What Angry Customers Tweet About

In September 2013, Hasan Syed decided to voice his displeasure with British Airways by paying to promote his angry tweets about the airline's service.

The tweet went viral and the story was reported by many major news outlets. British Airways soon found itself in the uncomfortable position of issuing a public apology for a single service failure.

The viral tweet is something that scares a lot of executives.

It’s one thing to disappoint a customer one-on-one. It’s quite another issue to see that disappointment broadcast for the world to see. 

So, what do angry customers tweet about?

To find out, I sampled 250 tweets:

  • 100 tweets with the hashtag #badservice
  • 100 with the hashtag #customerservice
  • 50 tweets with the hashtag #servicefail

Both #badservice and #customerservice are among the more popular hashtags used by customers. I only sampled 50 tweets with the hashtag #servicefail because it isn’t used as often.

Only complaints were counted. Compliments, general discussions, or people promoting a product or their content were all left out.

Here are three things I discovered:


Don’t Make Customers Wait

Waiting is the top source of twitter complaints, with 37 percent mentioning an excessive wait time. 

This covers a wide variety of situations. 

It could be waiting for a replacement product to arrive, waiting for the cable repair technician, or waiting for food to arrive in a restaurant. 


Respond Or They’ll Tweet

The number two source of twitter complaints was a defective product or service at 23 percent. No real surprise there, but number three was interesting: 22 percent of twitter complaints mentioned the company had not responded to them via another channel.

Many companies are their own worst enemies here. 

Customers now expect a response to email within four hours, but most companies are still at one day or more. Phone calls go unreturned. 

“I’ll get back to you” often really means “I’ll forget about you.”


Twitter is a Second Channel

A majority of the complaints on twitter hint that this isn’t the first time they tried to resolve the issue.

Many customers have tried to resolve their problem via a more traditional one-on-one channel that isn’t broadcast to social media. Perhaps they visited a store, called a contact center, or browsed a company website.

Here’s a chart with the overall results:

Key Take-aways

This data highlights a few things savvy companies should be doing.

Reducing wait times is an obvious start, but companies often struggle here. Keep in mind that wait time is a factor of both reality and perception. You can use a few secret tactics to help customers feel like their wait time is shorter.

Responding to customers is a no-brainer. There’s no excuse for being unresponsive. 

Focusing on first contact resolution may be the best way to prevent angry tweets. People often complain on twitter when their original complaint has gone unresolved.

Why you're training customers to complain via Twitter

An increasing number of companies are starting to do a great job of serving their customers via Twitter. That’s great news for service, right?

Well, it may also be a problem.

Companies that master the art of serving their customers via Twitter may be training their customers to skip traditional service channels like face-to-face, phone, and email so they can do all their complaining in public.

Here are three reasons why:

Broken Channels

Consumers generally want to address customer service issues directly with the company without resorting to Twitter.

A 2012 American Express study found that only 7 percent of customers look to social networking sites such as Twitter as their primary method of contacting customer service. Most customers prefer more traditional channels such as face-to-face, phone, email, or even a company website. Only 17 percent of consumers reported contacting a company via social media at least once in the past year.

Things change when the problem doesn’t get resolved. The SQM group estimates that the average call center fails to resolve 30 percent of problems on the first call. Customers who experience lingering customer service issues may be more likely to vent their frustrations on Twitter.

Executive Attention

I recently attended ICMI’s ACCE conference for call center professionals. Quite a few attendees told me that Twitter has gained prominence in their companies because it’s more visible to executives than other channels. These executives are also understandably worried about the negative word of mouth associated with customers ranting on Twitter.

More executive attention can lead to Twitter complaints getting top priority. This means the Twitter team gets better staffing levels so they can respond faster. They are more empowered so they can be more generous. It also means that fewer resources are devoted to improving other service channels.

Customers catch on quickly.

Elite Service

The first two factors are reinforced by Twitter teams that do a really good job.

I recently Tweeted a complaint to American Airlines after being told it would take 8 weeks to get reimbursed for clothes I had to buy when my suitcase was delayed. Their Twitter team responded almost instantly to request additional information and then promised me they’d get on it.

The American Airlines Twitter team evidently pulled some strings that other customer service reps wouldn't or couldn't pull because my check ended up arriving in just 4 weeks.

Given these results, why wouldn’t I automatically tweet American Airlines the next time I experience a customer service issue of any kind?


Perhaps the solutions seem obvious. Fix broken channels so customers get amazing service no matter how they choose to contact your company. Prioritize problems that cause your customers the biggest headaches, rather than your marketing and PR folks. Fix more problems on the first contact.

I have one additional suggestion: Spread some of that Twitter moxie to other channels.

Companies often infuse their Twitter customer service with a little personality because they know anyone can listen in. What if every call center representative answered the phone like the whole world was listening? Why not write customer service emails that we would be proud to see posted on the internet? 

Response to Fortune article on customer service via Twitter

Fortune ran an interesting article on their website last week titled, "Can I help you? On Twitter, the answer is No." I really liked how the author, Anne VanderMey, and her colleagues put a variety of companies' customer service to the test via Twitter. The result was an interesting article, but I also think there are some points that were left uncovered.

First the positives
I love the idea of doing a real experiment rather than simply reporting on the abstract. Ok, maybe I'm biased because I ran my own social media experiment with customer service last year. (Check out the results.) VanderMey also examined a range of companies and wrote from an objective point of view. She let the results do most of the talking.

A few missing points
There were a few points I think VanderMey missed in her article.

Wait times aren't apples to apples. VanderMey compared the time required to get an answer via Twitter versus getting an answer via other channels, such as a toll-free number. It's a good idea, but with a Tweet (or email), you send it and then presumably go on with your life until you get a response. Calling a number generally requires a bit more of your attention unless you are stuck on hold. Even then, you might catch yourself singing along to the soothing soft rock hits of the '80s.

Twitter is good for info, bad for real problems. The article didn't make a distinction between the types of problems Twitter is good for and the types of issues that are best directed elsewhere. Twitter is a great tool for information. Need step-by-step directions or a list of the nearest stores? A company's Twitter team may be able to help you. Need to change your customer profile or check the status of an order? Better call or email.

Public versus private. The last big one for me was the article didn't squarely address the distinction between Twitter being a public forum while a phone call, email, or chat session is expected to remain between the customer and the company. As a customer, I'd definitely think twice about sharing the details of too many of my service problems in a public forum. (Unless, of course, I wrote a blog. That's waaaaay different.)

My conclusion is it was a good article that could have been even better. What do you think about getting customer service via Twitter? Are companies doing a good job? What expectations should consumers have when they Tweet for service?

Social media strategies (3 of 4): the Forum

This post highlights the third of four social media strategies I uncovered in my experiment to learn how companies use this medium to engage their customers. I highlighted the first two strategies, the Placeholder and the Sell and Tell, last week. Today's strategy is called the "Forum". All the strategies are a function of how much 'social' and how much 'media' is used.


The Forum

This strategy is high on social, but low on media. It is generally used to engage in direct dialogue with your customers.

When to use it

The Forum is a great strategy when your customers have something to say. I've uncovered two general ways you can use it effectively. (There may be more, but I didn't see them in my own experiment.)

  1. Customer service. If a customer is going to rant, make a suggestion, or sing your praises online, why not join in on the conversation? This strategy reaches beyond Facebook and Twitter to include any forum where your customers might congregate, such as Yelp or Trip Advisor. Best Buy is an amazing example of how to use this strategy effectively on both Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Technical support. This strategy involves using social media as an extension of your support team. It can also encourage customers to help each other resolve technical challenges. Home Depot helped me find an answer to a product question I posted on Facebook by actually researching it and getting back to me!

How to use it

There are three basic steps to effectively using the Forum social media strategy.

  1. Clearly state why your customers should participate. Encourage customers to participate and help each other. On Facebook, it's a good idea to post a few rules of engagement. Best Buy provides a wonderful example of how to do this.
  2. Monitor and respond. You'll lose customers fast if you fail to check your messages and respond. Assign someone to monitor social media channels and give them the training and authority to respond quickly. Don't forget to look anywhere your customers might be ranting and raving, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. Active participation is a great way to amplify the positive comments, lessen the impact of negative comments, and spot emerging trends in your service levels.
  3. Help in public, resolve anger in private. Best Buy provides a great example of when to answer directly and when to take it off line. In general, it's a good idea to respond to compliments and requests for help in public so others may benefit. If someone is using social media to vent in anger, respond to their post quickly and offer a private way for them to contact you (email, Twitter Direct message, etc.) so you can resolve their issue. This way, all the public sees is that you are responsive and caring.

As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated! 

State your purpose when using social media

The most basic definition of customer service is how well you meet your customer’s expectations.  If you meet their expectations, that's good. If you fall short of their expectations, that's bad. If you exceed their expectations, that's great.

Telling your customers up front what they can expect from you is a great way to avoid disappointments and misunderstandings.  That’s why I can’t figure out why so few companies in my social media experiment are clear about why they are using Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook was a total strikeout.  Nobody in my experiment explicitly states “here’s what you can expect from us on Facebook”.  Best Buy comes the closest with a set of ‘House Rules’ that you have to scroll down the page to find:



Twitter is a little better.  Here you can see the difference between Best Buy (clear purpose) and Starbucks (some guy named “Brad”):


As always, your comments and suggestions are very much appreciated!