Home Depot and Twitter

October 20, 2009

Some thoughts on how (at least one) corporation is reacting to the promise of social networking, in particularly Twitter.

The story begins at Home Depot late one rainy night. I am standing in the only manned checkout line, waiting and waiting for a teller who is checking and rechecking and rechecking. I can see the many self-service checkout lines, but I know better than that, and as all the other customers try those lines and #fail, I smile a little secret smile, as the line behind me gets longer and longer.

I am buying some containers and a cheap hedge trimmer, for my little, tiny hedge. The teller very carefully, painfully carefully checks the containers and then says to me, “ZASDFn avaerpih, awern p[i oubioub esters?” I have literally no idea what he’s saying. I say, “Pardon,” and I get another stream of syllables in some language I don’t know. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Again. “Just ring it up.” Again. “No, no, no, just ring it up.” Again. “I do NOT understand what you’re saying.” Again. “No, yes, whatever.” The word, “Yes,” works like magic. Up goes the hedge clipper and, as it turns out, up goes a warranty charge on my bill.

I can’t say at that point that I was the model of decorum and common sense that I try to be in my blogs. It is very late; the only reason I was there was that a neighbor had persuaded me to give him a ride to Home Depot. I will draw the curtain of charity, as Mark Twain says, over the rest of the scene, except for one moment. After I get in my last comment, the teller straightens up and says, “Thank you very much, sir; we appreciate your business,” in English that has only a trace of an accent.

This sounds unbelievable; I wouldn’t believe it if it hadn’t happened to me. I can only assume that tellers got a bonus for each unnecessary warranty they sold and that he had figured out an unbeatable technique.

So, the next day, I Twitter about it. I can’t tell the whole story in 140 characters; it was more a, “You can get ambushed anywhere” sort of tweet.
I don’t think Home Depot is listening, but in seconds, there was the response. “We’re so sorry we failed you; how can we help?”

A happy ending, an apologetic store manager, an upgrade offered on my hedge clipper? Of course not. You see, Home Depot wasn’t actually geared up to deal with my experience, weird and truly troubling as it was. It was only geared up to respond quickly when somebody twittered a complaint.

Now I understand this. I know that Home Depot is going through a tough time, that it is a troubled company anyway, and that thinking about the opportunities that Twitter suddenly offers is the last thing on their minds. I bet they’re patting themselves on the back just having somebody on staff who can read tweets and respond to them, and who knows, at this stage, maybe they should be.

All I’m saying is that they missed an opportunity. Obviously, they have a problem in their store operation, a pretty extreme problem. Obviously, it’s the sort of problem that might take a long time to ferret out. Here was somebody who had found a way to tell them at least that the problem existed and who would have been willing to explain. But all they did was view this tweet the way some politician’s handler would view it, as potentially bad publicity, which needs to be countered right away.

They could have done better.

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One Response to “Home Depot and Twitter”

  1. Jon Reed Says:

    David,

    I enjoyed this post, partially because I am fascinated by “Twitter for business” and the ways people (and companies) can defeat themselves. I did a few videos about getting started in the SAP community on Twitter on my JonERP.com web site. Further down the line, I posted a “How Not to Behave On Twitter” video…most of which is not SAP specific. I know you suggested I link to it here, not sure if this link will work but here it is: http://bit.ly/4AgcHL

    One of the themes of that “how not to” video is that Twitter has a way of amplifying and exposing problems, in particular the lack of transparency or, in the case of your blog post, sketchy customer service.

    I too think that responding to customers on Twitter in a superficial manner, which I call “drive by replies” in my video, is actually in most cases worse than not replying at all. I recently had that issue with Quickbooks. Intuit has pushed me through a “forced march” upgrade to an inferior version of the product. I expressed my displeasure on Twitter and I got a “How can I help?” reply that went nowhere.

    This is the “faking of conversation” and it’s actually worse than the stone wall of corporate indifference – at least then we know what we are up against and don’t waste time trying to spark conversations that go nowhere.

    To me, if you are going to reply on Twitter you have to be willing to get into the fray with the person you are conversing with and get to the heart of an argument or resolve a customer service issue. In many cases this takes fortitude and a tolerance for gray areas. No surprise large companies generally do a lousy job on Twitter and mistreat it as a broadcast medium. Perhaps that’s one reason why Twitter can level the playing field a bit. I don’t have the resources of an Intuit or a Home Depot, but if I hear from a customer, I have the freedom to follow that honest back and forth all the way to resolution – and I don’t mind doing it in public in most cases.


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