This article was published on May 19, 2010

Loving Your Customers

Loving Your Customers
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000Customers: that is what you are building your company on, right?

Those people who visit your blog, who come to your store, who complain via email and leave comments that don’t make sense. Those are the ones that end up paying your salary so you should love them for it. But sometimes you feel like they are all a bunch of morons. Right? It is okay, you can admit it, nobody is listening. This is just between you and me.

Yes, sometimes your customers can drive you crazy. So here are a few tips to help you deal with them.

1: they complain because they care

They say you shouldn’t feed the trolls? I say: feed them, nurture them, love them and they will turn into your biggest fans. Those trolls that leave comments or send you emails telling you you are full of it? Just cries for attention. Give it to them and they will love you for it.

I once got an email from a customer which basically said “You are %@&% losers and full of &@$% and I wish you would die a horrible death”. My first instinct was to start cursing back but I got a grip of myself and replied “Very sorry to hear that we got you so upset. What went wrong and how can I help you”. His reply: “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know you people were actually reading these emails”. (Think about that for a second. Why would you send an email to someone if you don’t expect them to read it?) I ended up helping that person and they turned into a loyal customer.

2: give more than you should and you will get more than you deserve

At TwitterCounter (where I do a lot of helpdesk work) I often get emails from people who screwed up their HTML while trying to insert our TwitterCounter widget. The easiest thing would be to say “I can’t help you with your homepage, only with our widget” and be done with it. But I don’t. Sometimes I will spend and hour helping some lady fix the background color of her personal blog (with 5 readers a day) although I really wouldn’t have to. The reason I do it is because I know that is the service they hope they get but seldom do. I hope that she will have dinner that evening and will say “this person at TwitterCounter was so supper friendly and helpful today. What a great service”. That is the kind of marketing that money can’t buy.

3: Personal is better than professional

When I was selling my HotSpot business to a large Mobile Operator company they asked us how we had organized our helpdesk. I explained “It is simple: that red phone over there is our helpdesk phone. If it rings we are jump at and race to it and who gets it first wins. In general we get it before the second ring. Then we help people personally and learn from what they have tell us. The developers, sales people and management all take turns answering that phone.”

They smiled and told us that this wasn’t a scalable or professional solution but that they would make sure their official helpdesk company would take over. After that the average waiting time was 12 minutes(!) and if you called you would get someone on the phone whose only solution to whatever problem you had was to restart your computer. If that didn’t help they would forward the call to us. By the time customers reached us they, understandably, had reached the boiling point and our reputation was gone.

You might think that they were right and our solution wasn’t scalable. But even eBay does it the same way. Every person who works at eBay has to answer the helpdesk phone lines at least 1 day a month. Even the CEO does it. Can you imagine calling eBay and getting personal help from their CEO? I’ll bet you that you will tell all your friends about it.

4: different customers have different opinions

It is easy to generalize. If a few customers start asking you stupid questions an make it clear they don’t understand your product it is tempting to start thinking all your customers are stupid and your system doesn’t work. But it could very well be that 99.99% of your customers LOVE your system and couldn’t live without it. It is just that small percentage that doesn’t get it that is always the loudest and most vocal. Don’t take it out on the other customers.

5: every customer is a journalist in disguise

Not every customer is a journalist but you should always imagine they are. If someone complains and criticizes the hard work you have been doing it is so tempting to start screaming back at them. And for at least 5 seconds after you emailed them you will feel very relieved. Just don’t do it.

Always imagine your emails ending up at the front page of the local newspaper. That is how you want to answer your emails. You are not just answering their questions but you are addressing the world. Would you tell the world to piss off? Then don’t say it to any of your customers either, no matter how angry and unfair they treat you.

Lastly remember that everybody is your customer. You website visitor is, your shareholders are your partners are too. Even your family and loved ones are your customers. You will always be selling them something: more time, more money, more patience and more love.

Most of all; you are a customer. Remember how you would want to be treated and treat other people even better. It will be worth it.

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