February 16, 2012, 3:19 PM

Broken hearts vent on Twitter

Twitter was abuzz with complaints about florists, which forced merchants to scramble to respond.

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Complaints about late or missed deliveries by floral retailers flooded Twitter this week, with consumers saying that, in addition to being left without expected gifts for sweethearts, they couldn’t get help from conventional customer service centers. “I hope u know that u ruined my Valentine’s Day,” one female customer tweeted to ProFlowers on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, which was Tuesday.

ProFlowers’ reply, from a customer service rep named Luke: “I apologize for your experience. Please contact us at 888-855-3486 and we will make this right.”

Scores of similar tweets were shared by consumers and teams of customer service reps at 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. and United Online Inc.’s FTD as well as at ProFlowers, which is part of Provide Commerce, a subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corp. The tweets made apparent the importance of social media as an extension of the conventional contact center.

“I was on the phone for over an hour with @ftdflowers yesterday to no avail AND I followed their broken link and sent them an e-mail,” one disgruntled FTD customer tweeted. The reply from FTD, which was unsigned by a customer service rep: “We apologize & we’d like to investigate this for you further. Pls follow to DM your order # & contact info & we will assist you.” (In Twitter shorthand, “DM” stands for “direct message.”)

And for better or worse, the instant and public nature of Twitter hands retailers the double-edged sword of receiving a complaint for all to see—and the opportunity to show the Twitter world how quickly they can reply. Tweeted one 1-800-Flowers customer named Gary at 2:09 p.m. Eastern time yesterday: “I bought flowers, paid for the V-Day GUARANTEED delivery, and she received absolutely nothing. I am furious with you.” The reply from Tene, a 1-800-Flower rep, at 2:11 p.m.: “I’m very sorry. Pls follow/dm w/ ord issue, ord #, ur name, recipient’s name, del date. Thx! We appreciate ur patience-Tene”

Rob Apatoff, president of FTD, said today that FTD is “100% committed to responding” to customers’ concerns whenever the retailer fails to meet to their expectations, such as when some orders are not properly fulfilled on peak days like Valentine’s Day. “Any time we receive an inquiry, whether through our customer service phone line or through Facebook, Twitter or other social media, we work as quickly as possible to respond.” He added that FTD has increased its customer service staff in recent years to accommodate the extra communications that come in through Facebook and Twitter.

A spokeswoman for Provide Commerce said today the retailer will replace any order if any customer or gift recipient is unsatisfied for any reason, adding that Provide maintains a dedicated team of customer service reps to monitor and respond to consumer comments in social media. “Although every order can’t be perfect because we deliver a perishable product, this is what we strive for on each order,” she says.

1-800-Flowers made similar comments in a prepared statement, noting that it actively engages consumers through social media and will redeliver, refund, provide credit toward the next order or offer a comparable exchange if a customer is not completely satisfied with an order.

1-800-Flowers is No. 45 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, FTD is No. 71, and Liberty Interactive, parent company of ProFlowers, is No. 8.

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