What Ever Happened to Customer Service?
© 2000, by Harmony Major

Have you ever been fortunate enough to experience this seemingly extinct concept called "customer care?" If so, you're one of the few that has yet to experience true customer service online. More often than not, we get terrible service, discourteous service, or a complete and total lack of service. Sound familiar yet? Have you ever sent questions to a company you were thinking of buying from, but only got half of those questions answered? And, the ones that were answered were only HALF ANSWERED themselves? If so, did you follow through to buy from them? Probably not.

These are all things we need to think about and take VERY seriously as online entrepreneurs. Not only will offering excellent customer care set us apart from the majority, but it will also increase sales and profits when our clientele realizes that we actually DO care about their buying experience, and we actually DO care whether they leave with a quality product or service and with all of their questions answered. So how do we ensure that our customers genuinely feel cared for, and their business valued? Take the following 3 common sense steps to . . .

Stop customer complaints BEFORE they start:

  1. Answer all questions thoroughly and enthusiastically. When someone asks questions about your product or service, they're expressing a STRONG interest in buying what you have to offer. Don't force their spending dollars elsewhere by sending incomplete answers or taking days to respond to their e-mail. And when you do write back, don't make your prospects feel like the response was a chore. After all, if they knew everything you know, they wouldn't need to buy what you're offering! Feel honored to explain the answers to their questions, and make sure they understand. 68% of customers don't follow through on the sale because of a perceived ATTITUDE *or* INDIFFERENCE toward them by the owner, manager, or an employee. [Source Customer Service Institute, Silver Spring, MD] So remember, they CHOSE to do business with you! Realize that decision, and honor them for it.
  2. Take measures to guard against preventable disasters. This one speaks for itself. Things like sticking to established policies comes to mind. An online contract is mutually agreed upon by both the provider and the consumer. Don't jeopardize client relationships by going against contract terms, and don't try to invent conditions later on down the line. If there isn't a written or verbal agreement on something, it's not enforceable. Not only can this type of practice lead to a fat lawsuit, it's just plain unethical! Fewer surprises equals happier customers.
  3. In the event of some inevitable disaster, keep your customers informed! If you run a web hosting service that's experiencing downtime, don't wait until your client *finds out* that their site has been down for a week. Let them know what's been happening, and please, don't make THEM contact YOU. Keep your clients aware of everything your company experiences that may have an affect on them. Not only will they appreciate your taking the time to keep them informed, but your technical support department won't be bogged down with heated calls and e-mails from disgruntled clients that don't have a clue of what's going on! But, although you can take precautions to try to prevent customer complaints, please also remember that some complaints will be unavoidable. Even so, just because they're unavoidable doesn't make them incurable.

Take the following 3 steps to turn more of your disgruntled customers into happy, referral-giving clientele:

  1. Find a way to resolve the complaint fairly ... then stick to your word. In most cases of dissatisfaction, your customer will ask for a refund. However, don't make the common mistake of thinking that refunding their money is the end of the problem. If you do, the customer won't be leaving with any more than they started, except for a disappointing experience with your company ... and that's NOT what you want. So, you might correct the situation AND offer them something of value for their time and trouble. For example, I run a website design service in which I design a client's website how they specify, and also set them up with a product to sell, and the ability to accept online payment. The estimated completion time (without the advantage of express service) is 2-4 weeks. The only refund request I've ever gotten on that service came from a client that was upset that the two week date was fast approaching, and I hadn't begun to start on her site. The client that I was working with prior to her kept introducing new changes and requirements, which meant more work for me AND a longer waiting period for my newest client. When it didn't look like I'd be able to start and finish her website before the two week time estimate, understandably, she requested a refund. It wasn't this new client's fault that her site wouldn't be completed as estimated, so here's what I did. I honored her refund request immediately, AND offered to set up her five page website for free, as originally planned. Was she satisfied with that? You bet! And, did I prevent a dissatisfied customer? Definitely! These are things the kinds of things you have to do to keep your business on its toes. But, when doing something as generous as offering free services to your customer, remember that they'll likely not value the service as much as if they had to pay for it. You could create a website for a client, have them use it a week, and discard it for another site. They may not even use it at all. So, take this into account when coming up with ways to satisfy your disgruntled customer. You'll avoid disappointment in the long run.
  2. Follow up on your customer's complaints to be sure that their needs were properly met. After you take that special action to win your dissatisfied customer over, check back with them after a few weeks. This doesn't have to be anything more than a quick e-mail to see if they need anything else, and to see if the arrangement you made for them has been working out. Not only will this show that you care about your customer's satisfaction, it also shows that the arrangements you made for them were genuine attempts to make them happy. This can also get you more word-of-mouth referrals!
  3. Treat them as your most highly valued customer(s). Winning a customer over after they've decided not to do business with you again is no small feat. So, if you're able to change their mind about it, they deserve extra special treatment! Offer them VIP discounts on future purchases and continue to value their patronage as if it were their very first time shopping with you. I guarantee you -- your courtesy will go a long way! Knowing how to satisfy customers and KEEP them satisfied are both very important parts of excellent customer care. Whether it be before or after someone has done business with you, make sure that it's always a pleasant experience, and give them as much personal attention as you possibly can. If you know how to effectively resolve customer complaints, rebuild credibility with follow up letters and calls, and make the customer feel valued, you'll never be short of business OR profit!



Harmony Major is the author of Yahoo! Secrets, where she reveals how YOU can drive HUNDREDS more visitors to your site each day, by getting a #1 listing on Yahoo. Don't just settle for "getting listed." Use her instantly-effective tactics to boost your site traffic with a TOP Yahoo listing! Visit: <http://YahooSecrets.com>


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