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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Customers for Life

A couple days ago I had the displeasure of calling a major communications company about a small problem I had. After wading through a phone tree, holding, dialling in my inside leg measurement, being told that my call was extremely important to them, waiting, and finally speaking to an operator who needed my inside leg measurement again, misheard, misunderstood and finally summarily dispatched with I felt a little like this:



I hate having to call companies on the phone. I hate having to email them. I get a sense of foreboding every time my mouse hovers of a 'Contact Us' link when I can feel the next hour of my life being wasted dealing with overburdened underpaid staff who often fail to understand my problem.

When I started a company I didn't want to put other people in this type of position and, out of my own frustration with the status quo of customer service gradually ended up at a few good rules.
  1. Make my cellphone number available online
  2. Stop what I'm doing to answer emails promptly, if possible
  3. Keep up to date with my message forums, and reply
  4. Reply to my uninstallation survey comments if appropriate
  5. Help people with their problems, regardless
  6. Don't get hung up about money or who bought what
These are pretty simple rules and from what I've heard from my customers there are not a lot of other companies out there that do the same. Now I've seen on message forums many people bemoaning the fact that they have to deal with their customers, and some software developers plainly profess to having hundreds of unanswered support requests in their inbox; I'm glad that I didn't purchase their software!

The software industry is rather unique in that the actual product, assuming that you're selling over the web, costs nothing. This might be a bit hard to swallow for your midnight-oil burning developer. "What do you mean nothing, do you know how many hours I put in building it?"

It still costs nothing. Think of it this way, if your sales doubled tomorrow the actual cost to your business to produce twice the material goods to be sold would not double. The cost is in the upfront work.

So when someone is buying a product from you, what exactly are they buying? Well if they buy from Iconico I'd like to think that they're getting a bit more than just a digital download, and that's why I go out of my way to try and help people when they contact me.

I have some free software on my site, and if people call up about it I treat them just the same as if they had purchased one of our larger software titles. I routinely recommend competitors products if I think it will help, after all I don't want to give the hard sell and then have a customer turn around and be annoyed that it won't do the job. I've gone off on tangents and helped one lady find therapy for her back pain as she happened to mention it in passing.

So why do this? Why waste my time/money on non-billable work. Because by following these rules you, from time to time, will get customers for life. People who see what you're doing, trust you, and wish that the rest of the world ran the same way that you ran your business. These people remember you, tell other people, and I think that creates more impact than spending the same money on an advertising campaign.

This is an actual email thread from a few days back.


Nico,

You, You, You...Your Good!...
Thank you,
Please, send me the serial for the "Screen Tracing Tool"..!
Customer for ever...!

James
>
>
>
> James,
>
> Not a problem. Probably the easiest is if I send you the serial number
> for the application you want. Let me know which one.
>
> Nico Westerdale
>
>
>
> Hello Nico,
>
> I made a mistake in my order yesterday, and would like to if possible
> get credit for "Data Extractor", a program, that's not going to work
> for me. I should have look closer, I really can't get into the
> javascript, right now.
> I know the program will just waste away on my computer. So, if you
> would help me get credit for another program instead, I would be
> much obliged!...
>
> Thank you
> James

7 comments:

Ellen said...
I couldn't agree more. We do our best to provide outstanding customer service, for exactly the same reason - I'm too frustrated with companies that don't. The big companies are appalling. I try hard to do business with the companies with reasonable service, even if it means I pay more for internet, PCs or plane tickets. Voting with our wallets is the only way we have a hope of improving things.
Jason Thane said...
Excellent post. It's simply amazing that the support strategy of many companies - typically large companies - often includes delaying the response to a customer's request in the hopes that it will just "go away". As advertising products becomes less and less effective, word-of-mouth recommendation is more and more important, and there's no way that someone who's received a poor support experience is going to pass on a good recommendation. Kudos on the enlightened perspective.
Nico Westerdale said...
Hey Jason, it's been a while, good to hear from you!

I'd love to see a study about how much money it costs to have poor customer service. I'd imagine it would be a hard job to track that type of thing though.
Jason Thane said...
Facebook kindly informed me of your blog. :)

I do all the customer support for Bankarama, and although I have yet to give out my cell phone number, I try to answer all emails as quickly as possible. I have had good results following your philosophy fairly closely (although I really need to catch up on my forum posts) ;)
Nico Westerdale said...
Cool didn't even know i linked it on Facebook.

I'd have thought with Bankarama you'd have some snazzy in built txt help? Looks like a neat app, if I have a phone that wasn't from the Iron age I'd give it a go.
Robert Smith said...
Also a BIG fan of you, Nico! I've had several dealings with you in the past couple of months and you have NEVER failed to answer promptly and courteously!

And the tools, well, that's another comment that would be too long for this blog! :)
Nico Westerdale said...
Thanks Robert, nice to have someone confirm that we're not just hot air!

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