Tag Archives: customer service

The Sale You Didn’t Know You Lost

a roll of money rests on a table

Are you leaving money on the table?

It’s bad enough when you know you lost a sale. At least then you can take whatever steps are necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But what about the sale you didn’t know you lost?

Must your customers jump through hoops before they reach your shopping cart? Do you offer them the payment choices they want instead of just the one that is convenient for you?

Is there a third party vendor standing between you and your customer who is costing you sales?

Consider this story:

I was ready to buy a piece of software for this blog. It is reasonably priced; it works as promised; and I can see lots of uses for it.

I wanted to buy it before the close of 2009, for tax purposes. I went to the developer’s site, credit card in hand, ready to click the buy button.

But PayPal got in the way.

PayPal will only let you pay by credit card if your PayPal account is empty. I was expecting a recurring fee to be charged to my PayPal account the next day, so there was a small balance.

I tried three different times to pay by credit card – but PayPal insisted on using the small amount in my PayPal account and charging the rest to my credit card. For reasons irrelevant to this discussion, I was neither willing to split the charge nor empty the account.

So the sale was lost.

You could say this was through no fault of the product developer – after all, it was PayPal’s policies that got in the way. But all the developer had to do was offer an alternative payment method, such as Google Check Out, to make the sale.

Don’t leave money on the table. Resolve that in 2010, your customers will never leave empty handed when you could have sold them exactly what they wanted.

Don’t Make Your Customers Feel Foolish

The Jokes On Me

The Joke Is On Me

April Fool’s Day (April 1 in the USA) is an internet institution. At no other time of the year are the frat boy roots of computer science thrown into such stark relief.

Dozens of major web sites roll out practical jokes: some clever, some stupid, precious few worth the time or resources devoted to them.

A few of these practical jokes backfire badly by making the customer the butt of the humor. “Ha ha! More fool you – you fell for it!” may work well as a schoolyard bully’s taunt. As a customer relations strategy, it fails miserably.

Before you jump onto a bandwagon, be sure it is not rolling towards a brick wall. Otherwise, you might discover the joke’s on you.

Photo by Mykl Roventine Released under Creative Commons License

To Get A Good Answer, Ask A Good Question

Where's the one who isn't there?

How many lamps are there?

Have you wasted time with tech support, listening to a detailed response to a question you never asked?

Now turn that around.

Have you wasted time on customer service, giving a detailed answer to a customer’s question, only to receive in reply some variation of, “No, I meant my other left”?

Some fields have specialized, technical language that makes it possible for practitioners of the dark arts to communicate effectively with each other – but the jargon can leave the rest of us out in the cold. Other areas use everyday language, but the results are so imprecise that it takes repeated, detailed questioning to get a useful response.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your customer support was right down the middle – precise enough to be immediately actionable but jargon free enough to be instantly understandable?

That may be an impossible dream, but you can inch closer to that goal through practice. Here are five simple steps to get you started

1. Make a list of frequently asked questions

This will help you narrow down the areas where you are not communicating effectively with your clients.

If  one out of every five customers has to ask if you’ll ship two items in the same box at a reduced price, “Hey stupid, that’s in the Terms!” is not the correct response. Especially if the question is answered in your shipping terms.

Is your use of jargon (“We gladly combine shipping”) instead of plain English (“We ship multiple items at a reduced rate”) confusing new customers? Should you reword your policy or description?

2. Have someone unfamiliar with your service read your copy and pay close attention to what they say.

It doesn’t matter if the nuclear scientist on the corner knows that you can’t sell Plutonium on eBay. Most watch buyers are neither physicists nor experts on eBay’s policies. If you are trying to sell me a watch with Mickey Mouse’s dog on the watch face, do not say it is powered by Plutonium, no matter how hard you laugh at your own joke.

Write clearly and accurately. Write to be understood, not to be admired.

3. Switch roles.

If you are selling, read everything you write – description, terms of sale, shipping and handling clauses, everything – as though you are the world’s dumbest customer.

You don’t know what FOB means. You don’t know what USPS means. You don’t know what PayPal is and you don’t know how to find out.

All you know is you want to buy that beautiful suede jacket for $250.00 and you have never bought anything on line before.

That is not a crime. That is a golden opportunity.

If you can ease a customer’s worries and make shopping with you a pleasant and simple transaction, you will create repeat business and customer loyalty.

4. If you can state something in everyday English, do it.

Avoid jargon.

Even if you are selling specialized items, try to describe them in common terms. Sometimes it will be important to use a technical description (for instance, you cannot sell a camera lens without mentioning focal length). But go on to define the term for the average shopper.

Maybe I want to buy a super-expensive camera lens as a gift. You can lose the sale by saying “150 mm, EOS DSLR, bayonet” or you can make the sale by saying, “Great 150 mm tele-photo lens for Canon EOS digital SLR, with standard bayonet mount.”

5. Put all the words in your head on the paper.

Don’t expect anyone to read your mind.

If you want the buyer to do something, say so. “Anyone should have known that” is not a sales policy.


Written communication can be confusing and frustrating, but you can take the sting out of it by consciously using simple sentences with common words. If you want to know whether your answers are helping or further confusing your customers, just turn the situation around. Read the answer, then ask yourself, “What is the question?”

Photo by kevindooley Released under Creative Commons License

How To Answer Customer Questions

What's the background music?

What's the background music?

In a recent teleseminar on Brian Clark and Jon Morrow’s Partnering Profits, Rich Schefren said customers don’t want information – they want advice.

Think about that for a minute.

The internet is full of information. The answer to every question is somewhere on Google, if only you know where to look.

But that’s the problem for most of us – knowing where to look.

We all suffer from information overload. And the results on the first page of Google are not necessarily the answers we seek. How do we know what is true and what is false? What is current and what is outdated? What is safe and what is dangerous?

When clients come to us with a question, they do not want facts – they want guidance.

You are the trusted expert. You have already shifted through the data and tested the results. Listen for the question behind the question. What does your customer need to know? What is the problem that you can solve?

Photo by Petr Urbancik Released underCreative Commons License

How To Make Happy Customers

Come in = let's talk about me

Come in - let's talk about me

Merchants, online or off, suffer from the delusion that customers care about the businesses they patronize.

No, we don’t!

Customers go to a store to buy or to pass the time or because they were walking down the street and a clever window display caught their eye, or, or, or… a hundred personal reasons that have nothing to do with the business owner’s dreams or desires.

Yet businesses persist in using blogs and web sites to talk about themselves.

If you own your own business, you have poured your heart into it. You’ve worked long, lonely hours trying to make everything perfect.

You care deeply about your business.

But ask yourself  – have you ever bought something because a business had been proudly serving the community since 1987? If not, why are you wasting space on your blog, your stationery, your web site, your business cards proclaiming the year of your incorporation?

If you want your business to grow, learn this simple marketing secret:  Stop writing about your business and start writing about your customers.

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What Is Good Service?

spilled soup is not a sign of good service

And don't forget the tip!

Why is Good Customer Service such a hard concept for eBay sellers to grasp?

I have lost count of the times I have heard a seller say, “I offer great customer service … but…”

There is no “but.”

It doesn’t matter if the buyer is a jackass.

It doesn’t matter if the buyer sends rude email, calls you names, and acts like the devil incarnate.

The buyer is in charge because the buyer is the one with the money.

Retailers do not offer refunds, guarantees, quick turn around, or polite replies to rude inquiries because we are saints. We do it because it is good business.

We want to turn shoppers upside down and shake every last cent out of their pockets. Since that is usually illegal, we kill them with kindness instead.

The test of good customer service is not how you act when everything goes right. It is how you act when – through no fault of your own – anything goes wrong.

If you can’t make things right – even if you believe you are blameless, even if you will lose money – then you do not offer good customer service.

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Saying No and Meaning It

Who Are You Calling A Dog?

That sign does not apply to me

Sometimes good customer service means saying, “No.”

We’ve all had clients who demand services we don’t provide – or customers who want products we don’t carry.

The temptation to say, “Yes, I can do that,” “Yes, I can get that,” “Yes, whatever you want,” is strong.

Maybe you can contract out some of the work. Maybe you can rearrange your day. Maybe you can say Yes now and figure out how later.

But what about the clients who you just know will never be happy.

No matter what you offer, they want something else. If you work by the hour, they want a half hour consult. If you charge for phone support, they want unlimited access via email. If you teach Microsoft Office, they expect you to diagnose their WiFi connection problems. If you can recite the whole of Paradise Lost while standing on one leg, they want to see it written out in Sanskrit – in long hand – instead.

These are the clients who will cost you money. Beware of getting entangled.

Only you can set the rules for your business. Don’t allow clients to do it.

Establish firm boundaries as soon as possible – ideally during your first transaction. Then stand firm. Do not let yourself be bullied.

And do not be afraid to say no. Sometimes turning down business is the most profitable thing you can do.

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If We Wanted Your Business We Would Have Asked For It

Customers Are Not Disposable

Customers Are Not Disposable

How many ways are there to tell your customers to take a hike?

I was recently asked to rewrite a customer service letter for a landscape company. Every December and January, this company lays off most of its crew and cuts back its service. Right before the reduced hours begin, it sends a form letter to all clients explaining that although there will be no service for the next three to six weeks, there will be no reduction in the monthly service fee, either.

Every year the same letter goes out, and every year cancellations and angry calls roll in.

Now, by itself, reduced service in the dead of winter is neither unexpected nor intolerable. But the landscaper had managed to craft such an appalling letter that one former client literally held it up, when soliciting new bids, as an example of the type of service they would not accept.

How could a customer service letter go so wrong?

  • They talked about themselves and their needs, instead of the clients’ needs and wishes
  • They treated all customers as unimportant and interchangeable, first by sending a form letter and second by cutting service regardless of circumstances
  • They failed to thank the clients for their business
  • They failed to ask for a chance to continue the service in the coming year
  • They told clients they were paying for nothing
  • They told long-term clients that they were not even worth the time and effort it takes to write a new, one page letter every twelve months

And they did all this in just five paragraphs!

The landscaper missed an opportunity to generate goodwill and build loyalty by rebating a portion of the normal monthly service fee. (There are plenty of ways to recover this two week rebate throughout the year.) They threw away the chance to ask clients what sort of service they’d like in the winter. And they missed an opportunity to upsell additional “winterizing” services by putting the priority on cost cutting measures like lay-offs instead of specialized, targeted, profit generating jobs like storm clean up.

It took public humiliation to make them look twice at their winter letter – and even then they weren’t willing to rethink their business practices.

What sort of message do you send to your customers?

Do you thank them? Do you say how grateful you are for their patronage? Or, between the lines, do you words and deeds betray a belief that customers exist only to be squeezed until every cent has been wrung out of the transaction.

Small actions can have a big impact. Make your impact positive.

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Cutting Costs or Cutting Your Throat?

Are You Hoarding Your Light?

Will Your Business Grow or Flame Out?

Is customer service an expense or an investment?

Consider this story: Cindy Shebley, an eBay PowerSeller, fired one of her product suppliers because of their brain dead customer service.

Cindy was the exclusive sales rep for a specialty product. She would make the sale, then contact the product creator who would ship it to the customer. This is the sort of arrangement many eBayers dream of – the hope to get rich through drop shipping. There are no upfront costs, no risky investments in inventory or storage. No need to do anything but list an item and watch the money roll in.

When it works well, it is a great system.

The problem – as experienced sellers will tell you – is that the seller is at the mercy of the drop shipper. When the drop shipper falls down on the job, it is the seller’s reputation that is bruised.

Yesterday, Cindy sold a product to someone who wanted a tracking number – a pretty standard request. The drop shipper refused!

Try to understand this: a buyer, who placed their money and trust on the line, asked only to know when the item was shipped and when it would be delivered. The product creator wouldn’t spend half a dollar to do it.

Fifty cents was too much to invest in customer service!

Cindy, who has invested much, much more than half a buck in her business, immediately severed her relationship with the drop shipper. (You can read the whole sorry story on Cindy’s blog.) The product creator has now lost her only sales channel and all her revenue until she can find a new partner: a loss of considerably more than 50¢

When you make next year’s budget, are you planning to save money by cutting costs? Or will you make money by increasing profits? Are you suffocating your business by refusing to make the investments it needs to grow?

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What You Say, What I Hear

Listen for the Hidden Message

Listen for the Hidden Message

Are you listening to your customers? Really listening?

Communication is an amazingly complicated transaction. Words, spoken or printed, are just the beginning. Conversations take place in a hidden web of experiences and emotions.

When a customer says, “Why is this so expensive?” they may mean, “Are you trying to rip me off?” Or they may mean, “This must be really high quality – give me a good excuse to buy it.” If you are nervous about your pricing and assume “rip off” is the unspoken message, your defensive reaction could lose the sale.

Maybe a customer says, “Do you have this in a different color?” If you exchange red for pink, without understanding that your introverted shopper wants to fade into the background, you’ve lost the sale.

Advertising has been built around the idea of triggering buried emotional responses that customers don’t even know they have. So it should be no surprise that something as mundane as shopping for office supplies can leave some folks shaking with trepidation while others linger to try out every single pen.

Your marketing materials – everything from your landing page to the throw-ins tucked in next to a packing slip – drift on this sea of emotion. Don’t just listen to the words your customers use – listen for the message behind them. And when your customer responds to your words in an unexpected way, take a moment to check your response.

What you say is not necessarily what I hear.

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