How Can Brands Turn Consumer Complaints Into Compliments On Social Media?

How Jet­Blue, KLM, Dell have learned to turn neg­a­tive brand expe­ri­ences into some­thing pos­i­tive for con­sumers.

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

A report by VB Insight has revealed that mod­ern con­sumers com­plain about brands an aston­ish­ing 879 mil­lion times a year on Face­book, Twit­ter, and oth­er social media por­tals, with 10 per­cent of those con­sumers mak­ing a com­plaint on social media every day.

In a sur­vey of over 11,000 inter­net users across the Unit­ed States, VB Insight’s research also found that 17.4 per­cent of con­sumers com­plain to brands using social media on a week­ly basis, and some­what wor­ry­ing­ly, that 32.8 per­cent of brands nev­er offer a response to social media com­plaints, mean­ing up to 289 mil­lion com­plaints go unan­swered every year.

And one does­n’t need to look too far for an exam­ple of how at this very moment, con­sumers are using the chan­nel to voice their dis­sat­is­fac­tion for a brand. In the past week for exam­ple, dis­grun­tled cus­tomers who used Uber ser­vices on New Year’s Eve have been upload­ing receipts for their taxi ser­vices on the night. The aston­ish­ing fares, often num­ber­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars for a jour­ney of just a few miles, have shocked and appalled and the back­lash has done no favors for the com­pa­ny’s surge pric­ing sys­tem, which algo­rith­mi­cal­ly increas­es fares in instances of high demand.

Just a cou­ple of weeks ear­li­er Uber were crit­i­cised for increas­ing fares by up to four times the nor­mal rate dur­ing a Syd­ney hostage cri­sis, pun­ish­ing those who attempt­ed to get away to safe­ty. While Uber lat­er apol­o­gized for the inci­dent, the com­bined neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment towards Uber’s pric­ing strat­e­gy on social media in the past few weeks, shows how neg­a­tive social media com­plaints can begin trend­ing, and have the pow­er to neg­a­tive­ly impact the per­cep­tion of a brand.

As expect­ed, in many cas­es it is the 18–34 year olds, or so called GenX’ers, that are lead­ing the charge in terms of using social media to com­plain to brands, how­ev­er the report iden­ti­fied “Dig­i­tal Grey Fox­es” – 55- to 64-year-olds increas­ing­ly at home with tech­nol­o­gy – also mak­ing the most of social media chan­nels to address brand griev­ances, with indi­vid­u­als in this age-group hav­ing dou­ble the com­plaint rate of younger con­sumers.

5 Reasons Social Media Complaints Must Be Taken Seriously

There are a num­ber of good rea­sons why con­sumers are turn­ing to the chan­nel to voice their com­plaints, and why the brands who aren’t prop­er­ly address­ing their cus­tomer’s griev­ances ought to recon­sid­er how they are con­duct­ing their oper­a­tions on the social media plat­forms they are active on:

  1. Social media is the most con­ve­nient way for cus­tomers to com­plain: Social media pro­vides a much more appeal­ing medi­um for con­sumers to address their gripes for two rea­sons. One, it pro­vides a quick and stress free means for con­sumers to open a dis­course with a brand – much eas­i­er than nav­i­gat­ing a intri­cate switch­board that puts you on hold for long peri­ods and charges by the minute. And two, it allows them to share their expe­ri­ences with their friends and fol­low­ers, some­thing we seek to do nat­u­ral­ly when stressed or aggriev­ed.
  2. Social media rep­re­sents empow­ered con­sumers: For the rea­sons out­lined in point num­ber one, social media pro­vides con­sumers with a sense of empow­er­ment. Com­plaints on social media can neg­a­tive­ly influ­ence the per­cep­tion of a brand and mar­ket. If you brand isn’t per­ceived to be lis­ten­ing and atten­tive to a cus­tomers needs, then you’re send­ing a mes­sage to con­sumers to look to one of your com­peti­tors the next time they are seek­ing out a ser­vice or prod­uct.
  3. Con­sumers have high expec­ta­tions for your brands: Brands that are doing well in address­ing con­sumer com­plaints on social media, those address­ing cus­tomer com­plaints quick­ly and effi­cient­ly, are rais­ing the bar in terms of com­mon expec­ta­tions. It means that con­sumers are com­ing to expect a first class ser­vice from all the brands they have a rela­tion­ship with. To illus­trate this, research has shown that as many as 53 per­cent of con­sumers now expect brands to respond with­in one hour, and 70 per­cent are not expect­ing to be ignored.
  4. Unhap­py users share neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences: As report­ed in July 2013 by Lithi­um Tech­nolo­gies, cus­tomers who don’t receive a sat­is­fac­to­ry response look to their social media chan­nels to share their neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences to ‘vent’. Lithi­um’s research sug­gest­ed that 29 per­cent of con­sumers who did­n’t receive a sat­is­fac­to­ry response from a brand would tell friends and fam­i­ly about their expe­ri­ence, and a fur­ther 26 per­cent would “esca­late their con­cerns through oth­er sources of com­mu­ni­ca­tion”.
  5. Social media com­plaints are an oppor­tu­ni­ty for your brand: This one’s the kick­er. Social media com­plaints aren’t all doom and gloom, when han­dled cor­rect­ly they offer a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for brands to turn some­thing neg­a­tive, into some­thing that can actu­al­ly serve to ben­e­fit a brand’s rep­u­ta­tion. Social media is part of a brand’s over­all pub­lic pres­ence, a direct con­nec­tion to the con­sumers on which a brand depends, and in that sense it’s a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to share brand val­ues and show con­sumers what you’re made of!

How Can Brands Best Turn Complaints Into Something Complimentary?

VB Insight’s stats sug­gest that there is a short­fall in the num­ber of brands that are respond­ing to cus­tomer com­plaints ade­quate­ly, or at all, but there are some brands who are build­ing up their rep­u­ta­tions on social media for their adept­ness at lis­ten­ing to their con­sumers.

While there are chal­lenges to deal­ing with con­sumer com­plaints, an obvi­ous one being the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it on Twit­ter for exam­ple, with a lit­tle cre­ativ­i­ty and orga­ni­za­tion of a com­pa­ny’s social media sup­port, there’s a good chance brands can turn poten­tial­ly neg­a­tive com­plaints into some­thing pos­i­tive for the brand.

Here are some exam­ples of brands deal­ing with con­sumer com­plaints well, with insights that you can use in your own mar­ket­ing.


Jet­Blue are often acknowl­edged as one of the most adept com­pa­nies on Twit­ter at han­dling con­sumer com­plaints. A study by Hub­Spot showed the extent to which the com­pa­ny’s social media team were will­ing to the extra mile, affirm­ing their rep­u­ta­tion among con­sumers.

The com­pa­ny aver­ages an impres­sive 10 minute response time (espe­cial­ly impres­sive con­sid­er­ing the com­pa­ny receives 2,500–2,600 men­tions a day on Twit­ter alone).


While Jet­Blue’s response rate is admirable, the goals of the social media team are not mere­ly to respond. The air­line also pri­or­i­tize respond­ing to tweets where staff can con­tribute val­ue. Said Lau­rie Meacham, man­ag­er of cus­tomer com­mit­ment at jet­Blue:

We rec­og­nize how impor­tant it is to mea­sure the ROI of our social media efforts, but we actu­al­ly make a point of not mea­sur­ing response rate on Twit­ter. We want our employ­ees to engage smart­ly, and for the con­ver­sa­tions to be organ­ic and nat­ur­al. We look for oppor­tu­ni­ties to add val­ue and con­nect with our cus­tomers, not just respond to every sin­gle men­tion that comes our way.”

Air­lines have a par­tic­u­lar oblig­a­tion to pro­vide excel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice, in times of bad weath­er or delays for instance, keep­ing cus­tomers well informed and updat­ed can work won­ders in pla­cat­ing frus­tra­tions. Show­ing cus­tomers that you are lis­ten­ing and care about their well­be­ing can be the dif­fer­ence that wins the loy­al­ty of a cus­tomer.


In the past few years, Dell have intro­duced a com­pre­hen­sive a cus­tomer first social media com­plaints han­dling process in a move encour­aged come right from the top of the busi­ness. The com­pa­ny have an appoint­ed ‘Lis­ten­ing Czar’ respon­si­ble for the over­all inte­gra­tion of Del­l’s social media sup­port offer­ing.

The com­pa­ny now employ a team of 70+ social media cus­tomer ser­vice offi­cers oper­at­ing from a state of the art “Social Media Lis­ten­ing Com­mand Cen­ter”, man­ag­ing up to 25,000 social media inter­ac­tions per day.


Anoth­er air­line who have pri­or­i­tized first class com­plaints han­dling via social media, KLM’s dri­ve towards being a lead­ing brand on social media was neces­si­tat­ed by the dis­rup­tion to Euro­pean air trav­el as a result of the Eyjäfjäl­läjökull erup­tion in 2010. The com­pa­ny, who at the time was mere­ly ‘exper­i­ment­ing’ with social media, found their Twit­ter feed inun­dat­ed with con­fused, des­per­ate, and often angry cus­tomers seek­ing guid­ance or a response from the air­line.


In a bold but nec­es­sary move, the air­line gath­ered 100 non-oper­a­tional per­son­nel to respond to the back­log of cus­tomer com­plaints on social media, and thus their social media team was born. KLM’s social media team now con­sists of a ded­i­cat­ed team of 200+ employ­ees who mon­i­tor the air­lines social media chan­nels to pro­vide 24/7 sup­port. The aver­age response time is gen­er­al­ly under an hour for all cus­tomer com­plaints, and in fact, a tick­er of the cur­rent aver­age response time is updat­ed in the air­lines cov­er pho­to on Twit­ter every five min­utes.

Final Thoughts

The com­pa­nies includ­ed all have a ded­i­cat­ed social media team in place, devot­ed to pro­vid­ing an excel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice, and such as in the case of Jet­Blue, have trans­ferred the exper­tise of a com­pa­nies estab­lished CS teams for into a social media set­ting. Han­dling con­sumer com­plaints well can have a huge­ly pos­i­tive impact for a brand.

Accord­ing to David Schnei­der, Come­dia, Twit­ter expert and co-founder of social media con­sul­tan­cy That Lot:

A bad review or neg­a­tive com­ment can be retweet­ed by mil­lions, and com­pa­nies are often keen to defuse cus­tomer anger very quick­ly in a pub­lic space such as Twit­ter. If it is done clev­er­ly, it can even work in a com­pa­ny’s favor.”

Some­times all it takes is clever bit of think­ing to pro­vide con­sumers with the reas­sur­ance they are seek­ing, as well as rais­ing the aware­ness and per­cep­tion of a brand. This clas­sic tweet from @ArgosHelpers did more than win the “respect” of the dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomer, it won the atten­tion of the media, and a bunch of new fol­low­ers.


While this may be an extreme exam­ple, it does illus­trate the key points brands should be aware with in stream­lin­ing cus­tomer sup­ports and com­plaints han­dling on social media.

Key Takeaways For Brands

  1. Have a ded­i­cat­ed cus­tomer sup­port team on social media.
  2. Con­sid­er run­ning a sep­a­rate sup­port chan­nel (e.g. @NikeSupport, @DeltaAssist).
  3. Aim to respond to com­plaints with­in an hour.
  4. Don’t obsess about KPIs.
  5. Instead look to pro­vide val­ue, and allow your staff the license to use their ini­tia­tive.
Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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