Why It Pays to Make a Fuss in Public

Matt Travers* of Service Rage discusses the power of complaining in public using social media

Social media is moving once-private conversations into the public realm and tipping the balance of power in favour of consumers.

Consumers are discovering that they get better service if they raise issues on social media rather than through traditional channels like the phone or over-the-counter.

Take these tweets for example;

“It pays to complain on Twitter! Thanks to Gia and Franchesca at @StGeorgeBank for your help getting this resolved. Much appreciated.” – Evil Cupcake (@iamevilcupcake)


“@NAB Thanks! It seems the only way to get things actioned these days is to tweet them, shame staff at the branch aren’t as eager to please!” – Johanna Greenway (@JohannaGreenway)


Yet there’s nothing intrinsic to Twitter that helped resolve these issues. It is just the communication channel. So why did these consumers have such a dramatically better experience using social media?

It is because businesses are prioritising customers who use social media channels to raise issues. These consumers wield greater power than those using traditional channels. Thus businesses are taking the rational decision to shift resources, both technical and human, into the teams charged with keeping social media users happy.

This increased consumer power is due to two key characteristics of social media.

Firstly, and most obviously, the social nature of services like Twitter and Facebook empowers consumers. Businesses have always been aware of the power of word-of-mouth and the tendency of unhappy customers to share their opinion more widely than happy ones.

Social media lubricates this process and makes it dramatically more efficient. Where consumers once shared their bad experience with half a dozen friends at a barbecue, now they can tell hundreds with a quick tweet or Facebook post. And there is the potential for the message to circulate much, much further as tweets are retweeted and Facebook posts “liked”.

For example, this consumer is unhappy with the processing speed of direct debits at NAB and wants as many people as possible to know:

“Please retweet – if you’re considering which bank to join remember your DD transfers will take 72 hours with @NAB? Why?” – John Newton (@Xdomingo)


The second empowering characteristic of social media is its public nature. It is less obvious, but potentially more significant, because it is a structural change in the relationship between businesses and their customers.

This consumer sums it up:

“@BankofMelb have DM’d as per your request, but complaints only seem to be a priority when made in a public forum. Would appreciate a call…” – Phill Guthrie (@Phill_Guthrie)


When a customer care conversation is played out in public, the word-of-mouth impact is unlimited. When a consumer tweets a complaint to a company or leaves a public comment on the company’s Facebook page, the audience is no longer restricted to the consumers’ direct contacts.  It is a public statement that any other consumer can read and use to inform his or her purchase decision. It is easy to browse a company’s twitter stream or Facebook page to get a feel for their customer feedback.

The impact of public comments is not limited to consumers. Interested third parties, who can also access these public comments, amplify their power.

Journalists use public comments to quickly and easily assess the scope of customer care issues for consumer news stories. As these become easier to research, they become incrementally harder for companies to manage.

Savvy consumers are taking this process further by taking the initiative and including media organisations in their complaints. Here’s an example of a customer taking their complaint to Channel Nine’s A Current Affair:

“@ACurrentAffair9 @originenergy what a disgrace of a company. Trying 2 rip off small businesses with no notification contracts up for renewal” – Tim Richards (@timrichards1978)


Aggregation sites are also able to amplify the power of public comments to benefit consumers. The public nature of the feedback distributed via social media means that it is possible for innovative services to monitor and aggregate the feedback, transforming it from a stream of anecdotes into aggregated information, for example easily digestible ratings.

Until recently, information about a company’s customer care performance was locked away in its Customer Relationship Management system. Poor performance could be compensated for with brand advertising and other marketing tools.

As customer care conversations begin to move to public forums, consumers and companies that deliver great customer care are benefiting from increased transparency. There is a new and more pressing incentive for companies to improve their customer care.

So to get the best service, consumers should consider not just what they say, but where they say it. By choosing a public forum they are likely to get more attention in the short term. And they will be accelerating a structural change that may deliver more power to consumers in the long term.


*Matt Travers is the founder of service comparison website ServiceRage, which uses social media feedback to rank Australian banks, health insurers, energy companies, and general insurers. He has more than 15 years digital media experience in Australia and Europe.

CFA promotes discussion of consumer issues and trends and welcomes thoughtful contributions of opinion and news in the consumer interest. CFA does not necessarily endorse the views of guest posts or the activities of the associated organisations or businesses.