Customer Service: The Reason Why Big Brands Should Be On Social Media

photo credit: the UMF via photopin cc
photo credit: the UMF via photopin cc

For some reason whenever I talk to people from brands about social media it’s all about how to get the right messaging across to the right audience, or how to prove that social media leads to sales. Rarely do I ever meet someone that talks about how social media plays a part of a brand’s customer service.

In my opinion, too many brands are still trying to chase Oreo’s successful “Dunk In The Dark” tweet. Most of them are failing, horribly. Need proof? Check out the Real-Time Marketing Sucks blog, it’s rather entertaining. You know, even with all of the wild success Oreo achieved online with that tweet back in 2013, it still didn’t push me to run out to the store and buy them. I actually think that awareness marketing works better for startups and smaller brands, because the big brands are already well known. And I also think that marketing from big brands doesn’t do much to get people to leave the brands they already like and love. So the area that big brands can really help their cause on social media is customer service.

Very recently I blogged about the experience I had with my son at a Home Depot Kids Workshop at a location near my home. While the idea was great, the execution wasn’t so great. To voice our disappointment and displeasure with the experience I decided to engage the brand on social media, while my wife chose to email the company to explain what happened. While we received responses from both avenues, the messages were entirely different.

After the Saturday workshop was over, I tweeted both the @HomeDepot and @HomeDepot_Care accounts telling them of the failure of the store location to have any kid’s aprons for the children that attended the workshop. I received a response on Monday from @HomeDepot, but not @HomeDepot_Care, asking me to email them my mailing address so that they could send my son an apron. I found it a little funny that the response didn’t come from @HomeDepot_Care because clearly it’s the customer service account for The Home Depot, but I was just happy to receive any response. And I was happy to see that the social team was going to make up for the store’s mistake.

Since the response came to me on Monday, my assumption is that there isn’t anyone monitoring the accounts over the weekend for mentions. Now I don’t know if that’s true for The Home Depot, but in my opinion, whether or not your brand chooses to provide customer service on social media on the weekends should really be determined by the audience. If you run programs over the weekend, chances are people are going to engage with your brand over the weekend. If you’re a retail shop, chances are the activity will be higher over the weekend because that’s when most people have to time to visit your store.

My wife also received a response from the email she sent to customer service, and that response was in the form of a phone call, which I happened to pick up. The rep from customer service told me something entirely different. While he apologized for the store’s failure to provide kids aprons, he told me that I should go back to the store and ask the manager when the next shipment would come in. I didn’t really like this solution and I asked him if he could just send my son an apron instead. He then told me no, and that the total quantity of aprons is allocated to each store at the beginning of the year, and that only the store would be able to give me the apron. And then I told him that I had be conversing with The Home Depot social team and that they asked for my mailing address so they could send me one. When he heard this he didn’t know what to say because he paused, looking for the right response, and then told me that he would look into it and still recommended that I go back to the store and check for myself.

Now I have to say that this is not what I expect from any customer service department. The mistake wasn’t mine, it was theirs. The customer service team was expecting me, the customer, to go the extra mile because of a mistake by them, the brand. That doesn’t fly. The other thing to note here was the huge disconnect between the customer service team and the social team. For a big brand to connect the two seamlessly is a huge challenge. I recognize that and understand it. But it’s something that big brands need to do if they’re going to provide customer service on social media which I think they all should do.

A kids apron, sunglasses, some DIY projects, and a handwritten note for Derek from The Home Depot Social Team.
A kids apron, sunglasses, some DIY projects, and a handwritten note for Derek from The Home Depot Social Team.

In any event, The Home Depot social team came through, apologizing for the confusion with customer service, and sent Derek a package that included an apron and some other things too. All we wanted was the apron so that Derek could have something to bring to future workshops and a place to hang his pin on. The other extra stuff was nice too, and I’m sure it will keep Derek interested in DIY projects. They also included a hand written note saying that they hope Derek enjoyed the goodies and that they hope we will attend the next scheduled workshop. I thought the hand written note was a really nice touch, and personalized the whole customer service experience.

Social media is the outlet that a lot of people use to voice their frustrations and concerns with brands. Using social media as a way to address customer service issues allows brands to keep their existing customer base. While this might not be as sexy or as glamourous as creating the next advertising campaign to go viral, a good social customer service team will ensure that those customers that are already attracted to the brand stay there. I’m not saying that the customer service team should bend backwards to accommodate unrealistic expectations. Each incident needs to be researched and investigated and handled appropriately. There are definitely people out there that are looking to get whatever they can get for free. But if managed correctly, a good customer service social team can easily help build brand advocates. If customer service is being addressed on social and on other avenues, those teams should be synced up and regularly communicate. Mixed signals from two different customer service teams can lead to a frustrating experience for the customer.

In the end, I will most likely try and take Derek to the next scheduled Home Depot Kids Workshop, but we’ll try out a different store location instead. In the meantime, he’s proud and happy to wear the apron he was given. A big thank you to the @HomeDepot social team and Whitney Curtis!

A happy Derek with his Home Depot apron, pin, and project
A happy Derek with his Home Depot apron, pin, and project

An Example Of How Poor Execution Can Ruin A Great Idea

It seems to me that most often the people with the big ideas get the most credit. Come up with a great marketing or advertising campaign and everyone will remember it and you’ll get a pat on the back and be labeled a genius. Come up with some out of the box ideas for your company and you’ll be labeled a “forward thinker” and viewed as a potential leader moving forward. While those things certainly aren’t bad at all, the generation of a brilliant idea alone isn’t enough to be successful. The second part of the process that it vital for an idea to be brilliant and successful is the execution.

There’s always been a debate between Lowe’s and Home Depot. It’s like Pepsi versus Coke, or iOS versus Android. Based on my past shopping experiences and interactions with each brand, I must say that I prefer Lowe’s at the moment. I had one really interesting experience involving both brands a while back, and you can read about it here. Hearing about the Home Depot Kids Workshop from my brother-in-law made me think that I had to change my view about Home Depot. I was told that the kids workshop would be something my son, Derek, would love to try. After putting it off for a couple of months I finally decided to take Derek to Home Depot for the workshop.

Having kids build things like this is a great idea!
Teaching kids to build things like this is a great idea!

The idea of having a kids workshop is a really good one. The way Home Depot sells it is that the kids get to come in and build something from scratch using tools, and upon completion they get a certificate and a pin specific the project they finished. The pin is supposed to be put on an apron that they get when they come to the workshop. The kids get to keep the aprons (they have their names on them), and they wear them each time they come back. The workshops teach kids how to use some basic tools, and the end result is that the kids get to take home a cool thing they’ve made. The workshops also give parents an opportunity to work on a project with their children with materials and open space that they might have readily available at home.

If executed well, the kids come home with a great experience , want to come back, and show off the apron, pin, and certificate to all of their friends, which will encourage their friends to want to come along next time. This would lead to more trips to the location for parents who will have a great feeling about the brand and be inclined to make purchases since they’re already at the store. That’s IF the idea is executed well.

Unfortunately at the Home Depot location that I chose to go to, this was not the case. When I arrived at the location on the date that was posted by Home Depot at the start time, there were no signs pointing me where to go. Another parent and I had to go and ask someone where the kids workshop was being held. When we got to the designated location, there still was no indication of where the workshop was going to be set up, so we had to ask another employee of they knew where it would be. This person had to call back up to the front desk to find out what the plan was, and to his credit he turned out to be pretty helpful considering what we found out next.

What we found out was that the person who was responsible for running the kids workshop at this particular Home Depot location was not in the store that day. In fact, not only was he not in the store and busy doing something else, we were told that he didn’t even know that this workshop was on the schedule. This last bit of information seemed ridiculous as more parents and kids started showing up and the more other employees encouraged us to keep coming on the first Saturday of each month for future workshops.

But that aside, we were there for the workshop and we were going to stay for it. And as I mentioned, the gentleman that was kind enough to call the front desk and help us out did his best to start the workshop. He went and got folding tables for the kids to work on, set up the tools, paint, brushes, and project kits, and then had to go back to his real assignment for the day. Other people from various departments came over to help too, since most of them weren’t familiar with the workshops we were able to overlook their lack of experience in return for genuine help.

Whoever sets up these workshops though should rethink what they’re doing. You cannot expect kids to hammer nails into wooden blocks on a plastic folding table. The tables shake and aren’t strong enough for you to actually get the whole nail into the block of wood. So instead of hammering on the tables, we had to use the floor. Using the floor isn’t a problem, unless the location of the workshop is not in a space solely dedicated to the workshop. Parents and kids were on the floor in the middle of aisles working on the project, in the way of people trying to get back and forth in the store. Also to accommodate the number of kids that show up, more than three tables need to be set up. Parents and kids are literally climbing over each other for things. Having a dedicated space only for the workshop should have been a priority when executing this idea.

Certificate and pin from Home Depot. The pin is supposed to be put on the apron they give each kid.
Certificate and pin from Home Depot. The pin is supposed to be put on the apron they give each child.

Lastly, the biggest misstep was the fact that this Home Depot location did not have aprons for the new kids. And apparently it wasn’t the first time. I overheard another parent comment that the last time they came they weren’t given aprons either. The reason, or excuse, we were given was that the shipment of aprons didn’t come in on time, and when asked if they knew when it would come in the reply was that they didn’t know. I found this to be a pretty lame excuse because it wasn’t like this workshop was randomly scheduled.

My feeling is that the apron is an important part of the kids workshop idea. Not only does it give the kids a place to put their pins and show them off like badges, but it also gives the kids something else to play with when they get home. The apron has a long lasting value than whatever project the kids work on that day, and it’s a great marketing tool as well. It would have been a great conversation starter whenever anyone visits and I’m sure that Derek would have shown it off to his friends. But now we’ll have to wait for next time, if there is a next time. In the meantime the pin and certificate that Derek got sits on a table, trying not to get lost.

So while the idea of having a kids workshop is a good one, poor execution really made the experience not a pleasant one for me. If anything, it made me less confident in Home Depot than I was before. And because of this experience I decided to see if Lowe’s had a similar offering for kids, which they do. Unfortunately for me, the next Lowe’s kids workshop is already fully booked at the locations nearest to my home, probably because theirs is a better experience. Does it make me want to settle for the one back at the Home Depot again next month? Nope. Not at all. I can find something else for Derek and I to do on our own.

UPDATE 10/6/14: Thankfully Home Depot monitors their Twitter account. They responded to my tweet telling them about the aprons not being available and asked me for my mailing address so they can send one to my son. I am thankful for that.

UPDATE 10/7/14: Received a phone call from Home Depot Customer Care telling me that I should go into the store and speak with the manager about the next shipment of aprons. When I asked the representative if they could just ship me the apron they said it was not possible. Then I mentioned to them that the Home Depot Twitter account said they could do that and asked for my mailing address. To which the representative replied that they would look into it and that I should still try and visit the store. Yeah, I don’t think so. Looks like Home Depot’s customer service isn’t lined up with their social team. And I sent a follow up tweet to see if my email was received and have had no response.

UPDATE 10/8/14: The Home Depot social team came through and sent Derek an apron and some other things too, plus a handwritten note hoping that he enjoys the stuff and hopes he’ll be back for the November workshop. This is my second time the Home Depot corporate social team has turned a negative from the store into a positive. Well done Home Depot! Here’s what happened next.

Does Brand Competition Ever Cross The Line?

Crossing the Line
Crossing the Line © Copyright CarbonNYC / David Goehring. Used under licence: CC-BY

If you see any laundry detergent or paper towel commercials, we all know who “the other leading brand” or “other leading brands” are. Some brand commercials don’t even try to hide the name of the competitor that they’re trying to make look bad on the air. While I understand the need for brands to set themselves apart from their competitors, does it ever cross the line?

I recently had an interesting experience shopping for a home backup generator. I had just checked into Lowes using Foursquare and was there to meet up with someone from Lowes to discuss the purchase and installation of a home backup generator. Within 10 minutes of being there, I heard my name announced on the Lowes public announcement system to come down to customer service. When I got there, they handed me the phone and told me that I had a phone call. When I took the phone, I thought it was the representative from Lowes who I was supposed to meet up with, but instead to my surprise it was Home Depot.

The person on the phone asked if I’d be willing to leave Lowes and head down to Home Depot instead. He offered give me 20% off my purchase if I did so. When I told him that the reason why I was at Lowes was because Home Depot could not immediately approve my credit card application he told me that he could take care of that in 20 minutes and to “forget those guys, just come down to Home Depot”. At that moment the Lowes representative that I was scheduled to meet showed up and I politely ended the phone conversation.

At first I wasn’t sure how to react to receiving the phone call from Home Depot. I’m impressed that they monitored my check-in and made an attempt to try and sway me from giving my business to Lowes, but I was turned off by the tone of the phone call. I felt that the tone of the phone call wasn’t so much about providing a good service to me as it was just trying to get me to walk out of Lowes. The whole time I was on the phone I was recalling what Dave Kerpen wrote about in his book, Likeable Social Media. Dave mentioned a time when he was in Las Vegas and was waiting on a long line to check into a hotel. He tweeted the situation and instantly received a tweet back from a competitor of the hotel. But the tweet didn’t ask Dave to leave his current hotel. Instead the tweet said that they hoped the rest of his stay in Las Vegas would be better. They didn’t bash the competition; they listened to the customer and reacted accordingly.

The rep from Home Depot could have done a number of things differently. They could have told me that they hoped I found what I was looking for and that they’d be open to helping me if I didn’t. They could have also told me that after my meeting with the Lowes rep to give them a chance to match any offer I received. But they didn’t. It was just a phone call to try and get me to walk out of Lowes and into the nearest Home Depot. I simply wasn’t going to do that because I also have my own reputation to think about and I was not going to walk out on a meeting that I had personally scheduled.

Personally, I don’t have anything against Home Depot, and I’ll still shop there. But do you think Home Depot crossed the line here? Would you have done the same thing to try and take away my business from Lowes? Should Home Depot have handled this differently, yes or no? And if yes, how so?

** Update 11/15/2012 **
I received an email from Home Depot saying that “it appears to be a third party sales associate’s good intentions to win your business gone too far. Without knowing the name of the individual or the store, we can’t tell exactly what happened, but it’s certainly not our practice to ever call a customer at a competitor’s location. Thanks very much for letting us know about this”. I applaud Home Depot’s follow up on this incident, and from what they say it’s not something they would ever do. The lesson here is that all companies should make sure that everyone needs to be aware of and abide by their social media rules and standards, including any individual franchises that bear their name.