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The Customer Service Power of a Phone Call

Running even a single website you are bound to run into individuals that are not happy with you for any number of reasons. I am involved in numerous websites, some of which sell products, so inevitably I end up dealing with upset, irate, and even downright rude customers. Dealing properly with these situations is the true test of any customer service provider. While email is very convenient with the very upset customers I have a found a phone call to be much more powerfull.

Recently one of our websites was offering a shipping promotion. The promotion was a fixed dollar discount off any shipping method the customer chose. They could choose ground, 2 day, or overnight shipping and would receive free shipping up to the value of the promotion. They would pay shipping costs over the value of the promotion. The value of the promotion was high enough that many people could go all the way up to overnight shipping and still not pay anything. One customer chose the 2 day shipping as it was the fastest method they could get free, as they were on the other side of the the U.S. from our warehouse. During the checkout process somehow the customer's selection of the 2 day shipping was lost and the order was input into our system as ground. When customer tracked his shipment and found out it was going to take a week and that he had not received the "free 2 day shipping" he expected to receive he became irate. I received an email explaining how we had "bait and switched" him, and that we had never planned on giving him free shipping, that we were a snake oil shop, that he was going to tell all his friends and family and neighbors not to shop at our store, and take out an ad in the local paper about how awful we were. Ok, I made that last one up, but needless to say he was very angry and was intent on telling everyone he could that we were crooked. The first thing I did was put myself in his shoes and could see easily how it would appear to him that we were trying to pull one over by offering this free shipping and then just sending it ground even though he selected 2 day. Here is where the power of a phone call comes in to diffuse the situation. I replied to his email, so there would be a written record, that I was sorry for the mix up and that I would like to offer him something in compensation. After sending it I didn't even give any time for the email to get there and immediatly called him. As I have usually found with irate customers, just the act of getting them on the phone changes their tone entirely. I have not had one irate customer continue the attitude they gave in the email when I get them on the phone. So I proceeded to personally apologize for the mix up with his order and offered to refund his card for the shipping value that he hadn't even paid. I assured him we did indeed intend to offer him the free shipping we had advertised and wanted to make sure he was satisfied with the resolution.

Later that day I received an email from this customer. It was a full 360 from the first one. He thanked me for my phone call, apologized for accusing us of being crooked, and said he was now going to recommend our company to all his friends and family. All this took was a 60 second phone call. No matter how rude or irate a customer is it is the job of the customer service staff to resolve their issues. Building good will towards your company one customer at a time will go farther than you expect.

I just want to throw in here that even though this customer got a resolution to his problem that he was happy with, he could have gotten the same resolution with a friendly, non-accusational email explaining his problem. All he did by sending the irate one was cause him to feel bad for a while and be angry for a while and probably was angry towards the people around him. All of which was uneeded anger spewed into the world. As the customer service person reading the email I could have felt offended and become confrontational myself but as those feelings never get me anywhere I chose not to. My point here is that angry emails rarely lead to any good, and only make you and others feel bad. So it is best when requesting, or providing, customer service to focus on resolving problems and not placing blame or making accusations.

The funny thing about email is that people will say things that they would never say in person. I figured this out early on in my email career after a few regretted emails now do my best to follow a couple simple rules whenever I am requesting or providing customer service.

Don't send an upset email

When you are upset and writing an email. Write it and then don't send it. Leave it be for at least a few hours. Then come back and re-read the email. Pay special attention to items that serve no purpose in accomplishing your goal with the email and may only serve to make the receiver less open to your message. Be firm when needed but never be insultful, accusational, or say anything else that may offend the recipient. Read the email as if you were the recipient and imagine how it would make you feel and what action it would make you want to take. After doing customer service for so long I know that people who are civil, friendly, and articulate in explaining their issues are much more pleasant to help. Make the person receiving the email want to help you.

Always assume the best

People don't trust internet retailers for some reason. I don't know how many times I have been accused of being a snake oil salesman or chop shop after one simple mistake. It doesn't make anyone feel good to be accused of that and will go nowhere in helping you get your problems resolved. Always assume the best out of everyone you communicate with and give them the benefit of the doubt. Your trust and good will may just be the key to getting all your problems resolved quickly.

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Last modified on Friday, 20-Jul-2007 15:06:00 PDT