaining psychology is such that we usually avoid voicing our complaints to companies and businesses because we believe that doing so will require too much effort and that it will involve a hassle or runaround. The same defeatest attitude is a mindset we bring with us to other complaining arenas as we are similarly hesitant to voice complaints to our loved ones, our friends or to our colleagues in the workplace. 

However, being able to Tweet a complaint in 140 characters or less is allowing consumers to overcome our defeatist attitude about the utility of complaining and approach companies with their dissatisfactions directly and with ease. Further, consumers are able to bypass a face-to-face confrontation, the idea of which is offputting and unpleasant to many.

As a result, the very notion of complaining seems less intimidating than it used to for many consumers, especially younger ones (who are currently more likely to complain via social media platforms). Whether this psychological shift will generalize beyond Twitter to other kinds of platforms and to other genres of complaints (such as relational or workplace complaints) is yet to be seen.  

How to Get the Attention of the Company or Business

To maximize your chances of getting a helpful response when you Tweet a complaint about a company or business-here's what you need to know:

1. Find the company's correct Twitter handle: Larger companies might have specific Twitter handles for customers who need help. For example, Delta Airlines uses @Delta_Airlines as a general Twitter handle but @DelataAssist for customers who need help. Look up the company on Google using the search terms, 'Name-of-Company', 'Twitter', and 'Help'.

Example-Delta Airlines: "Help! @DeltaAssist my flight (#) just got cancelled and my sister's wedding is tonight!"

2. Clearly state you're asking for help: Things can always go wrong but the mark of a good company is how responsive and willing they are to try to fix problems when they arise. As in the examples above, state your problem clearly but succinctly and make sure your message states you're asking for help and that you're not just venting anger or slamming the company (venting anger instead of complaining productively will make you feel even more frustrated in the long run).

Example-Time Warner Cable: "@TWCableHelp two tech visits and neither of them knew how to fix my reception. Can you help?"

3. Give Specific Details: Companies are much more likely to respond when you include specific details about your problem. If you're complaining about a flight, include the flight number. If your complaint is technical, state the specific malfunction. If your complaint is about shipping, give the stated time frame. If you can, let them know how to fix the problem.

Example-BillysBakeryNYC: "@BillysBakeryNyc Cupcakes for party were supposed to arrive this morning. We need them by end of day."

Not All Companies on Twitter Provide Great Customer Service

Although many companies and businesses monitor Twitter for complaints, not all companies who do so are adept at resolving the problems once they respond. The Consumerist ran a story a few years ago, The Scandal of Toothless Social Media Representatives in which they invited readers to share their experiences. However, in the comments section, the majority of responders actually disagreed and described examples of how Tweeting their concerns did lead to responses and resolutions from companies who monitor Twitter for customer complaints.

If you've tried Tweeting your complaint but did not get the response you needed, you can always resort to more traditional methods of complaining or write directly to company executives. You can read more about why some companies fail at providing adequate complaint handling here.

What to do Once Your Problem is Resolved

I believe in all forms of feedback, positive as well as negative. Therefore, if a company does a good job, by all means Tweet your thanks or compliments as well. I recently Tweeted thanks to Zappos for upgrading my shipping and got an "Aw Shucks! Thx!" response within 3 minutes.

It's reassuring to know a given company is listening to us and that they will respond to our needs if we run into a problem. If we want more companies to jump on the complaint-handling social media bandwagon, we should encourage them to do so by spreading positive word-of-mouse about those companies who provide us with resolutions when we complain on Twitter or other social media platforms.

For an example of how a customer used YouTube to get a company to respond to his problem, read the following post about someone who composed a song about the company that annoyed them (spoiler alert: the song wasn't very flattering).

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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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