Many brands are afraid of social media as they fear the reprisals of unhappy customers. There is an argument that you have to sort out your service before you 'go social' but however good you are, there will always be someone who has been on the unfortunate end of a human error and has cause to complain.
The social media 'secret' here is not to avoid it - but apologise, genuinely, and offer to make ammends. All this should be done publicly and may result not only in a happy customer but in an audience who admire your customer service. Turn the situation around to your advantage.
This is clearly something Next's social media experts weren't keen on recently though, or perhaps their digital agency's weekend cover isn't that strong. Whatever the reason, it wasn't advisable for Next to post the following, when a customer swore about their delivery service:
The user's original tweet said "Fucking Next wankers! It's a pissing Sunday you bastards & I've wasted four fecking hours for a delivery you forgot to tell me isn't coming." - admittedly not the most eloquent of complaints, and some people may well have been offended. Notice though that she doesn't use their handle or even a hashtag. It's really unlikely anyone except her followers will have seen it, well until Next tweeted about it that is. She also tweeted at them that she was "pissed off" and perhaps this was what they objected to - but it's hardly a hanging offence and I might be using that level of profanity if I'd been made to wait 4 hours on a Sunday for nothing.
What Next don't seem to realise is that they can't control the Twitter channel any more than they control an individual's chat with friends. @Ox_bex was just tweeting to her followers - telling her friends how she felt, and Next had no more right to ask her to stop than management could interrupt a conversation she was having in a pub.
The Twittersphere reacted badly. Word spread about the response, there was a big online backlash and various media marketing and tech blogs wrote about it. Some felt the request was tantamount to censorship and the worst kind of brand protectionism, others thought it was just terrible customer service.
I would be more sympathetic if it as a small company or family business - when you are personally invested in a brand it can be heartbreaking to see it besmirched online, even if you were to blame for the bad experience. But a brand as big as Next should know better (or should employ people that know better) than to coerce people into keeping quiet about an issue. Why not try to solve it? An apology, an offer or even a bit of humour can go a long way to appease a disgruntled customer. Clearly this High Street retailer has yet to realise this. Until they do...well...next please!