Here's a little tale of loss and redemption from my holiday break. I went to my local theater (which is a national chain that I shall leave nameless) to see "Doubt" (which was great, by the way. Go Meryl!). When I left the theater, I discovered that I had a flat tire. I called AAA. A tow truck guy came out and changed out my flat. We discovered the tire had been slashed. It was a cold, CT night in sub-freezing temperatures.
While waiting for the AAA man for up to an hour, I asked the manager of the theater if I could come back in and wait. He actually had to think about it, before offering a grudging "yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh". After finding out the tire had been slashed, I went back inside and looked up the same manager to tell him what had happened. I didn't expect the theater to take responsibility in any way. This was purely a courtesy on part to alert them to a security issue in their parking lot. The same manager was, at best, indifferent. He didn't say "thank you for letting me know" or "I'm sorry that happened" - nothing!
I was so dismayed by his non-plussed interactions with me that I e-mailed the theater chain's corporate web site and told my tale of woe in great detail.
The following business day, I followed up by calling the theater's local on-site general manager. She asked me if I was the same person who e-mailed the web site and that she was actually about to call me. Surprised, I said "yes" and expressed my surprise she had already read it. She said that actually it was the COO of the company that had read it and then forwarded it to her.
Needless to say, unlike her floor manager, I had her undivided attention and concern. Because someone high up the food chain read my e-mail, a negative customer experience was turned into a positive one.
How many times have you filled out a feedback or comment form on a company web site and never heard a peep back? I've lost count. I've come to assume those feedback e-mails go straight into a blackhole, most likely an e-mail account that is rarely checked and only then to hit delete, delete, delete.
What's the protocol on your company web site. Moral to the story: folks, this is not 1999. It's 2009. Customers are not going to write you a letter of complaint or praise by snail mail. We do cruise your sites looking for e-mail addresses and feedback forms to submit, however.
A quick, attentive responsive is not only required; it needs to be from someone in a position of authority. If a national theater chain can tend to their customer e-mails at management's c-level; then why can't you?
One last tip: post your response protocol on your feedback page. Who reads them and do you guarantee in a response? If so, what's the turnaround time? Once you make that committment, stick to it.