Paula Kiger

Four Questions to Ask Before You Complain on Twitter

By: Paula Kiger | July 23, 2014 | 
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Four Questions to Ask Before You Complain on TwitterBy Paula Kiger

There are four questions I ask myself before I complain on Twitter.

I can’t say I haven’t violated my own policy sometimes, but if I really want to get my problem solved rather than complain on Twitter, these four questions tend to come in handy:

  1. Are you right?
  2. Can it be fixed?
  3. Did you try to resolve privately?
  4. Are you being civil?

Are You Right?

When I left my job in May, my family kept our health insurance carrier but switched to a different account with my husband as the primary insured.

Each time we have gone to pick up prescriptions since the switch, we have been told that we needed to present a separate “prescription” card that differs from our insurance cards.

I have gotten a little more frustrated each time as I have argued that I have not yet received this card.

I called our insurer, and they said, “We don’t issue those cards; you’ll have to call someone else.”

This was not the answer I wanted, of course.

After a few more interactions like that, I began crafting my social media assault. I wasn’t going to take it anymore!

Fortunately, when I was cleaning out an old stack of mail, I found the cards. Turns out they had been mailed on May 31.

I would have been wasting social media time, as well as dragging our insurer and the pharmacy benefits manager through the mud for my mistake. It’s a good idea to double and triple check your premise before you complain on Twitter.

Can it Be Fixed?

For the process improvement geeks out there, this could more aptly be called, “Are you addressing the root cause?”

For me, nothing demonstrated the need for this than my “fingerprint copier” incident.

My organization got new printers that would only dispense the finished product when the user’s fingerprint was recognized (for reasons related to HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

I grew more and more livid at the five times it took to prove to the machine that I was, indeed, me.

When I tweeted the video I had created to demonstrate this, I immediately got the attention of the business’s vice president of communications.

That part was good, but at the root of the situation was the fact that neither the local business who installed the printers nor our internal IT staff had trained us on how to properly activate the biometric identifier.

I was also highly frustrated with a co-worker’s histrionics over the printer issue. It was causing a disruption to my train of thought.

In the end, my employer was none too happy with my video, which landed us on the radar screen of a major corporation’s communications department. I was roundly disciplined for emailing them to explain my concern from my business email.

The fixable part of this situation was the training component. The unfixable part was our corporation’s lack of a social media policy and the internal dynamics.

Did You Attempt to Resolve it Privately?

It is so easy to tweet. It is much more difficult to look up an email address, write a letter, or make a phone call.

However, it is often worth the time to take the private approach first.

Resolving privately sometimes yields a more direct and immediate resolution and preserves the relationship between the consumer and the business.

Because a business with whom a customer has an issue often isn’t following that customer on Twitter, I recommend sending an initial public tweet that says something like, “I have a concern; can you tell me an email address to send it to?” (Or you can ask that they direct message you.)

When private resolution fails, then I don’t hesitate to go public, as occurred with my “sham” episode.

Are You Being Civil?

I don’t want to spread vitriol unnecessarily. The world has enough meanness as it is.

If you are tweeting from your personal account or a corporate account that identifies you in the profile, what you tweet is as much as reflection of you as the impression you give when you meet someone face-to-face.

Would you scream at your cashier and call him or her incompetent if they made a basic mistake while checking out?

If you wouldn’t be so mean in person, why be unnecessarily ugly on Twitter?

Complain on Twitter

What types of experiences have you had with complaints on Twitter?

What tips would you add to my list?

About Paula Kiger


Paula Kiger believes her Twitter bio says it best: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. She is a communications professional who provides writing, editing and social media services through Big Green Pen. She was the community manager for the Lead Change Group for two years. Paula has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. She is an active advocate for many causes, including access to immunizations for children worldwide.

  • Ok, I’ll come back to this excellent blog to provide a better comment later…but YOU LEFT YOUR JOB? Where have I been? Why didn’t I know this! Man, we need to catch up!

  • BLESS YOU, WOMAN. I hope this message catches on far and wide. Because most people do not approach it this way at all. The process is more like:

    1) GET MAD
    2) Post angrily on social media!
    3) Oh, did I tweet at the right account? Meh.

  • JoshuaJLight

    Great article.  I like your use of stories.  Makes it more memorable.

    I have to disagree (respectfully) with point 3.  I used to do quality control for a corporation in college.  One thing I learned is that the people handling social media are usually a lot higher on the totem pole because they are representing the brand’s image to a huge audience.  

    I’ve found that making the conversation public (on Twitter) is a great tactic for the initial complaint.  The person on the other end has the authority to make tough calls, and their incentive is to resolve the issue as quickly as possible (due to it being public).  Additionally, it takes me a lot less time to send a tweet then to send a private email.  90% of the time it only takes a few tweets to find a resolution (from my experience).

    Take Comcast for example.  I’m sure you’ve heard their terrible customer service call that’s going viral online.  My friend contacted me because he had been trying to get his cable cancelled, and was having tons of problems with customer service when calling in.

    To help my buddy I showed him the power of Twitter.  Instead of calling I sent a tweet.  5 tweets later I had them picking up the cable box (which they don’t do), at a time they don’t usually do it, and they were doing it for free.  They also cancelled his cable service.  It was awesome.  

    For me…the opportunity cost of sending a tweet is a lot less than looking for private channels when doing the initial outreach.

  • JoshuaJLight I can see your perspective on point #3.  I think the “go private first” idea vs “go public first” does depend on the problem to be solved. // And although Comcast has its share of naysayers, I have had a superbly positive experience with them (on Twitter) when I was trying to help my inlaws solve a problem. // Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and sharing your perspective!

  • Eleanor Pierce THANK YOU, FELLOW WOMAN. 🙂 Seriously, I could have just done the post on point #1 (are you right?). This guest post is definitely bred from experience doing the opposite of what I now recommend!

  • LauraPetrolino I always look forward to your comments! And yes, I left 5/2/14. We’ll catch up!

  • KateNolan

    biggreenpen LauraPetrolino Apparently the fresh Maine air has gone straight to Laura’s head!

  • KateNolan

    I admit, I’ve sent some slightly snarky tweets. Not my best moments, but we all have weaknesses, right? (Apparently snark is mine.) I’ve also had success reaching out on twitter before other channels, especially when it’s after office hours. Then the chances of someone watching seem to be a bit higher versus sending an email into the blackhole.

  • KateNolan I imagine most of us have sent our share of snarky tweets! And I agree, there are times when Twitter seems to grab the attention of someone in a position to help long before other channels. In the ideal world (a tweeter can dream, right?) the organization will have all its channels integrated so that no matter how the complaint comes to them, the response can be rapid and effective. Again, the ideal!

  • KateNolan biggreenpen LauraPetrolino I would think being released of the NUTTINESS of dealing with wacky Floridians would have provided lots of opportunity to focus.

  • I can be kneejerk tweeter when I’m really annoyed. Like when it took 45 minutes to check into a hotel at 10 pm one night. Oddly, I feel embarrassed when a company replies and really annoyed when they ignore it.
    Also, it’s just weird to be exposed to friends’ customer service issues via their social media feeds. So yeah, I’m trying to breathe before snark-tweeting.

  • AMEN!!! This rocks, Paula. Oh, that people responded this way to *every* aspect of life. 🙂

  • RobBiesenbach I think we all have our “kneejerk tweets” moments, for sure! I believe a 45 minute checkin process would have gotten me tweeting too! I, too, sometimes feel taken aback by the details of others’ customer service sagas (yeah, thanks for that image of the moldy cheese, friend!) and anything that has to do with banking, billing, personal financial info should IMO be in direct message/email land if it all possible. It occurred to me after chatting with a few people that the perfect #5 would have been “remember to close the loop by thanking the business” — it’s easy to forget to send kudos when (if!) everything gets fixed.

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    RobBiesenbach Me too! I’ve only done a couple of knee-jerk tweets, but I always feel a little embarrassed after I’ve published them. And yes, it is sometimes totally uncomfortable to watch a friend’s customer service issues play out online. 

    That being said, in the couple of times I have tweeted a company directly, I have gotten great responses. I think the key is making sure it is your last resort.

  • Using twitter for customer service is very interesting. The best use is for simple problems like ‘Hey what hours are you open?’. I know many folks think it is a great way to bypass the phone call or email wait but for anything that has a $$ component phone and email are the only way a smart business will handle things. And then there is privacy. You can’t handle business requiring you give an account number over twitter.
    As for complaining I think it happens for two reasons. First and most common is ‘Normally I wouldn’t email or call you because that takes too much effort, so instead I complain offline to people I know’ (the tell 10 people thing) . But twitter is easy and quick so I will vent. This is GREAT for businesses to get this feedback because I have blogged in the past that social media word of mouth won’t kill your brand it is offline invisible word of mouth that will. Now you can see it and fix things.

    Second is more like what you describe. I am not being satisfied and now I will tell everyone while slamming you on Twitter. I have done this a few times when my frustration has escalated. But I think we now in today;s world expect and demands to 1] be on twitter and 2] respond and to be honest most people in your network will never ever see your tweets and to me there is little incentive to respond if a brand hasn’t committed to Twitter as a customer service channel. And even if they have what they normally do….is tweet back please email or call. LOL

    So to your post here Paula I think the biggest thing to think about is ‘Will I look silly complaining to a brand that 1] most of my network will never see my complaint but 2] the ones that do will just view you as a complainer. And that is something to think about before hitting send.

  • biggreenpen RobBiesenbach like when I wouldn’t stop Tweeting you Rob….where is the 8th and 9th deadly sin for presentations? How could there only be 7. And you ignored me for months. Then finally you said ‘Howie there are only 7 so shut up’ . That hurt and I had people taunting me for weeks ‘8 and 9 howie 8 and 9’. My bad I apologize.

  • KateNolan biggreenpen LauraPetrolino too much Lobster is my guess. Plus Maine actually is filled with smog from Montreal 😉

  • Howie Goldfarb biggreenpen Dude, there’s ELEVEN.

  • Those damn insurance companies; especially on the health insurance side. They wouldn’t know what customer service is if it was sitting in the desk next to them. We have to run interference for things just like this and if I was the bosses wife having to go through the hassle I would be complaining loudly…to someone…

    However, some are a little too quick to pull the twitter trigger but then again that’s where we are today with it; instant access, instant display. 

    Good article.

  • Great post up biggreenpen. I’d be quite frustrated with that scenario because I pickup the scripts for all three of us. 

    I went through 16 days of hell with Comcast a few years ago, and that’s when I learned how terrible their customer service is. Throughout my ordeal, all they wanted to do is automatically dispatch a tech to my house, which happened too many times. The issue turned out to be the house dispatched tech was not speaking or noting to the tech (the customer never sees) who climbs the telephone pole, so my issue was not getting resolved. I pinged the ComcastCares account on Twitter. As a result, Comcast Bill gave me his email to report my issue and he did corporate escalation to their home office in Philadelphia. My issue was finally resolved once they realized the access point outside the house wasn’t receiving the proper bandwidth. Mind you they tried to blame it on the modem, router, etc, but I knew the whole time it had to be the bandwidth.

    If I had not been an advocate, and used Twitter to contact Bill, I don’t think my issue would have ever been resolved.

  • KateNolan

    Howie Goldfarb KateNolan biggreenpen LauraPetrolino Lobster-Drunk? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?

  • Dave Schneider

    Hey Paula,
    Thanks for writing this article. There is quite a lot of complaining on Twitter and it seems people truly expect a response and they want it done fast.
    Thanks again
    Dave at NinjaOutreach

  • Nicely written Paula – something of a guide to fair play on social.

    A friend just emailed me about a bad experience with United, and I referred her to this.
    Especially the part about if it can be fixed / what you’re trying to get out of it.
    A risk of getting outraged on social media is that it’s completely
    public, you really don’t know who’ll come across it. If they don’t know
    you and this is the only context or one of the few contexts they have
    for knowing you, they may perceive you negatively. It’s one of the problems of an “Op/Ed Culture” where anyone can broadcast their comments whether they’ve done their homework or not. To be honest, that plus “is this going to actually do anything” typically keeps me from using the web to register a complaint or problem.

  • Howie Goldfarb KateNolan biggreenpen LauraPetrolino Darn French Canadians! I lost the speedos and hair gel pollution of Florida guidos for the speedo and hair gel pollution of the French Canadians! I can’t win!

  • KateNolan Howie Goldfarb biggreenpen LauraPetrolino Lobster Fest is next week Kate! Come up and visit! #allthelobster

  • LauraPetrolino In about 3 minutes, I’m going to get on Google Hangout and tell you a very off color story about French Canadian rave enthusiasts that I experienced first hand while on spring break down in Florida a number of years back.

  • Good points, Joe.

  • Yes our expectations re the rapidity of a response are growing more and more lofty. I suppose one time (among many) that a rapid accurate response is especially appreciated is a public safety tweet – I wonder how many commutes have been made safer because traffic could be diverted as authorities became aware of adverse conditions.

  • Bill was my “savior” too! Turns out my scenario was (sort of) the “are you right?” one (the line had been cut by a non comcast party) … But given my inlaws’ elderliness/disability, reaching a resolution made everyone relieved.

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  • Bonus points for mentioning Be Civil. I think it is OK to be a little irate, but do not stoop to insulting someone’s worth or intelligence. And great point about “Are You Right”. If not, you end up with egg on your face…yet STILL held a brand’s reputation hostage, and they will lose simply because of the initial accusation.

  • dbvickery Thanks!

  • Howie Goldfarb GREAT thoughts, Howie, and I appreciate you chiming in. I have thought a lot (more) about this topic since the post went up. One thing it has done is made my hyper-aware of my own tweets! The other day I tried to return something to a big box electronics retailer and it was past the (IMO very short!) 15 day return period, so they wouldn’t accept it. I would not have been right to be a jerk about it on twitter (b/c I had not read the info — it was within their policy not to take it back). It wasn’t a big enough deal to try to go through private channels. But I did for a few brief seconds feel like being uncivil (I managed to restrain myself!). My tweet indicated that I knew I was wrong but wished they had been more flexible (they certainly stood to retain my goodwill as a customer by cutting me a break). // You are correct to point out that there is an entire offline world still (imagine that!) … and that the power of offline complaints is strong.  // I do think that it goes a bit beyond “my network seeing me as a complainer” — I do think brands who “get it” will be on top of responding to legitimate complaints but I think we as consumers and just general PEOPLE should ideally go about it in a non incendiary way when at all possible.

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