There's a comment I frequently hear among entrepreneurs along the lines of, "I would really have a great business if it wasn't for those pesky customers!"
Virtually every business owner will tell you that having satisfied customers is a blessing, while dissatisfied customers are a curse. As entrepreneurs we have to deal with both.
Since 2009 I've been running a profitable ecommerce storefront dealing with imported physical goods that grosses six figures as a side business.
During that time, I've had thousands of customer interactions specifically garnering more than 4,000 five-star ratings. However, not all of those engagements started out as positive. Given the natural ebb-and-flow of customer feedback, and my first-hand experience, here are four underlying assumptions I rely on that direct every customer engagement.
1. The customer first.
I learned this from a tremendous CEO I reported to early in my corporate career at a telecommunications firm. My tenure at the company predated the ubiquitous adoption of the mobile phone, so the stodgy telco primarily focused on providing landline connectivity with poor customer and quality of service metrics which can be a common occurrence for monopoly-type industries.
This CEO transformed that company's entire culture within months with two words: Customers First.
2. Customers who reach out are angry.
Customers expect great products and services. Very rarely will you receive unsolicited positive customer feedback about the good job you're doing. Every time I receive a customer inquiry, I've conditioned myself to assume the customer has had the worst experience possible and they are ticked off about something.
That mental posture puts me in a position to genuinely want to fix the problem and help them resolve the issue to the best of my ability. It's not the time for me to be defensive. lt doesn't matter if it's a small order or if I think the issue is not that big of a deal. The customer reached out because it's a big deal to them.
3. You must wow angry customers to win them over.
I have a very specific communications flow that I've developed, which works every time with the most cantankerous customers. It hinges on the idea of delivering "wow" to the customer.
My assumption is they are already angry and their initial dissatisfaction has primed them for further frustration. They anticipate they will have to jump through hoops or fight tooth-and-nail to resolve their particular issue. I want to avoid that frustration cascade.
To truly "wow" a customer you must meet their negative expectations head-on with a unexpected response that's completely positive and exceeds their imagined outome. If they want a refund of their full purchase price, refund their shipping expense and give them a $5 credit on their next purchase as well. If they received the incorrect product, let them keep it at no charge so they're not further inconvenienced with return shipping, then re-send the correct product that same day. If they receive a defective product and request a replacement, send them an extra for free.
How can a person stay angry with that kind of a response? Fraud and theft are realities with this approach to business, but that level of shrinkage at am ecommerce storefront doesn't compare with the shoplifting challenges that a brick-and-mortar retailer experiences. I chalk up those modest losses as part of my marketing expense to drive positive word-of-mouth.
4. Both angry customers and happy customers will talk about you.
We live in this hyper-connected age of social media. People never leave home without their smartphones. They are using Snapchat and Instagram daily, as well as posting pictures of desserts on their Facebook feeds. You better assume that customers are ready to share a negative experience regarding your brand.
If that doesn't concern you it should. A report in the McKinsey Quarterly finds that word-of-mouth drives between at least 20 percent and perhaps as much as 50 percent of all purchasing decisions. Given that statistic, striving for superior customer service is an imperative for every business owner. Your customers are going to talk with their friends and family, so give your customers something "wow" to talk about.
There's an ancient proverb that sums up these assumptions, "If I love you more will you love me less." While this proverb might be better suited for a Valentine's Day card than traditional business practices, basing your customer service on that lone principle will help ensure 5-star success.