Is it ever OK for a train company to block you on social media?

Martin Belam
Social media can be an effective channel to complain to train companies. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

In a new report by consumer group Which? highlighting widespread dissatisfaction with train companies, one instance was singled out: Northern Rail blocking a passenger who’d been complaining on Twitter. Kat Harrison-Dibbits had included the company in over 100 messages about delays and overcrowding before it eventually blocked her.

The incident brings into focus the vexed issue of delivering customer service in the digital age: is the customer still always right if they are publicly haranguing you on social media?

From the consumer point of view, complaining on a social media channel can be a fast, effective way to get information or force action. Earlier this month, a staff member announced to an over-crowded Virgin train that passengers should send pictures of the chaos to the company’s Twitter account, because “they will listen to you, they don’t listen to us.”

For companies, the relationship is harder to manage. While social media can present opportunities for good PR – Southern Trains’ letting a teenager take over its Twitter account was the first good news story the company had enjoyed for years – there’s an expectation from the customer that all complaints are heard and that issues can be resolved. It can be expensive and time-consuming for large organisations to monitor social media channels around the clock , and wearing for staff who have to respond to streams of abuse. But is it ever OK for a company to block a customer?

While it may seem harsh, if a person was railing against staff in person, you would expect them to be escorted off the premises eventually. A Twitter block doesn’t stop someone complaining in other ways.

Also, endless moaning about trains, planes and delayed Deliveroo drivers makes social media very, very dull. Are you really getting your point across by pestering someone in a customer services department? Or are you just boring your mates with a load of sweary drivel about transport delays and getting the wrong dips with your McNuggets?