Customer Complaints: The Right Way To Handle Them On Social Media (3 Examples)

Customer complaints are inevitable. Here's an in-depth look at how JetBlue, Delta Hotels and Sainsbury's handle customer complaints on social media channels like Twitter and Instagram.

Customer Complaints

Social media has become an ever-present part of our daily lives. By the end of 2017, 81 percent of the US population had at least one social media profile. Despite the rampant popularity of social media, we have seen consistent growth with each passing year.

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For companies, finding the right balance on social media can be difficult. This is especially true when it comes to customer service. Social media has given customers a platform to praise, complain, and rally opinions about companies in a public setting.

It has become a necessary fact of doing business online. Forward-thinking companies have long realized that they need to invest in social media to help control the conversation as it relates to their company. Letting a complaint go viral can be a PR disaster for any company, so it is important that you respond in a timely fashion.

But it’s not just about responding, it’s about how you respond.

(Note: One of the best ways to hear from frustrated customers directly (instead of via social media) is with a Net Promoter Score survey. You can create one and send it to your customers in just 15 minutes using Fieldboom. Try it free.)

A Hybrid Approach To Customer Complaints

Social media is a strange animal. It’s one-part public relations, one-part marketing channel, and for many, one-part customer support channel. This can make things a bit confusing for your teams. Often, those three critical areas are handled by completely different teams. Yet there is only one social media account for the company that is handling all of those requests.

Companies really have no options when it comes to social media. Many companies have tried to avoid using the platform as a customer support channel, but are forced to respond when customer complaints start gaining traction on the platform.

Finding the right balance can be difficult. This is especially true when you have a single person managing your social media account. They likely won’t have experience in all three areas, which means that business social media accounts end up becoming collaborative efforts despite your best efforts to keep it simple.

There are tools out there that can help you to find that balance. But, you still need to go into social media customer support with a keen understanding of how your words will be received based on the information that the rest of the audience has. It can be easy to put yourself in a bad position by not responding in a way that will be well-received by the masses.

Keep in mind that the masses won’t have any behind-the-scenes knowledge. On social media, you don’t just have to make the customer happy like you would in a typical support ticket. You have the make the whole of social media happy.

A bad response can mean a PR disaster for your company.

A great response can turn a public complaint into a large-scale relationship-building message.

Let’s take a look at some examples of companies eloquently handling customer support on social media to their own advantage:

Example #1: JetBlue Airlines Throws a Twitter-Parade for Passenger

JetBlue is a company that has become known for their excellent customer support over Twitter. They deal with customer complaints quickly and swiftly. A quick look at the JetBlue Twitter account, and you’ll probably find many instances of them engaging with their audience, answering questions, and generally being on top of their social media presence.

JetBlue has had several different customer interactions go viral and turn into some great PR for the company. One of their most popular exchanges came after a passenger laments the fact that they have to head back home after vacation, flying on JetBlue Airlines.

The company quickly responded:

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After some back-and-forth the customer responded by joking that she expected a parade at the gate when she landed, JetBlue asked if a Twitter parade would suffice. Then, they delivered:

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This is a great example of going above and beyond when it comes to customer service on Twitter. The best part of this example is that it didn’t start out with a public complaint. The company just decided to do something fun for a normal, everyday customer.

The exchange eventually got picked up in several online publications and generated some solid positive PR for the company. You can bet that the customer will remember this for the rest of their lives and be that much more likely to fly JetBlue in the future. It’s a great example of how being spontaneous and fun on social media can pay dividends.

But, this wasn’t a one-time thing for the company. They have consistently made a habit out of publicly fixing issues for customers. Here’s another great example. When a customer posted on Twitter, complaining about his in-seat TV being broken during his four-hour flight, the company took rapid action to respond to the complaint:


Many companies would ignore a Tweet like this or hope their customer service teams at the gate were made aware of the issue. But, not JetBlue. First, the company asked for some clarification about the issue in a reply:

“Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”

The passenger confirmed that it was just his TV that was having problems, and the company swiftly replied and offered to remedy the issue:

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Take note of how they first empathized with his situation. Who wouldn’t hate to have their main source of entertainment broken on a long flight? Then, they offered to rectify the issue by providing him with a credit for the broken TV on his flight — all within 23 minutes.

Needless to say, the customer was pretty satisfied with his service:

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These are just a few of the many examples of JetBlue going above and beyond when it comes to customer support via social media. They are an excellent role model for companies that want to limit damage via social media complaints and turn bad reviews into positive PR.

Example #2: Delta Hotels Turns a Bad View Into a Great Experience

For hotels, reputation means everything. Being able to provide your guests with a comfortable, clean room with a great view is about the bare minimum that guests tend to expect. So, when Delta Hotels received a Twitter complaint about the view from one of their hotel rooms, it took action.

It all started with a tweet, where Mike McCready, a multimedia instructor at Lethbridge College, shared a link to his Instagram account with a picture of his…less-than-ideal view from his hotel room:

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It’s easy to see why a hotel might find this kind of post on social media to be worrisome. Some customers won’t care about the view, but many users will and a post like this could sour their reputation with those customers for good.

Delta Hotels quickly responded to his post, offering to help him with the situation:

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Unfortunately, the guest was going to be leaving in the morning so switching him to a new room was not going to do much good.

That didn’t stop the company from ensuring that they showed the customer that they truly cared. After Mike McCready returned from his conference, he found some delicious pastries and a handwritten note expressing how sorry they were, and how much gratitude they had for him as a customer:

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Mike was so impressed with the customer service response from Delta Hotels, that he went on to publish a blog post on LinkedIn about his experience with the company. This is the best case scenario that you could hope for on social media. Not only was there a positive resolution to the complaint, but the customer took it a step farther and actively promoted your company as a result.

The post went on to attract some pretty impressive traction on the platform:

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Delta Hotels didn’t have to be so gracious. They could have ignored the original Tweet, which probably would have been seen by a dozen or so people and then promptly forgotten about for the most part. Very few people would remember this incident when they went to book a hotel room.

However, with a little gratitude and genuine appreciation for their customers, Delta was able to turn this deserved-criticism into a huge PR win for the company. Instead of a handful of people having a sour taste in their mouth when they think of Delta Hotels, there are now hundreds of people that will remember how well they treated their customer when he had a fairly standard complaint.

This story goes to show how impactful social media is. Doing the right thing and providing exceptional service can, and will, get your company noticed in a positive light.

Example #3: Sainsbury’s Provides Pun-Filled Customer Service After Fishy Complaint

Here is another great example of a light-hearted but helpful response to a customer complaint on social media. Sainsbury’s, of the largest supermarkets in the UK, received a complaint on Twitter about their selection of fish.

The original complaint was tongue-in-cheek and the customer didn’t seem too bent out of shape about it. The social media team at Sainsbury’s read the situation right, and responded with a pun of their own, while still asking for more information about the problem:

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The exchange instantly started to gain some traction, and the two continued trading puns back and forth, balancing fishy-fun with a real conversation about his experience in the store.

The back-and-forth would go on for over three-hours and feature more than 30 tweets between the two parties. Here is a snippet of their conversation:


The result?

The Twitter thread went viral on Twitter, and also got noticed by a number of business publications and magazines.

Ultimately, Sainsbury’s was able to read the situation correctly and respond in a way that not only got people’s attention but showed that they genuinely cared about their customer’s experience in their store.

Big Rewards for Resolving Customer Complaints On Social

Social media is poised to be a big part of everyday life for the foreseeable future. There is nothing stopping customers from voicing their complaints about companies on Twitter and other platforms, putting companies in a position where they almost have to embrace social media customer support or risk bad PR with no recourse.

However, attentive brands can take even small social media complaints and turn them into a positive. The examples in this article just go to show how impactful it can be to have these conversations on a public forum.

Companies that want to improve their social media customer service operations should aim for a few specific traits when dealing with complaints and interacting with customers:

  • Responsive replies. Providing a customer with a credit and a witty-reply is a lot less impact when it comes a week late. For your social media customer service efforts to be well-received, you have to be on the ball. Responding within minutes or hours can help you to rectify the situation and improve your image with everyone that sees the image.
  • Don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Sainsbury’s fishy-pun exchange with their customer might have been silly, but it showed that there were real people behind the account interacting with customers. The silliness of the exchange was the driving reason behind the thread going viral. Don’t be afraid to have some fun and loosen up, but make sure that you are reading the situation right when you do.
  • Empathize and understand. When replying to social media complaints, make sure that you take the time to understand the situation fully, and empathize with the customer. Showing them that you understand why they are upset can go a long way toward a positive resolution.

The examples in this post are just a few of the thousands of excellent social media interactions between brands and customers that you can find on Twitter. Some large brands have been able to make their social media presence a large part of their outbound PR campaigns, improving their reputation one tweet at a time.

Customer complaints are a normal part of business, but it’s how you handle them that separates you from your competitors.

(Note: One of the best ways to hear from frustrated customers directly (instead of via social media) is with a Net Promoter Score survey. You can create one and send it to your customers in just 15 minutes using Fieldboom. Try it free.)

Ryan Bozeman is a freelance copywriter from Seattle, WA that specializes in producing long-form content for SaaS and marketing companies. You can connect with him on Twitter at @RyanBozeman.