There is a funny post up on Techcrunch by Robin Wauters that every entrepreneur should read and remember. In fact, you should print that post and put it up on the walls of your office. Somewhere in clear sight preferably. Make sure everybody who has anything to do with customers has read it too.
I actually like to do helpdesk work. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to work at a helpdesk fullt-time. But at my first real start-up I answered all the helpdesk questions up until we had more than a million members. I like doing it because it gives me great insights into what customers want. What better way to talk to customers than answering their questions, right?
Well, it might not be that logical to most companies. Most bigger companies consider helping customers a necessary and unavoidable task. They hire cheap employees to answer customer questions and hire expensive market research companies to find out what their customers what. Go figure.
At eBay, in the early days, everyone who worked at the company was forced to spend one day a month answering helpdesk calls. Everybody, up to the CEO, would spend a few hours talking to the end user. I can assure you that if you spend a few hours talking to complaining customers you are going to think twice about implementing an imperfect interface or ignoring a bug. They understood that at eBay.
I remember once receiving an email from a customer who was totally pissed off. He rambled on about how my service was awful, sucked and how I was obviously a moron and an asshole. My first idea was to ignore the whole message or to fight back and tell him how ignorant and stupid he was for directing his anger towards me. What I actually ended up doing was replying the following: “I’m sorry to hear your didn’t enjoy our service. What exactly went wrong? Maybe I can help you”. His reply came within minutes “Sorry for my earlier message. I didn’t know someone would actually read these messages”.
I spent some time emailing with this person who became a loyal fan and even one of the most prolific promoters of our service.
I have always tried to answer support emails as if the person sending the email was a journalist for the New York Times. Even when I was being insulted and cursed at. I simply pretended that they weren’t upset with me but someone else. From now on you can imagine that your email will end up at Techcrunch.
Because one day it just might…