Be Transparent When There’s a Problem…

So yesterday, I wrote about how I had a really bad experience getting post-dinner pie from a local pie shop.  The employees were scurrying around and seemed totally oblivious to the fact that Lauren and I hadn’t received pie yet.  It was super frustrating.

Well, I went to the website to email the shop and let them know about my experience and that it would greatly influence our interest in coming back to the shop.

So, the manager wrote back and mentioned that we got there right amidst the shift change.  It’s a process that isn’t a smooth as it should be and is what caused the massive delay while we were waiting in line.  She  said that they even had thought about closing the shop for 30 minutes during the shift change.  Additionally, the delay in us getting our pie was from the fuse blowing because of a new machine that they had in the back.  Their staff needed to attend to the issue right away.

If the folks at the pie shop would have been like, “Hey, we’re changing shifts right now.” or “Hey, we have a problem in the back. One of our new machines just blew a fuse.” We would have totally understood.  They just needed to be transparent about what’s going on.

Problems happen.  When something goes wrong at work, we’ll throw up a blog post or a tweet so that our users know that we recognize the problem and that we’re working to resolve it.    We’re transparent about what’s going on.   We apologize for what’s happened.  We may have to hand out the proverbial slice of free pie but usually we’re able to get things back to where they were with minimal damage to the trust we have between us and our customers.

When there’s a problem (and yes, there’ll be a problem), let folks know about it.  I think the first reaction is that folks will be shocked that you’re not perfect.  I think everyone realizes that problems happen.  Customers will understand.  Just own up to the problem.  Apologize for it.  Learn from it.  Rinse and repeat.  You’ll be better off for it.

Fred Wilson: Customer Service is the Best Way to Do Marketing for Startups

Yesterday, the prolific investor Fred Wilson wrote a really interesting post with marketing advice for startups.   I definitely commend it to your reading.  I think he really knocks it out of the park and has some interesting advice.

In a follow up he mentions…

I totally left out customer service. That is possibly the single best way to do marketing for startups. It allows you to connect to your early users, learn from them, and turn them into advocates for your product or service.

Right on!

Feeling Ignored & Customer Service Failures

So… last night, Lauren and I went out to dinner.  Afterwards, we thought it’d be fun to hit up this cute little pie place down the street and split a slice.   We didn’t have any dessert at the restaurant and we were hankering for something sweet.

We get in the front door and we’re waiting in line to take our order.  And… we just sit in line.  Doesn’t feel like it’s moving at all.  We get up a little bit closer and the guy at the register is changing out the money, which is fine but he doesn’t acknowledge the people in line at all.  He just goes about his business and is totally oblivious to the fact that we’ve been waiting in line for 10 minutes.

We order our slice and are getting excited by the smells of freshly baked pie wafting from the back of the store.   We sit down at the bar by the counter and we wait… and we wait… and we wait some more.

At one point, the woman was like “Oh your slice will be up in just a few minutes.”  They had just popped a bunch of slices in the warmer.  Assumed, they were heating it up for us.

We wait a little bit longer.  We both start getting really annoyed.  Where the H is our pie?   And we get the increasing feeling that they’re completely oblivious to the fact that we were still waiting for pie.

So, I mention it to the guy behind the counter.  He doesn’t seem to do much.  We wait another what seemed like 10 minutes.  Still no pie.  We mention it to someone else behind the counter.   She takes action.  We finally get pie.

By the end of the night, Lauren and I were happy to have gotten pie but annoyed that it took forever and even just more generally unhappy that the folks at the store didn’t seem to care about us at all.

Now, if they would have been packed, I would have been more forgiving but it was mostly empty.

So… what’s the moral of the story?  You always need to be aware of what’s going on.   Are you being perceptive to the situation around you?  Is there someone who you could do a better job of serving?

There are always going to be ways to improve and there are always going to be problems that need to be solved but you don’t want to just let them fester.  You want to address them as quick as possible so the customer know you care.

My experience at the pie shop was a total customer service failure.  What are some customer experience failures that you’ve experienced?

Tracking the Effectiveness of Talking Through Facebook & Twitter

Social media allows for us to extend our ability to connect and form relationships with our community and customers.  We’re able to more effectively talk and share about what’s going on with us, while listening to what’s going on with the people that we care about.

But… how effective has it been talking using channels like Facebook & Twitter?  Are users paying attention?

Unlike an email inbox, in the world of fast paced news feeds, it’s hard to figure out if someone actually took the time to read what it is that you’re saying.   There’s no notion of an open rate, like in email marketing.

Well, I find it easiest to measure the success of my Facebook & Twitter messages when those messages contain an action that I want a user to take.     There needs to be some kind of link that I want to get people to click.

So… whenever I have a link that I want to post to Facebook & Twitter, I first take that link and shorten it using bitly.  I then post it.  From there, I can start to see in real time whether anyone is clicking on my links and engaging with my messages.

From there, I start asking questions.  Why are people clicking links?  Why are they not?  Is it the content?  Is it the time of day?  Is it how I described what I posted?  Is it who posted it?

Then, it’s time to experiment.  Is there a time of day where you can drive the most clicks?  Is there a way you can write your content which drives the most clicks?

I’ve been experimenting a lot at work.  Hope to draw some conclusions and post some results soon.

Going to the dentist and not hating it…

Like most Americans, I really dislike going to the dentist.  Growing up, when I went to the dentist, I always felt like I was getting scolded for not doing something right or enough.  Granted the dentist was probably right but… it’s just that he addressed problems that made me resent his advice rather than follow it.

Additionally… the ladies, who manned the front desk of my childhood dentist, were always super abrasive.  They more so resembled prison guards then someone who was there to be helpful and provide service.

You’d also inevitably have to wait an extra half an hour on top of your scheduled appointment time because they were never running on schedule

So… when I moved to DC, I hesitated getting back in the groove of getting my 6 month checkup.  Well, 4 years passed and I still hadn’t gone.  Lauren encouraged me to check out her dentist, Modern Dentistry in DC and had mentioned that she had really positive experiences.  So, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Well after two appointments, including yesterday’s filling, I have to say that I’m a total convert.  It is possible to have a positive experience going to the dentist.

Yesterday, at Modern Dentistry when I got the front desk for my at 8am appointment, they greeted me by name.  I was offered a bottle of water and I sat in the waiting room for 5 minutes.  I was quickly brought into the room.  I was out the door and with my filling done by 8:35am, which is probably the fastest filling I’ve ever had.  I felt like the NASCAR drivers who had stopped in the pit for a quick oil change and set of new tires.

You could really tell that the doctor and all of his staff really respected me and my time.  I left the office with a smile on my face, albeit a numb smile from the Novocaine.   I’ve already told a handful of folks about my experiences and probably made a few referrals.

So… what’s the moral of the story? Regardless of what business you’re in or whether you’re not in a business at all, customer service is important.  Caring is important.   Thinking about what you do and how it affects the happiness of your constituency is important.

I think this experience also underscores the importance of listening to your customers.  Lauren found out about Modern Dentistry originally from the online  service ZocDoc.  I’m sure if Modern Dentistry had a lot of negative reviews she would have never gone.  And… not only would they have missed out on her business, they would have missed out on mine too because she would have never made the referral to me.

Social media has amplified the voice of the consumer.  If you don’t do right by them… if you don’t leave them with a smile on their face, not only will they not come back but they’ll tell their friends and affect your ability to do business going forward.  Welcome to the new world order.

So… what kind of experiences have you had going to the dentist?  Good ones? What did they do?

The Little Things

Continuing on this thread of customer service… I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes up a positive customer service experience.  Assuming that you actually have a good product, the little things can make a remarkable difference.

What do I mean by the little things?  They’re the things done for you that make you say wow.  It’s where someone goes above and beyond.  Often when someone is so good at doing this, you start taking it for granted.

For example, back in Michigan, the place I got my teeth cleaned would greet me by name, whenever I walked through the front door.  The trick to this was… on my very first visit, they took a Poloroid photo of me and affixed it to the front of my file.  That way, whenever I was coming in that day, my file would be sitting on the front desk and whomever was sitting up front would always know my name.

I’m a big fan of staying at the Kimpton Hotel chain.   One day… I had just gotten back from my first day of doing meetings in San Francisco.   I get into my hotel room and there’s a hand written note from the head maid telling me how much they appreciated me staying there and that I should let them know if there’s anything that I needed.  It was accompanied by a gratis half bottle of wine and some fruit.

Heck, I love it when stores get my birthday and then send me those little cards saying Happy Birthday with a coupon for a discount.

One of the favorite things we do at Clearspring is send personal emails to new customers when they starting using the AddThis sharing platform.  It’s fun when we get the surprised responses back from publishers totally surprised that we’d care enough to send them a note.

Its those little things.  They just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It endears you towards that brand.

As a business owner, yes it takes a little bit more time.  And yes you probably can’t quantify how knowing your customers birthday is going to lead to more products purchased but… it’s going to build an affinity with your customers which has the potential to last a life time.

What are the experiences that you’ve had that have put you head over heels for a company?

Serve or Else

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. – Stephen Covey

I haven’t been in business that long but I feel like I’ve learned what one of the main things is.  You have to serve your customers.  You have to add value and then you have to evolve with your customers so that you continue to add value.

I know it sounds super basic but I think it’s something that gets screwed up… a lot.  We get lost and forget that being in business is a privilege that’s given to us by our customers.  Without them, we all go home.

We get distracted by… how can we make a quicker profit?  We then cut quality.

In some cases, we gain popularity amongst are community of users but then take it for granted.  We see it as an entitlement and not the aforementioned privilege.

Sometimes we forget the main thing because we get distracted by shiny objects… like social media.  We see it as the easy button.  Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr.   All I need is a YouTube Channel.  That’s the answer.  *Sarcasm drips from my lips.*

Don’t start freaking out.  I’m not saying that social media isn’t important.  It’s probably one of the most important technological evolutions of the last decade.  You just have to put it into perspective.

Social media is just another tool, like the knife I use in the kitchen to chop jalapeno.  (They tasted good on my quesadilla last night. Mmmm. Nom Nom.)  Social media breaks down the wall and allows me to have that relationship with my users on a mass scale. It helps me to have that relationship with them in a more effective manner.  I can’t go knock on 100k doors tonight but I can reach 100k people on Twitter pretty easily and then listen to what they have to say.

So keep your eye on the ball.  Remember that there’s another person on the other end of the monitor who’s consuming all the things that you write or put together.   Treat them in the same that you would if they were sitting next you.

Have been thinking about this WAY too much lately.  Will post more soon…