Customer Service is King

Customer Service is King

In today’s world of social media and 24/7 communication, bad customer service stories get around all too easily and then they spread like wildfire.  I’m not sure enough businesses realize that customer service extends beyond prompt shipping and receipt of intact, as-ordered products.  Good customer service is about the total experience:  from the minute I step into your store (or office, retail front, website, etc.) until I’ve come home with my purchases (or service has been rendered).  The older I get, the less tolerant I am of shoddy customer service.  I really do appreciate being treated like a human being, and it is surprising the effect one bad experience can have on your entire view of a business.

I keep seeing some of the same mistakes made by businesses–both large and small–and here is some advice that would make me, as a customer, feel good about purchasing from you:

  • Transparency is underrated.  If there is a problem, please be upfront about it.  If a code is broken, your Facebook app doesn’t work, or you’ve oversold a product, acknowledge it.  Acknowledge the mistake from the beginning rather than attempting to cover it up.  If there is an ongoing problem, consider regular status updates and spend more time providing real information than promises on when something might be fixed if there really isn’t a solid ETA.  You would be surprised at how far the mere act of acknowledgement will go–especially with big businesses that cannot always react as quickly and fluidly as customers would like.
  • Privacy is extremely important.  Keep customers’ personal identifiable information private–it’s personal, and customers are entrusting you with their data and information for a particular purpose.
  • Blaming customers is never the right path.  Sometimes customers can be wrong, but in reality, going on a public form, whether it’s a person’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. is not making the company look good.  Part of the costs of doing business is dealing with bad customers, sometimes cutting them loose because they become too expensive to keep, but also recognizing that for the few bad customers (like the ones who report missing items that weren’t or always do questionable returns), there are many more that are good and honest.
  • Accept bad reviews with grace.  Not everyone is going to love your product/service/business.  If you truly have a good business and feel like you’re doing all the right things, it will show.  Just because one person has a poor experience with your product/service doesn’t mean it will be true of others.  However, if you start harassing people who give you negative reviews, you might find the backlash is far worse than one bad write-up.   After hearing from readers who posted negative reviews on various retailers’ websites and not having them posted (but their positive reviews went through just fine), I became much, much more jaded about the weight and value of reviews on retailer websites.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize.  Sometimes a forthright, on-time apology is all that is needed or can greatly mollify frustrated customers until something is resolved.  Just don’t abuse it–you can’t keep making the same mistakes and expect an apology to suffice.

We often regale friends and family members with stories of poor customer service, while too often forgetting to recognize incidents of excellent customer service.  We should do both; we should warn others against businesses that practice poor or questionable ethics, fail to address customer concerns and problems adequately and efficiently, and ones that are simply rude or dismissive of customers, but we should remember to give praise to the businesses we love to shop at because of how we feel at the end of the experience.

Feel free to share your tips for excellent customer service or share a story of superior customer service!

What prompted me to write this… 

A recent experience that prompted this post:

This is not a story of the worst customer service I’ve received, but it is an experience that made realize how important it is to leave a customer feeling good if you want them to return.  Recently, I placed an order for two beauty products.  I received shipping confirmation via e-mail for one product, and I assumed the other would follow (perhaps back ordered).  When I received the package, I was curious as to why I hadn’t yet received any word about the second product.  I waited a few more days, and then I called the retailer.  The customer service representative made me feel like liar from the beginning.  Their solution was if I really did not receive the product then I should file a claim with my credit card company (well, bank in my case).  

The retailer made me feel distrusted from the beginning–and I am sure there are certainly those who order and claim lost, stolen, missing products when they were not–but as a customer who honestly received half of their order, I was frustrated.  This nonsense took over a week to resolve, and then I had to spend three hours trying to get through to my bank to file a claim.

I contrasted this experience and overall treatment to one I had a year or two earlier with another retailer.  I had ordered two pairs of shoes, and for whatever reason, the shipper left them at the doorstep (they are not supposed to here), and the box was subsequently stolen.   I called the retailer once I found out, and they immediately shipped out the same two pairs of shoes overnight–no additional charges.  They said they would take it up with the shipper and not to worry.  I left that experience going, “What? Really? Just like that?

This experience happened a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been waffling on whether to write something about it, but after some of the recent debacles (see this, this, and this), I decided to.  I felt distrusted and unappreciated at one retailer, while the other made me feel like I was not only valued but trusted.  This is exactly why I often support local shops, love the farmers’ market, and be willing to pay more for the product/service if I know the customer service benefits will more than make up for it (easy returns, friendly represetnatives, knowledgeable representatives, etc.).