Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Why You Should Not Use Twitter For Corporate Customer Service: A Cautionary Tale

Last spring, my first in a new apartment, I was careful to order my air conditioner way ahead of the first heat wave. I picked out a window unit from Home Depot online and scheduled delivery for a Friday in mid-May that I'd chosen as a spring-cleaning vacation day.

That morning, I woke up and looked up my order online, only to see that it had been suddenly (I'd checked the day before) back ordered and wasn't coming for nearly two weeks. I was furious! I would not be one of those people who didn't have an air conditioner when it got hot outside! I had done everything right, and I deserved my air conditioner. This wrong needed to be righted.

So I did something I hadn't tried before but that I'd been advised by friends and the internet to do in such a situation in such times as these: I addressed my grievance directly to the company on Twitter.

After all, nobody who was following me could even see it unless they happened to also be following @HomeDepot, and why would anyone do that? As far as unfortunate displays of entitlement went, it was the perfect crime. They wrote back right away.

Wow, it worked, I thought, and work it did. An extremely polite and apologetic Home Depot rep at their headquarters called me throughout the day to update me on every tiny step in the Search For A Comparable Air Conditioner in the Tri-State Area For The Honorable Super-Special Miss Robertson. Finally, they located one, way out in the furthest-from-me reaches of Queens, and asked if they could deliver it later that night.

Close to 11 p.m., the buzzer rang, and I went downstairs to let in not the burly delivery guys I was expecting, but an older man and a petite middle-aged woman, who struggled to carry the heavy 8,000 BTU unit together up one flight of stairs. Shocked, I quickly figured the story out: these visibly exhausted people were store managers, who had already worked all day and had nothing to do with the company's online error. And I was the reason they had to drive from Queens to south Brooklyn in Friday night traffic for this errand instead of being home with their kids. I thanked them profusely and awkwardly handed the woman the $20 I had in my pocket as a tip, and they left.

I closed the door and ran to my front window and looked down at the street as the two co-workers got back into the car, which was a regular car, not a Home Depot truck. It was clearly the personal car of one of them. It had New Jersey plates. They still had a long way to go before they got home that night.

I burst into tears.

That night I got ready for bed in the shadow of a huge box representing the Pyrrhic victory of my social media experiment. I felt everything one might feel after completing the exact opposite of a random act of kindness. It's true that, had I known I would ruin someone's day, I would have gone through the usual channels and ended up waiting for my air conditioner the way we all did before social media. But that's not the way it worked out.

So, yeah: the lesson is to think really carefully before doing something like that. That includes using Twitter to jump the line when your flight is canceled for weather reasons, as I saw a friend with a huge number of followers do a few weeks after my own Twitter disaster. I wanted to tell him what I'd learned: it's just not worth it. Wait your turn, like everybody else, like we all learned in elementary school. It's much more satisfying in the end.

Unless the corporation you're going after is Time Warner Cable, in which case you should use every tool available to you to take those f-ing mobsters down.

Also by this author: How Not To Die Of Rabies! A Chat With Bill Wasik And Monica Murphy

Lindsay Robertson Tweets about her hatred of clutch purses here. Thumbnail photo by Rupert Ganzer.

29 Comments / Post A Comment

hershmire (#233,671)

Just imagine how the factory worker feels. Social externalities are a bitch.

freetzy (#7,018)

Oh my god, New York is going to eat this nice lady alive.

julebsorry (#5,783)

@freetzy When she said she pulled $20 out of her wallet, I visibly cringed.

The correct NYC response is to bark, " 'Bout time!" at them.

kennethbowling (#240,376)

So sad. Lesson learned.

Rod T (#33)

Lesson for writers: step away from the computer and take a part-time job somewhere, working with your hands or with other people, experiencing the life around you.

Once upon a time as a manager for a Macy's I had to deliver a 36" television to a housing project because of an infuriated client called the store to complain about her delivery. (This was long before social media and longer before flat-screen not-heavy televisions).

My sob story > Your sob story

Lucky Jim (#207,189)

I'm baffled by this article.

hershmire (#233,671)

@Lucky Jim Chapter 1: Wherein our heroine discovers demanding immediate gratification may inconvenience others.

hockeymom (#143)

Timely post.
I've been watching someone moderately-to-very famous complain on Twitter about lost luggage and makeup. It started last night and has continued all morning. They have a good point, but to see the complaints to the airline as they are posted, is kind of uncomfortable. (Though, it does suck to lose your luggage…and airlines are right up there with cable companies).

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

@hockeymom Name names!

Leon (#6,596)

Are we really just harshing on someone for feeling bad in a genuine, kind human way? For being open enough to admit that she did a thing that seems completely obvious, and commonplace, and then realizing later there was a negative impact to it?

That seems kind of, I dunno, dickish?

(Oh, and people who are all: "Welcome to NY Fuckin' City, ya fuckin' fuck, fuck youself" – I am a longtime resident of NY, and we're really not a bunch of callous assholes. If you think we are, it may be a reflection on who you surround yourself with more than the city.)

lorabora (#240,239)

@Leon Agreed.

Lucky Jim (#207,189)

@Leon Not really. But turning this into some kind of Nietzschean horse-whipping is a bit much. Having had numerous *$%* jobs, I can say with some confidence that people working them don't want to bathed in some kind of bougie existential pity. People work. Work sucks sometimes. And just about every action we take in this world has some kind of negative impact. In terms of scale, this is one is negligible.

And, yeah, I've been in NYC since 2001 and wholeheartedly agree re: its reputation for callous assholes. Fiction, mostly. Save for the bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

lorabora (#240,239)

@Lucky Jim Yeah, but don't speak for all people working shit jobs just because you've had a few. Work sucks sometimes sure, but when someone realizes, shit, I just made you work extra, here's a nice fucking tip, that actually is pretty remarkable. Spoken as some one who's been a disher, busboy, cashier, just about every job where people stare through you and act like you don't exist. Pity not necessary, but if I'm going to have to clean up toddler vomit or whatever, I much prefer the people who grimace apologetically and leave an extra $5 to the assholes who step over me while pretending not to notice.

It's not bougie to have a conscience and exercise it.

Lucky Jim (#207,189)

@lorabora Strawman much? Did I suggest anywhere that people shouldn't tip? That a tip wasn't warranted here? I tend to over-tip (according to family and friends) – likely because I've had terrible jobs.

But this article isn't really about that. It's a celebration of the way that "conscience" overcame her – to what end? And why, exactly? Specifically, I'm talking about the weeping – and the implication from the article that asking a business/service provider to hold up its end of a purchase agreement is somehow unethical, inhumane or cruel. No one is apologizing for assholes.

Mount_Prion (#290)

"…as I saw a friend with over a million followers do a few weeks after my own Twitter disaster."

I'll be waiting for the sequel post about why we shouldn't blog-shame our friends for twitter faux pas.

av6 (#216,788)

Don't fret. It's their job. They own a store and are probably used to bending over backwards to help customers out. This was nice of them, it's not like you or Home Depot had a gun to their heads. They sold an AC, more than likely got paid to deliver it, and got a very nice tip from you. If stuff like this were able to ruin their day they wouldn't have made it to the point of managing their own store. So don't cry over it. At least they have jobs and each other. I think it sounds kind of nice, actually.

laclabra@twitter (#90,640)

Right. So corporations will stop being assholes if we just don't complain about them on Twitter?

Michael Schiavo (#3,967)

@laclabra@twitter Thank you. Support your local small businesses.

anna-p (#240,430)

I work in a communications department & what causes plenty of stress is opinionated bloggers/tweeters who spend lots of time being critical of most everything we do. Effectively, grouchy people on the Internet with a following that includes our senior managers get to jump the line constantly as far as their views being taken into consideration – staff find themselves hesitating and worrying over what the reaction from a few people will be whenever releasing new content.

Because even if they are flat wrong or off base, the top of the management chain reads that first. I've come to believe that complainers on Twitter don't necessarily deserve to always get "yes" for an answer. They just happen to use an application that gives them a direct line to the top. And it causes chaos for those of us who are forced by our management to deal with it by jumping to accommodate them.

I bet you the regular comm and customer service staff at Home Depot kind of resent these new, excitable social media folks who are the latest great thing at the company and suddenly were handed the power to make everyone else drop what they're doing to respond to Twitter.

But I don't blame customers for using social media when they've got an issue, I blame management; they're the ones who don't set reasonable boundaries by insisting the staff of their store go beyond their normal jobs and work extra hours with no advance notice. (Do they want to start getting lots of worker's comp claims by asking people who can hardly physically lift these items to do deliveries themselves??)

kely4moore (#240,340)

Hello there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site.

stacytg (#240,454)

I didn't even think to Tweet when Restoration Hardware told me my sheets that should arrive within 1-2 weeks (in August 2012) would suddenly be back-ordered until November. I was moving, man, and I needed those sheets, so I called them and did a hissy fit. I always feel bad when it's not someone's fault that their company messed up, but after the hissy fit, they mysteriously "found" some sheets in my hometown and overnighted them – yep, that looks just like "we're backordered til November because they ship from Italy."

SamGRJ (#240,508)

'I addressed my grievance directly to the company on Twitter. … After all, nobody who was following me could even see it unless they happened to also be following @HomeDepot …"

Not true, I don't think. They won't see the whole conversation, but everyone who follows you sees your request for help. No?

Anyway, I think it's never unfair to ask people to keep the promises they make. Even when those people are corporations.

"Corporations are people too, my friend!" That joke never gets old for me.

Maud Newton (#600)

I love this. Thanks for the cautionary story, Lindsay.

Eric Reiss@twitter (#240,581)

I really don't get this article. You complained to Home Depot and they came through for you with flying colors. Good for them. You wanted action and you got it.

misiekpl (#242,183)

Once upon a time as a manager for a Macy's I had to deliver a 36" television to a housing liquidy project because of an infuriated client called the store to complain about her delivery. (This was long before social media and longer before flat-screen not-heavy televisions).

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gamurcio (#282,463)

This is so beautiful and creative. I just love the colors and whoever gets it in the mail will be smiling.

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