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Updated on Wednesday, May 7, 2014
There is a nuanced art to complaining and getting results from a company. A few years ago, you could call a customer service line, write a letter or shoot an email into the abyss with the faintest hope that someone might be inclined to help you resolve your issue. Those with a major issue might get a lawyer to assist in their struggles. Gone are the days of waiting on hold for an hour listening to awful muzak before a customer service rep tells you he can’t do anything for you. It can take as few as seconds now, thanks to social media, which provided a game-changer in the war of getting a major company to recognize they’ve mistreated you.
Going up against a major company
In February of 2013 a winter storm named for an orange fish in a children’s movie came ripping through the Northeast. Several feet of snow crippled transportation in and out of New York City, leaving would-be-travelers stranded. As a New York City dweller, I was stranded in the comfort of my own home, but it provided little solace when I realized the major airline I’d booked travel through did not intend on refunding my fare.
To set the stage: my attempt at frugal travel had me departing New York City by bus to reach my destination in upstate New York. I had booked a flight back for two days later.
Nemo’s winter chaos cancelled my bus trip (for which I was refunded) but the storm had cleared up by the time I would have returned two days later so my flight wouldn’t be cancelled affording me a refund.
I called the airline’s customer service line and explained the storm had prevented me from reaching my destination, so I wouldn’t be there to board the return flight. A semi-polite representative told me that was unfortunate, but I’d have to forfeit the cost of my ticket with no refund.
In a black-and-white scenario, I understood the airline’s position. The storm did not cancel the flight I had booked, so they shouldn’t have to refund me just because the storm prevented me from getting there. Plus, I didn’t use one of their planes to reach my destination.
After two attempts at resolving the issue through the airline’s customer service line, hoping a combination of my sob story and being a loyal flyer would illicit a kind gesture, I changed my tactic.
I decided to pull a typical millennial move and vented my frustration on Twitter.
Tagging the offending airline in the tweet, I used my 140 characters to sum up how Nemo had disrupted my travel plans and I wished the airline would reward my loyalty with understanding by offering me a refund or travel credit.
Within 10 minutes, a member of their social media team made contact with me and asked that I send my email address in a direct message on Twitter so they could attempt to resolve my issue.
Thirty minutes later I had a travel credit for the cost of the flight I would be unable to board. I tweeted my thanks to the airline and still fly with them today.
Why companies react to social media
Social media is by no means the only way to try and resolve your complaint, but it’s an incredibly effective tool. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and similar platforms all amplify your voice to reach thousands to potentially millions of people.
Dealing with a bank-related issue isn’t much different than travel related frustrations. You may feel utterly helpless or completely ignored when it comes to going through typical customer service channels to draw attention to your complaint or issue. This is why social media is such a valuable tool for the average consumer. Social media can provide companies with easy public relations wins or become an absolute nightmare within seconds.
Major companies from all sectors have experienced the embarrassment of trending on Twitter or losing hundreds to thousands of Facebook fans after an inappropriate or ill-timed post caused a backlash from consumers.
Fearing the amplified voice of social media, most banks have dedicated social media teams that work to field complaints (or compliments) sent to them via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
How to use social media to complain
If you plan to use social media to get your bank’s attention, be sure you’re going about the process the right way.
Don’t just vent or threaten
Expressing your outrage might feel good, but it’s better to approach the situation diplomatically and mention being a loyal customer but that you’re disappointed with how you’ve been treated.
Using the appropriate mentions and hashtags
If you don’t “at mention” or “tag” your financial institution in the tweet or Facebook post, then it will likely just get lost. You should also look to see if your bank has a specific handle for customer support. Chase for example has their team responding to customer complaints from the @ChaseSupport handle. If you have an issue that many other people are experiencing, look to see if a trending hashtag exists that you can use to amplify your voice.
Don’t give away personal information in a public forum
Never divulge personal details like credit card or social security numbers on social media.
Thank them for their help
If using social media resolves your issue, then be sure to publically thank your bank. For example: Thanks @Chase and @ChaseSupport for helping me resolve my billing cycle issue so quickly.
What happens if social media doesn’t resolve your problem?
If using the powers of social media doesn’t resolve the situation, then you still have another major player at your disposal.
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau was established to help and protect you. You can reach out to the CFPB to be an advocate on your behalf and try to resolve the situation.
It doesn’t hurt to mention to your bank (via social media or on the phone) that you’ll be filing an official complaint with the CFPB. Banks may be big, and sometimes feel like bullies, but they aren’t fans of getting publically reprimanded. Find more information about how to utilize the CFPB here.