In his recent keynote to RailsConf 2010, Gary Vaynerchuk gave a wonderful talk about the power of “thank you”. Something we all intrinsically understand, yet not enough of us practice.
“Say Thank You” was drummed into me from a very early age, my parents always encouraged me to respect those around me, from the lowest socialite I met to the highest janitor I had the pleasure of talking shop with, I always learnt that the opportunity to create a relationship with those around me was something to be cherished and grasped tightly.
After Gary’s Keynote, he asked for questions, I posed the question of what his experience was with big corporates trying to “manage” customer complaints instead of treating them as the true gift of solid gold that they are. Gary mentioned that he has not seen much change, and this makes me sad, but reaffirmed what I already knew from my own experiences.
But some might be wondering what I am referring to. Surely customer complaints are something that should be managed; less complaints equates to better customer service - surely?!
If you are running a business of more than one or two people, and you are not receiving any complaints, I would argue that you are doing something terribly, terribly wrong.
But you might need to broaden your idea of what a complaint is.
A complaint does not have to generate from bad service. A complaint per the dictionary is “a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable”. But there lies the rub. A complaint is a statement, and a statement by definition is something voiced. Your client has to gather the courage to contact you, go to the effort to find an avenue, and say or type “hey, what you just did wasn’t what I was expecting, and that’s not cool”.
“What?” you say. “Courage? Effort? I told my web design team to make sure there is a ‘contact us’ menu item in the footer of every web page on our site”.
Yeah, awesome. You mean that 10pt link right next to the “Terms of Service” which unsimply says “We legally don’t give a shit?”, that rocks, awesome positioning.
How many times have you called a company to complain and been turned away? How many times have you sent an email and been told “The system says… and I can’t change it”? How many times have you picked up the phone to complain, stopped mid dial and just hung up again in the knowing frustration that your voice is going to be cheerily greeted by some autonomous string of 1’s and 0’s for 10 minutes before you get told that the customer service desk is closed and that you can’t leave a message, doofus.
Well, your client is the same. If you don’t make it insanely simple for them to contact you, if you don’t encourage that call; 9 times out of 10, they just won’t do it. Then you my friend have lost an awesome opportunity. Because that single call could make or break your organisation.
Let me give you a personal example. I purchased a service from a domain name hosting company. This company claimed that their system would provide a “comprehensive” tool to edit and update domain names. It cost $12 for the year. I decided to purchase it as an option for one of my domain names. On getting this service, I found that it did nothing like what I expected, it was a simple interface with minimal functionality. After 5 minutes of purchasing the service, I decided that it wasn’t what I needed and immediately sent a very polite email off to their support staff asking to please cancel and refund the $12.
Simple request. I mentioned politely that the advertising had promised an advanced service, and pointed out the features it did not support. I felt very justified in my complaint and believed that shortly there after I would receive an email saying “very sorry sir, we have refunded your card, thank you very much for your custom and we trust we can assist you in the future.”
Instead I received a blunt email saying asking for a refund was outside the terms of service, that the money had already been charged and that if I wanted, I could receive a $12 credit towards other services they offered.
Not only that, but the reply to email address on the support email was a “do-not-reply@company”!
Long story short, I found the support email address, also mentioned their reply address was broken, asserted my right to the refund and spent another 8 emails back and forth trying to get my point across.
All for $12!
I didn’t give a toss about the $12. But this was just wrong.
Finally contacting the head of accounting (O.o), I got my refund of $12 and a somewhat guarded apology. The very next thing I did was move 15 domain names off that company to another, went and spoke to three friends of mine that used them and they are all migrating as well.
All in all, customer service fail.
In an alternate universe the same scenario might have gone a little like this:
“Hi, it seems the service I just bought doesn’t do feature X which your marketing pages say it should do, I would like a refund please”.
“Thank you very much Mr Lindsaar for contacting us about this problem. I have alerted marketing to get this issue resolved and have already passed your details to our accounting department to credit your card, your refund should appear within 3-4 working days. As you took the time to alert us to this problem, I am also pleased to pass on a $10 credit for any other service we can provide you and have already applied this to your account. Thank you for using our company.”
I tell you, if they did that, they would have won me as a customer for life. And being a web application developer, that would be a not insignificant amount of business.
And how much would have that token of gratitude cost them?
That’s right. Nada.
In fact, it would have cost them LESS than it cost to go the other way. Remember, they had to pay that “support” person to sit there writing me those invalidative emails, they had to pay his senior to review each email, they had to pay (I assume) the head of accounting to take the time to read and refund my card.
And they also lost all my future business.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
So what do we have to do to bring about this alternate universe? One where relationships take precedence over the bottom line. Remember, the relationships will generate for you more bottom line than any discount or “loyalty program” will.
Get into communication with your clients.
Call them. Send them an email. Do a random survey. Make sure that every time a customer interacts with your organisation your staff are drilled on finding out if the client has had an unsatisfactory experience with your work. Get to know your clients, establish those relationships.
Because if you establish those relationships, then the client (just like your best friend) won’t be afraid to tell you that your fly is unzipped before you walk out in front of a packed audience and make a total fool of yourself.
And thank YOU for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it.