Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.
I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:
1. "It's our policy."
Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."
The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.
And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:
a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;
b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;
c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.
If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:
A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).
Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.
2. "It was in your contract."
Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.
I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.
Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:
Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.
3. "See our answer here [with link]."
Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]
Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!
This would be better:
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?
@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?
@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/
@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.
@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!
Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.
4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]
Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.
Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.
Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.
The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.
It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.
I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:
A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist
@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again!
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?
@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?
@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.
@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)
@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.
@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.
Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.
So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience). In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.