Three blocks customers as 'spammers'
Three Mobile has been blocking Twitter complaints from some customers by labelling them 'spammers' - because they were sending repeated messages about the mobile company's recent price hikes. Three put up its prices by 3.6% for existing customers on monthly plans, effective from mid-July.
The row came to light on an online forum hosted by consumer champion Which?.
One tweeter, @MarathonRunnerr, said Three was blocking tweets about the recent price rises during mid contract. Whereupon Three UK replied, on Twitter:
@marathonrunnerr Not at all, we're having to report excessive tweets as spam so we can hear the majority of our customers
The company also released this more detailed explanation:
"Our team handles customer enquiries in a host of ways from phone calls through to Twitter interactions. Last month, for example, we received nearly 14,000 tweets across our two Twitter accounts and responded directly to over half of them. On our support account that figure rises to 70%. We're pleased to be able to answer questions and address issues where we can on Twitter and we are always listening. This isn't always comfortable for a growing business, but like many others that engage on social platforms we've found we learn a lot from the experience and share the feedback, good and bad.
"We have flagged a handful of accounts as spammers when we receive a high volume of repetitive tweets in rapid succession and other Twitter users begin to complain about an account spamming. We don't decide Twitter's terms but take the general view that they are there for the benefit of all users. Like any other Twitter user we have to abide by them."
This is actually serious. If you report someone for spam they could have their Twitter account removed. (It didn't happen in this case.)
As Which? points out, this is "not just a company hanging up when you call their customer service line, but actively trying to get your phone cut off". Instead of hitting the 'report for spam' button, Three could have taken less drastic action by simply 'blocking' those making frequent complaints on Twitter - or 'muting' them temporarily. Generally, though, they should be responding to complaints, not trying to cut them off.
This is quite obviously not the way to use Twitter and other social media - unless you want to lose all your customers if word gets out. It shows how out of touch Three are - surprising for a mobile company.
So what do digital experts say?
Patrick Klerk, online strategist for the digital agency TamTam, told Which? "If a company is foolish enough to report its fans for spam when they have a question or remark, then this company is well on its way to destroying its own customer base."
Dr Andy Williamson, freelance digital consultant, added: "It's a poor example of how to use social media and a pretty unrealistic view of the real world. I think the company is genuinely lost in how to deal with social media rather than being vindictive, but that doesn't matter – businesses need to learn that they don't control the dialogue anymore and can't shut people down."