I have an apology to make to:

  • my cell phone provider
  • my cable and Internet company
  • the courier company that comes to my door every month
  • a major department store
  • the pizza joint
  • and the list goes on.

But let me back up a moment.

A Brief History of Customer Complaints

Prior to the web, if a company did something to earn your ire, you might be likely to tell a few people, stew to yourself, and perhaps fire off a letter to their head office. In some cases, you’d get a form letter back that read something along the lines of:

Dear valued customer, Thank you for your question and/or concern. We value all feedback. Thank you for reading formletter497.doc. Sincerely…

After web sites but before social media, the quality of corporate responses to consumer comments actually declined. Under the guise of routing your email to the appropriate department, you’d be asked to fill out a lengthy form, after which you would usually hear nothing. Your “valued feedback” would go into a black hole. By way of illustration, at the time of this writing, clicking on the Continue button (to get their “priority email form”) at Air Canada’s customer support centre gives you a File Not Found error message.

So when social media sites came along, and yelling at a company meant that at least others would hear, I suspect many people thought the deluge of other people’s complaints would all but drown out their own. So they yelled louder. They took to Twitter and Facebook in the hopes that their loud shouting somehow got heard among the clatter.

Which brings me to Sears.

Two months ago, I ordered a vacuum cleaner from Sears. They told me to be home on a specific date for it to arrive. They even confirmed the date by phone a couple of days before. (Can you see where this is going?) The box did not arrive. Nor did it arrive the next day. Nor the next. It was only when I learned they ship through UPS (a quagmire in its own right) and not only didn’t bother to get a tracking number from UPS, they also didn’t put my buzzer code on the box (which is why, it turns out, UPS couldn’t deliver it).

So, I took to Twitter and yelled. (Charitably, Twitter’s search isn’t very good, so I can’t find that, uh, series of tweets.)

And then, to my astonishment, both UPS and Sears reached out to me via Twitter and email. Within a couple of days, I had my package and a $60 gift card from Sears for the trouble.

Oh. Thanks.

And, uh, sorry about the yelling.

Turns out, maybe companies are getting better at service after all.

Then I thought back to the other nastygrams I’ve fired off over Twitter to companies.

  • My cable and Internet provider — for a CSR snapping at me to “chill out”
    Result: A response within minutes, an email apology from the CSR within a couple of hours, and a handful of free channels
  • My cell phone company — for “incorrectly” dinging me for text messages
    Result: A Twitter DM and phone call within a day reminding me that I hadn’t bought the right package but offering it to me anyway

As it turns out, most big companies are getting pretty good at responding quickly and fairly. Compared to the pre-Twitter age, where your email would generate a form letter response — if you were lucky — I would say, more than fairly.

In 2012, I think I’ll be a little more gentle on the people behind the Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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