You don’t have to give poor customer service in order to lose customers, but it certainly helps. A personal customer service saga.
The easiest way to lose your keys is to leave them somewhere. The easiest way to lose your money is at the casino. The easiest way to lose your mind is to attempt to read William Faulkner.
And the easiest way to lose a customer, even a loyal customer, is to provide poor customer service when they have a problem with a product or service you sold them.
My problem arose with a certain software giant who’s been around for some years now. I’ve been using the programs and software as long as I’ve had a computer and as long as my dad has had a computer, which is coming close to 20 years. And after 20 years, I’d become very comfortable with it.
Fast-forward to the beginning of last month. A problem had arisen with the software that I hadn’t experienced before, and I would come to realize that apparently no one had experienced before. Hours and hours of Internet searches through discussion boards, FAQs, support sites and more had led me to believe that maybe it was time to turn to the experts at the company to solve this problem.
Well, I did. At least, I thought I did. Except every support path I found led me right back to the answers I had tried several times before. And I was finding it harder and harder to simply talk with someone about what was happening and how to fix it.
Step 1. Make yourself hard to contact.
There was no way for me to just simply call, email or at the very least to submit a form and wait for a response. In short, I was being given the runaround by a very smart software company. There was no way out from the circle of lost support, except to speak with the (sparsely available) Twitter support account.
Step 2. Make yourself available at odd hours of the week that are completely inconvenient to your customers.
I tried Twitter and dove in describing the problem and what I had done. But I ran into a problem. The odd company support hours made it impossible for me to be at the computer that needed repair during the hours they were available.
The company had made itself available between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday. As a tech company focusing in consumer services, it seemed odd that they would only be available during the times that consumers were working. Because of the hours, I was limited to receiving a response only every 24 hours.
A few days passed where very little was accomplished in the way of fixing my problem. I continued to try the mystical Twitter account suggestions and had to wait 20 hours for another response or for another chance to try something new.
Step 3. Distance yourself from the customer while fixing their problem.
This, of course, went on until we had exhausted the options without fixing the problem. Then, I was passed on to a nameless person I could not contact, with no update of any progress toward the solution, and, of course, still no working software.
I was not notified who was working on it or if there actually was anyone working on it. They didn’t have a solution, so the solution was to break off contact in hopes that I would give up or move on. I was completely in the dark about the problem, and instead of looking for a solution, I was starting to look very closely at their competitor.
To save a little time, I’ll skip ahead: three weeks passed before I heard from them again. We tried a few more fixes that didn’t work, I still had no idea what was going on to fix it, and was getting more and more frustrated every day that my problem felt completely unaddressed.
Step 4. When a customer is not satisfied, be sure to give them a canned-robotic response.
Until I’d had enough and cancelled it. I couldn’t reason spending money on a company that made me feel like I didn’t matter or I didn’t know what I was talking about. After being ignored for too long, I had decided to leave, notified them to stop bothering with it, and was moving on.
That was when I received a “voucher” for three free months. Most people would say, “Great, you get a few free months to use it.” But it was at best an insult to me: I had already paid for several months, even though I couldn’t use the product, and I was given three free months to stick around even though I still couldn’t use the product.
Step 5. Do too little, too late.
Customers can tell when they’re getting too little too late, and when you follow that up by just doing the bare minimum, you’re telling them that they aren’t important enough to have been treated well in the beginning.
The solution isn’t always to just throw money at it in the beginning, but if your customer is waiting a little long for your service to finish something, it’s better to lead strong than to play catch up. It’s a lot more work to change someone’s mind after they’re upset than it is to treat them with respect in the beginning.
They knew I was having problems at the beginning. I had mentioned several times that I was paying for a product that I couldn’t use. But it wasn’t until I threw in the towel, gave up and was walking away that they chased me down with a consolation prize.
Chris Gerber is the associate digital editor of Powersports Business and its sister publication Boating Industry, trade magazines for the powersports and boating industries. He manages the Powersports Business website and compiles and contributes to PSB's twice weekly e-newsletter. Powersports Business is known for its exclusive national dealer surveys and in-depth industry analysis.