If you do any kind of business online then the way you communicate to your customers is absolutely crucial.
In a world of the typed word, emotions can be misinterpreted and messages can be misunderstood.
I am going to list my key principles in communicating with customers below but let us consider this mantra first.
(we have all heard it before)
The customer is always right
Do you agree?
If I sell software to my customer and they demand a refund after 7 months because “I was never able to access it” but I can see they downloaded it several times… are they right?
If we twist our mantra just a little bit to “Always make the customer right”, we can give ourselves a better chance of winning this customer over.
Here is my answer to the customer who wants a refund.
“I am sorry that you were unable to access your software and this absolutely should not happen. Unfortunately our policy only allows a refund after XX days but if you did request a refund during that time I will happily honour it.
Otherwise I will be more than happy to help you access the software now and guide you through getting started. Please let me know exactly what happens when you try to access your account and I will get this sorted for you ASAP.”
First, note that I didn’t say anything about the access logs. There is no need to antagonise the customer or show them how smart we are. If needed, I can use this information later.
They key is to make your customer wanted (because they are), make them feel important (because they are) and respect them (because they deserve it).
My Rules for Talking to Customers
1) Always be polite
I follow this rule in life but online it is especially important.
It is easy to skip off a “please” or a “thank you” but if you do then you run the risk of your messages being interpreted the wrong way.
2) Be formal.. or at least be grammatically correct
I like to be mostly formal in all messages to customers. When I do this I find that my words are taken more seriously and I am less likely to receive an emotion driven response.
It shows that you are professional, you take this seriously and you are to be trusted.
Your method might be different and a less formal communication can help your business/marketing in different ways. However, I do urge you to at least be grammatically correct.
It also helps to use a proper greeting and sign off. It shows your recipient that you are taking the time over the message and taking it seriously.
3) They are not as smart as you
This is not an insult; it is (or should be) a fact.
If you are offering a service to your customer then it is expected that you know more than them.
You are the expert in this situation.
They are going to do or say things that seem ridiculous to you.
These “stupid” things are going to be repeated over and over again with your other customers.
My message here is simple but very important; stay calm, stay patient and remember that they don’t have the luxury of being as smart as you in this situation.
4) Don’t get emotionally involved
Especially where support or disputes are involved.
It is bad for your health.
Deal with every problem and dispute in a calm, methodical and efficient way.
If your recipient is completely unreasonable then don’t break character. Keep your messages concise, polite, unemotional and to the point.
“I have been waiting 8 months for you to add this feature and now you are telling me it won’t be in the next version?? What kind of joke operation are you running? Honestly, I have bought more tools than I can remember and this is the ABSOLUTE WORST I have come across. Your last version was utter crap and crashed my PC and if I hadn’t spent the money on your junk then I would have bought (COMPETITOR) a long time ago….. etc. etc.”
What you want to say:
“Your feature idea is absolutely ridiculous and wouldn’t benefit anyone except yourself. We are not here to be your personal developers. The only reason your PC crashed is because of the spyware you caught from porn sites. Go and use (COMPETITOR) instead and don’t come back crying to us when it isn’t as good”
What you should say:
I am really sorry to hear that you are not happy and I want to do everything I can to help you out.
Unfortunately we develop new features based on the popularity from all our other members and your feature request didn’t get enough votes. We completely respect your decision to use (COMPETITOR) if you choose but I would like to help you figure out how to achieve what you want to with our software.
What is it exactly that you would like to do? I will hopefully find a better way for you to do it or look at how your feature request can be modified to benefit everyone.
It might seem easier said than done, but maintaining this level of control will result in far more customers ending up happy.
Try it and you may just sleep better at night.
5) You are not friends
Ok, you might become friends with your customers (I have) but that is a rare exception.
“How are you doing?”, “Did your wife get that job?”, “What about the football last night huh?”.. it seems like harmless chit-chat but it wastes time. It means that you and/or your customer will put off responding because you have somehow created an unwritten chit-chat rule that can’t be broken.
Again this might be part of your marketing strategy and general business attitude.. but be aware that it can also come across as you being sleazy and fake just to get a sale.
6) Make sure your customers know what to expect
Set your stall out early in what your customer should expect in terms of response times.
In a support desk this is crucial. In some companies, 24 to 48 hours is normal. In others you can get under 1 hour responses. Your customers will have no idea what to expect and will get mad easily.
If your selling then remember that your response times at this stage need to be consistent. If your replying to your customer within 20 minutes before they hand over money, don’t drop it to 3 days after (unless they are made aware).
7) Stick to your rules
We need to set rules in how communication is made so that it is handled efficiently.
If your customer somehow finds you on Skype and asks you a simple question, should you respond?
They will do it again next time. Then your Skype will be off, they won’t get a response and they will be mad.
Keep all communication through your official channels so you can optimize it, scale it, outsource it and automate it.
After over 8 years of supporting software and hosting customers, plus over 10 years of general supporting customers in the software industry, I realised (eventually) that communication makes a BIG difference.
Monitor it, change it, tweak it and make it better.
It will make your life easier, it will make you happier in general and it will make you more confident to teach this to others in your business.