Great Customer Service: Home Depot, DeWitt, NY

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the tools aisle.

"Actually, chainsaws are in garden."

Crap, that's all the way back where I came in the store. I guess that sort of makes sense, but I was on my feet for 7 hours at work. Eh, I have to walk that in the parking lot to get back to my car anyway. Sigh.

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the garden aisle.

"Let me get you Tom. I don't have a walkie, but we can find someone who does. He's the second smartest guy in the store."

"Why aren't you getting me the smartest?"

"He doesn't know anything about chainsaws."

"OK, second smartest it is."

Tom came over, brought me to the chainsaws, and asked about my project.

Having figured out what I needed, he asked about my price range, and didn't even try to get me to spend an extra $20. He then scanned the chainsaw and discovered it listed zero in stock.

Then he opened a dusty case on the bottom shelf and discovered that zero wasn't quite true. But there appeared to be a lubricant leak in the case.

Tom then obtained a roll of rags, and as he cleaned out the case, he explained about the two-cycle engine, the sort of gas-oil mix I'd need, where to put the lubricant, and he replaced the crushed, leaking lubricant can.

And then he gave me a display-item discount on the saw, which has been cutting perfectly.

Rock on, Home Depot.

Turning around a customer using a Facebook-facetime combo

It was 10:30 on a Tuesday night when I got a notification that someone had posted on our Facebook wall – and he wasn't happy. Rather than respond right away, we discussed our response among management and slept on it, which led to a mildly productive exchange (blacked out boxes are the complainer's name, red boxes are the name of an employee):

The member came into the club a few days later, and I asked if everything had been taken care of, noting that I was the person responding to him on Facebook. He noted that it had, and apologized for the way he reacted.

That was all well and good until he went to work out. When he came back up, he told me the real story: He had a really bad experience at a prior gym and didn't want to get roped into anything. He described that prior experience, and it was definitely not the way any gym should have treated him. He seemed happy.

The next day, here's what came up on our Facebook page:

I think with the initial Facebook follow-up and the phone calls and emails from the membership team, we were able to at least get him into the gym. It was the experience of seeing us face-to-face and talking to us that really clinched the deal, though.

Remember that your customers are people, not just complaints (or kudos). Invite them into your world, and you'll learn a lot from each other.

Winning customers by stretching the rules

For those Syracuseans not in the know, Funk 'N' Waffles is a great little spot on the SU hill. It has a menu of interesting waffle creations (including chicken & waffles, pulled pork waffles, and a new favorite for some of my friends: a stuffing waffle with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce), good coffee, and free wifi.

They are good citizens, opting for local eggs, Dinosaur BarBQue sauces, and other local options when possible.

The only complaint I've ever thought of is that they close at 4:30 on Mondays, which is kind of early.

So, as co-chair of the 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force, I approached the venue about staying open a little later to host a social networking event, which started at 5:30. I arrived a little before 5, and was pleased to see they had something of a walk-in crowd, which meant they weren't bored in that hour between when they typically close and when we were to start.

Then we brought in 16 people – very few of whom had been there before. And almost to a person, they were so impressed with the venue that they said they would not only return, but bring other new people.

If eight of those people do return with two new people each, and then half of those new people do the same, that's a lot of new customers, thanks to being willing to keep the lights on and paying two employees for four extra hours.

That's a minimal investment for a lot of new customers – and let's not forget that so much of small business marketing is helping the non-profits in your area.

Awesome job, Funk 'N' Waffles.

Good Customer Service: Fayetteville Uno

With a gift card in hand, we made our way last night to the Uno Chicago Grill in Fayetteville. As most of you know, I'm not one for chains, typically. With the gift card, the money's already spent, so I don't see any benefit to not using it.

Aside: The going wisdom is that for every dollar spent at a locally owned shop, 73 cents are spent in the community. For every dollar spent at a chain, 43 cents are spent in the community. Over a large population, that's quite a boost to the local economy when the money's spent at local shops.

One thing Uno does that I like is that when he first approaches your table, the server writes his name on a napkin and places it on your table. Brian did so, and then commenced the "I'm Brian, I'll be your server routine."

Brian's first win was having the bartender pour my Sam Adams in the brewery's "Ultimate Beer Glass." He noticed the Boston hat, and commented to the positive.

But he also noticed the gift card sitting on the table, which had to scare him, because people have the bad habit of tipping on the cash they pay, not the full bill. So if we had spent $30 on food and had a $25 gift card, would he be getting a big fat $1 tip?

The other exceptional thing Brian did that I liked was when we had a half dinner salad left (we each ordered an entree and shared a dinner salad), he offered us "boxes" – not assuming we had the same destination, even though we did – and then followed up by asking if we'd prefer just one (which we did).

Another aside: I was once at a local establishment with a female friend having wings and watching a football game. "He thinks we're on a date," I told her. "Why do you say that?" she asked. "Because he's being awfully attentive to me, assuming I'm picking up the bill, and we have fresh glasses when there's still three sips in the ones we're working on while everyone else has to wait. He wants me to impress you with a big tip." She didn't believe me. We moved to a table away from the crowd at the bar when it got busy, and when he brought the bill over, he said, "I knew you just wanted to be alone."

Brian stopped me on the way out the door to talk baseball, too. Big win for the restaurant.

Twitter comes through on customer service – again

One of the things I rarely think about when friends and family members ask me about why they should get on Twitter is customer service. Which is weird, because I tell it to businesses all the time. I mean, yeah, we all know the Comcast Cares stories, but Comcast doesn't service my area so they're kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me.

I wrote &ndash about this time last year, actually – about my experience with the Red Cross. I was receiving a lot of phone calls and a fair bit of mail. I tweeted a complaint, and got a letter in the mail apologizing. I was told the phone calls would stop and the mail would get more targeted.

And they followed through.

I've had plenty of success with GoDaddy's customer service via Twitter.

And so when I tried to use Elance's support ticket service with some frustration, I sent essentially a yo, what's up with this? tweet their way. And it was public, so people could see I was frustrated. I even got an amen.

If you're not familiar with Elance, essentially they act as a conduit for freelancers and customers, facilitating the proposal process, handling mediation and setting project benchmarks. They also verify that payment is available before allowing a job to be posted, and their cut is less than I'd give you if you sent me business.

And bingo, they got back to me within a few hours. Someone took ownership of my issue, got customer service involved, and they gave me the VIP treatment getting my problem solved, throwing in some extras in hopes that I'll stick around (and I will).

So there's that.

Businesses: Be available on Twitter. Usually it's not going to be people's first stop to reach out to you (although they might complain about you there first), but if they're frustrated with you, Twitter gives them an outlet. And you have to give the person/people running your Twitter account access to the tools they need to solve problems. It's not just a one-way deal: don't expect to survive just by selling your products.

Individuals: You may not use Twitter all the time, but here's one more use for it.

Being a customer-service driven business

I'm generally a really easy customer to please. I do most of my own research and by the time I come to you with a purchase, I've already decided what I want, what options I want with it, and I've anticipated your up-sell questions to the point where you won't get stuck with me in your line for extra minutes while I call people to ask their opinions.

To please me, all you really have to do is carry the product you say you carry, successfully process either a cash or credit card transaction, and tell me to have a nice day. It can even be half-hearted if you're not feeling it.

I've had some interesting customer service run-ins lately. We'll go with the bad, the satisfactory and the really good, in that order.

Best Western. I'm headed to a wedding in the middle of nowhere, New York, next weekend. I hopped online and discovered there were hotels in the area. One was full, one looked like a place I'd likely stay out of desperation, and one was a Best Western. So, I made a reservation. Two adults, two nights, enter credit card info, print out reservation number. Right?

I checked my credit card balance the next day to discover some strange balance information. I emailed my bank, who said there's a pending transaction of a dollar amount that I definitely didn't authorize. It was a multiple of what the hotel cost. I contacted the hotel, who had someone get back to me four days later. A hotel manager left a message on my voice mail which said, "Our systems were down and we ended up trying to process the transaction several times."

Several times? Really? Your systems were down and you didn't realize it? You couldn't have just run it through once and waited for the system to come back up? I'm pretty sure this isn't the first time Best Western has seen their authorization go down.

The next day, she left another message which said, "I left you a message yesterday." Meanwhile, I was still waiting for balances on my credit card to clear through – almost two weeks later. I called the hotel and said I'd let them know when I saw the balance clear through.

Well, the balances have sort of cleared through. All the charges are gone, including the initial charge. As in, I haven't been charged. We'll see what that's about when we show up at the front desk on Friday.

Will I go back to Best Western? Maybe. It definitely won't be my first choice, and I'll have to have a good experience to be a repeat customer.

Syracuse BizBuzz. There was a social media for businesses conference in Syracuse recently called BizBuzz. I let the organizers know that I unfortunately wasn't going to be able to make it due to work. About two weeks before the conference, I got an invitation in my email. Then I got one via LinkedIn. Then another one via email. In about a 3-hour span.

I got on Twitter and complained, using the conference hashtag, figuring one of the organizers would see it. The next day, I got another email and another LinkedIn invitation, and I got on Twitter again and noted that I had already complained and was still getting invitations.

Pause for a moment here. Even if I hadn't told the organizers I couldn't make it, five personal invitations in two work days is too much for any event (if you want to flood your Twitter or Facebook stream, fine). In fact, I've reported companies as spam to their Web hosts for less than that.

At that point, I got a message from one of the organizers, which said two things. First, it said I'd be removed from the invitation list. Second, it said I could just delete the emails. Which is true, of course, but frankly (and I told the organizer this), if your conference is about Internet marketing, you really need to use good Internet marketing tactics.

Anyway, I got my wish, which was to not receive any more invitations to the event. We'll call that one satisfactory customer service. I'd give the organizers another chance, and would probably attend a conference of this sort.

SEOQuake Team. SEOQuake Team has a keyword research tool I really like called SEMRush. Go ahead and try that puppy out. Even without signing up for the free one, you can see how this might be useful.

Anyway, the free account gives you 10 queries per day, and if you look at their paid products, the lower-cost one is 10,000 queries per day at about $50 per month. For work I had been using what they called their "lite" product, which is 1,000 queries per day at about $20 per month. I was looking to do that, since the $50 per month package is out of my price range right now.

I emailed them, and within 10 hours they told me they had, in fact, discontinued the lite package. But they let me buy it anyway, and I promised to upgrade to the $50 per month package as soon as it makes sense. And you know what? I will.

Now that is how you make me a repeat customer and get me to refer your business all over the place.

Credit where it’s due: Customer service at the American Red Cross

The summer is a difficult time for the American Red Cross. Not only is there an elevated need for blood – there are more accidents and people are out of the house more – but there's a short supply: the blood drives that take place at high schools and colleges don't occur in the summer, and even regular donors go on vacation, so maybe they give every 12 weeks instead of every eight.

I had a really busy spring, and didn't make it for my eight-week donation, so they started calling me. Daily. Sometimes twice a day, six days a week.

Eventually, I complained via Twitter, just throwing it out there. A couple of people said they had the same problem. And while the Red Cross didn't respond via one of their Twitter accounts, the phone calls stopped.

Then, today, in the mail, I got a letter from Barbara Wheeler, the Manager of Operations for the Regional Telerecruitment Department for the New York-Penn Region. It started like this:

Please accept our sincerest apologies regarding the excessive number of recruitment calls you have received for blood drives in your area. We deeply regret the inconvenience these calls have caused.

The letter goes on to say they've taken me off their recruitment call list, and that they're looking at their system for calling people.

What this means is, not only did they listen to me, they heard me on a medium I wasn't sure they were using and took the time to look me up in their system. After they found me, they drafted a letter, but waited to be sure they had an actual solution in place to send it.

That's some really good customer service. I'm impressed.

Customer service review: When is “sorry” good enough? See also: Obama cabinet

My couch didn't make the trip from the North Side to the East Side. It was exactly the same size as the bottom landing, including the height to the overhang.

We probably shouldn't have successfully got it up those stairs in the first place.

It kind of needed to be replaced anyway; the wood was crumbling and it needed to be re-upholstered.

After looking around for a while, on Saturday I bought a nice, comfy sueded love seat from American Freight. The salesman was polite and helpful, but when he found out I needed delivery, he apologized profusely that they probably wouldn't be able to deliver it that day (which is what I get for going in 3 hours before closing on a weekend).

So we scheduled delivery for Tuesday after 5. The salesman said Tuesday was his birthday and he was taking it off, but he'd mark it on the invoice and put someone in charge of it.

I figured that after 5 is probably a popular time, so I was prepared to wait until 8-8:30, but since the store closed at 8, I decided to call around 7:30 to check in.

The guy who picked up the phone said, "I don't think [salesman] set it up for today," and as I started to say, "it's right on my invoice," he cut me off with, "Crap! It's right there. That's my fault, I'm really sorry. How early can I get it to you tomorrow? I'll put it on the first shipment."

Those of you who know me know that standing me up without notice is one of the worst things you can do. I have a pretty tight schedule, and if I had known there wouldn't be a delivery, I sure as heck would have put something on my calendar and been elsewhere.

I was really – really – unhappy.

So Wednesday morning, I got to work a little early, so that I could be sure the work that needed to be done was done in case they were early, and waited for them to call. I live about a mile and a quarter from work, so we're talking maybe five minutes each way, with 10 minutes for the delivery.

They called me at 11:30, and said it would be between 1 and 3, and that they'd call when they were loading up – which was especially good, since it meant I could take a late lunch and not have to skip out of work.

They called at 2:15, said they'd try to be there around 3; they showed up about 3:20 (not too bad). And rather than the love seat I had bought, they had brought a sofa, so definitely worth the extra 20-minute wait.

Bottom line, though, is that I have a place to sit and stretch out; I'm happy with the quality of the furniture, and I'm happy with the price I paid. I'm not entirely happy with the transfer from warehouse to delivery, but in the end, it didn't put me out that long.

That's not great customer service, but it's not bad. I wouldn't be doing business with them if they weren't human beings, and unfortunately, humans make mistakes sometimes. It's the willingness to own up to those mistakes and correct them that makes the better humans stand out.

As long as you don't let the mistakes snowball, it's all good. You can always correct mistakes, but if you have to do it often, you're not doing your customers right.

We're seeing that with President Barack Obama's cabinet choices. Eric Holder was confirmed, despite questionable decisions during the Clinton administration. Tim Geithner was also confirmed, despite a $34,000 tax mistake. He admitted the error and worked to correct it.

But Tom Daschle – who had a bigger tax mistake, though he is working to correct it – withdrew his name from consideration. And the mistakes snowballed enough that Nancy Killefer, withdrew her name from cabinet consideration for a $950 error.

So, American Freight doesn't get a recommendation with flying colors. I liked the product and the price, and the service wasn't entirely lacking. But I'd give them another shot. But the next time, a minor service problem looks a whole lot bigger.