Customer Service in the Twitter AgeHow does customer service in the age of social media — especially Twitter — differ from customer service at any other time in consumer history? Here’s a little story.

My wife and I decided to buy a desk for my birthday that was coming up, and we found one that I really liked at a local Office Depot. Upon talking with a salesperson there, we were told to wait a couple of days and come back because this particular desk was going to be on sale.

“Great!” we said.

When we came back, the store was out of stock, so we had to get one ordered. We went ahead and paid for it to be shipped to our house; we were given Friday as the day for its arrival, and told that someone would contact us with a delivery time.

Customer Service Troubles Begin

By Thursday, there was still no delivery time confirmation, so we decided to call the store directly — and this is where our trouble with Office Depot really began. At this point, we were told that no specific delivery time could be given, and that someone would have to be home between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Friday to receive the desk.

Apparently, delivery dispatch at Office Depot doesn’t understand the concept of people needing to work in order to afford to buy its merchandise in the first place!

So I bit the bullet and took the day off of work (it’s easier to do when you’re self-employed, but still costly). On Friday, the desk was delivered around 2:30 p.m. — not by Office Depot, but by a third-party delivery company.

The box containing the unassembled desk was brought into my office. Once the delivery driver left, I opened the box, expecting to finally begin assembling my long-awaited desk. Sadly, as I started pulling out the pieces, I noticed that some of them were broken. The third-party delivery company had given me its phone number to call in case of any problems, so I contacted its service center immediately.

Customer Service Troubles Continue

When the customer service representative answered the phone, I explained my issues. She said that she could get another desk delivered, but it wouldn’t be for another week and I would have to be home again from 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Explaining that the loss of another full day of work wasn’t really an option for me received little sympathy, so I told the representative not to arrange for another delivery until I contacted Office Depot directly to examine alternatives.

Office Depot wasn’t any more helpful. I was further infuriated to learn that, contrary to my explicit instructions, the third-party delivery representative had already placed a replacement order in the system. Since the replacement delivery was already in motion, it was impossible (so I was told) for me to consider other options, such as local store pickup or alternative delivery methods.

The representative at Office Depot apologized, but said the company’s hands were tied.

I decided to demand my money back and have Office Depot arrange for the broken desk to be picked up at no further expense to me.

Customer Service Troubles Tweeted

I tweeted this:

OK, so my day was crappy thanks to @OfficeDepot @WellsFargo and #OldAmericanCountyMutual insurance company. More info to come in a vlog!

Let’s forget about the other companies that I mentioned for now. Someone at Office Depot customer service was paying attention and responded with this tweet:

@TweetSpano – is there something that we can help with?

I was surprised to get a response back; I wasn’t really looking for one. I was just frustrated and tweeted about it to vent. I then proceeded to send four more tweets to Office Depot explaining a short version of what happened. After this, I didn’t get any response, so I figured it was over with. I needed to pack up the desk and put it all in the box — another frustrating thing to do — so I again tweeted about it. Only this time it was a little more direct. I said:

Just packed up the desk that was delivered #broken by @OfficeDepot stupid stupid stupid. What a #HorribleCompany #DoNotBuyFromIt.

This prompted a customer service representative at Office Depot to send me the email address of the manager of the executive customer relations department, advising me to tell him my story. I figured it couldn’t hurt anything and I needed to vent some more, so I sat down and wrote the email.

Customer Service Done Right… Eventually

I got a very apologetic email back telling me that the company was “going to make this right!”

I was given the number to another executive customer relations person, so I called him today. With one phone call, all my problems were taken care of. I got refunded the amount paid for shipping, I got free delivery of a new desk with professional assembly from Office Depot personnel, and the company is working around my schedule to deliver my new desk with my convenience in mind.

While I do appreciate the effort that the upper level management of Office Depot is making to remedy the situation now, I still can’t help but feel that it shouldn’t have come to this. Shouldn’t all customers feel that their needs are being met and legitimate grievances addressed by a big company without drama? Good customer service shouldn’t be something that a customer needs to pursue. Customer service should serve the customer through the efforts of the business that is being compensated by said customer for services rendered when such services aren’t up to snuff.

Customer Service Answers to Consumer Feedback — Good or Bad

In the end, I have Twitter to thank for all of this. If I hadn’t tweeted my thoughts and opinions of Office Depot, I would never have gotten in contact with the executive relations department. Twitter offers consumers an arena to tell the world — yes, the world — about their experiences, which forces even big businesses to face the music when services are less than spectacular.

On the other side of things, we, as consumers, have the opportunity to return the favor when we receive good service by trumpeting a company’s attention to customer care in a tweet.

When trying to bring a company to task through Twitter, you’re not always going to get a response — or even what I’d call the glowing success of my lucky experience — but you don’t have anything to lose by trying. Typing 140 characters of text is hardly a monumental investment of your time, but the rewards could make it worthwhile by tenfold.

With Great Power…

Businesses are smart to remain mindful of the image they create in the public eye, and with the increasing use of social media, that image can be tarnished more easily than ever before by a customer with a valid gripe — or elevated by someone who’s been treated right. As consumers, we need to be careful not to abuse this power.

Do you have any personal stories where Twitter helped you, as a consumer, get the satisfaction you deserved, or a situation where you felt compelled to reward a company with a positive tweet for a job well done? Please leave a comment below and share!

Matthew Spano is the vice president of a commercial property maintenance business. He is fluent in Web design, loves to blog and vlog, and is married to Kristina, the love of his life. Matthew is currently pursuing his degree in computer programming with a focus on Web programming.

Image: from Punch, Or The London Charivari, Vol. 152, April 11th, 1917 via Project Gutenberg