I’m sure you know all about the Helen Thomas story. She’s the White House reporter who made some very dumb comments about the Israelis, unaware or unconcerned that she was being recorded.

Helen Thomas is now history. Gone from her lofty position, exiting in disgrace.

The reason was very simple. Helen Thomas did not keep up with or was not concerned with technology and social media.

I recently had an experience with Home Depot that makes me wonder if they aren’t in the same boat.

Here’s the story – short and sweet.

I bought a bunch of blueberry plants at Home Depot. Within about 2 weeks, one of them was dead and a four more were on the way.

I brought the one plant back to the store, asking to simply exchange it for a live plant. I had a receipt. I had paid for the plants with a Home Depot gift card that I bought with my American Express points.

Even though I had my receipt and the plant and I only wanted an exchange, not a refund, I was told I’d have to give them my drivers license.

What??? Why would anyone give their drivers license in a situation like this? With identity theft so rampant, I’d think smart people would want to protect as much confidential information as possible. So, I refused. And so did they. They refused to make the exchange unless I presented my drivers license.

I left the store and called the Home Depot central customer service phone line. The woman told me that Home Depot only guarantees live plants for three days!


I wrote the CEO of Home Depot, telling him I wanted a refund – and I didn’t want any customer service reps from Home Depot calling me, since that was just a waste of time. (They called me anyway).

As additional plants died, I sent them to the CEO.

Eventually, I received a check for $10, far less than the cost of the now-expired plants.

So what’s the moral of the story?

This was a very simple situation for Home Depot to handle. But, because of some very curious policy – and some people who found it difficult, if not impossible to get past that policy – Home Depot lost a customer (I purchased more blueberry plants from Lowes. All of them are doing fine, thank you.)

Plus, now I’m writing about the experience in this blog.

And maybe worst of all, Home Depot jerks around a guy who knows all about how to get publicity! (Important lesson: you never know who your customer is and what they know how to do).

Bad move on their part? You decide.

So maybe Helen Thomas and Home Depot both seems to be unaware of the power of social media, publicity and customers that are just down right ticked off.

How about you? Do you understand the power of publicity? Of social media? Of the positive and negative effects it can have on you and your business?

Do you scan Google and the social media sites for comments made about you?

Have you set up Google Alerts for your name, the name of your business and any other terms that may be related to you? If you have, as soon as anything is mentioned pertaining to those terms, you’ll get an email notifying you.

Were not in Kansas anymore. What you say, what you do – or don’t say or don’t do – can be spread all around the world in a matter of minutes. And that can have a profound effect on you and your business.

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  1. Raynay Says:

    Good point. Home Depot should have realized that it would be a lot more beneficial to make a customer happy. You had a receipt. Besides 3 days is too short a time to guarantee plants.

    How many thousands of dollars did they lose by not making that right?

    Today, word of mouth – good and bad – can spread very fast. With my clients I’m working with them on social media and reputation management. We do Google Alerts and directory notices of new reviews. It’s better to know what people are saying about your company than not to know. Then you may be able to impact it, or at least improve for the future.

  2. Peter A. Schaible Says:

    Great story, Paul. I love it. I could fill a book with similar stories of gross incompetence experienced in retail stores here where I live on Cape Cod.

    Why does every company have a vice president in charge of “sales prevention?”

    They simply don’t get it, do they?


    — Peter

  3. Bill Marks Says:

    Paul, Wonderful insight, as always, however I was surprised at the outcome and response from Home Depot. Initially and locally, I would have thought that what you received was counter to the training and stated policies of Home Depot.

    I attempt to give second chances or look for other issues which might cause responses which are counter to my expectations in a given situation. I thought, maybe you had encountered an employee or a series of employees who had slept through customer service training or who might have been having that provervial “bad day” and were not on top of their game.

    But when you received the response you did from the Home Depot executive office, after taking the time to provide a written request, I have to wonder the same questions you put forth in your article.

    The original founders of Home Depot and Nordstrom and Starbucks or many other examples, I think, all understood the “lifetime value” of a customer or a client. Somehow this understanding becomes garbled over time, and with complacency or smugness or a host of other detractors, we stumble and fall. The history of this world is strewn with fallen countries, fallen business giants and fallen individuals who forgot or failed to practice those special things upon which their greatness was founded.

    Paul, you are right. In this day and time, with the speed Facebook posts and the exposure of YouTube videos, companies and individuals must constantly strive for the best and be aware of the consequences if they do not.

    Wishing you continued success,


  4. Tom Says:

    Paul, just bought a garden shed at home depot. the garden crew 4 workers stood around as a forklift loaded the truck, then all walked away when it came time to hand load sheet of plywood and concrete blocks. left me an old guy with arthritic ankle and a buddy to shoulder the task without even offering a helping hand. i turned around and they were gone. not a good way to treat a customer

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