If I Ruled the World…Guide to a Good Relationship

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If you’re a regular AWB reader, you know I have a very low tolerance for poor customer service. I know people have bad days, and off days, and hundreds of customers. I realize the current economy drives many people to sales because it pay the bills. I get that. I’m not speaking to these blessed souls. I also I know I can be a pretty high-maintenance customer, especially when you screw up my order, ignore me, or talk to your friends on your cellphone while I’m standing at your register.

But it isn’t just because I enjoy being a pain-in-the-ass. I reserve that for the jerk in the red half-ton pickup riding my ass on the freeway when I’m already driving 10 mph over the speed limit in one of the middle lanes. (Yes you Bubba, driving on the Gulf Freeway in Houston, I’m talking about you!)

I expect a higher level of customer service because I’ve worked in sales of some kind for many years. In the beginning it was full-time, and later as a second job. Partly because I needed the cash; mostly because I like selling.  The high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass customers, to me, are a challenge.  And nothing makes me feel better than turning a pissed-off customer into a loyal client. Doesn’t matter if she’s spending $1000 or $50.  She’s still important. I simply can’t understand why some sales people treat high-dollar customers better than those who spend more modestly.

Soliciting for Foundations

We donate to university scholarship funds and foundations. Students need scholarships. Education is expensive. And we think we should give back so others can attend college. If it weren’t for scholarships, I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend the universities I did. Because my parents were educators, and our society currently doesn’t see fit to pay them what they are worth. Lose millions and we think you should get a huge bonus.  Prepare children to make those millions, well you should get a second job or get out of teaching.

When we first donated to a particular school, we saw the Development Director once a week at sporting events.  We gave more than most recent alumni because Joe loves football and I love the swag that comes from donating. We got a sweet parking pass for tailgating. We got “Hi Amy! Hi Joe!” and a handshake whenever the guy saw us. Then we moved away. We both lost our jobs. We couldn’t donate that year.  Our school earned a spot at a bowl game close enough for us to drive and we took the family.  I got a press pass so I could shoot the game for our blog, but we paid for the other 3 tickets. We paid for our hotel. We paid for the gas to get there and the food to eat. But we hadn’t given the requisite money to the scholarship foundation that year.

Nothing makes me feel better than turning a high maintenance pain-in-the-ass customer into a loyal client.
Since ours was a Sports’ Fans Blog, we wanted to photograph and interview the fans. As we approached the Alumni Tent to get permission to do so, the guy who had been so nice before stopped us.  He said, “These people paid to get in. You can go in as long as you don’t eat the shrimp.”  Shrimp was a big deal, I guess. Because it was winter everyone who came down from the Great White North didn’t have access to Gulf Coast Shrimp. (Now, thanks to BP, many more won’t.) But he said this in front of our two little kids. We stepped in, took a few pictures and left.  It was pretty clear we weren’t welcome.

Thankfully, we both got jobs again and contacted the school about giving a much larger donation the next year. And, of course, Mr. Foundation’s demeanor changed significantly. He returns phone calls within 24 hours. He answers e-mails quickly. His actions confirm everything we’d assumed about him before. We just have to keep telling ourselves; we’re donating for kids — not this charlatan.

So here’s what sparked my latest rant:

The Wine Guy

Last year I placed an order for wine through a website. I inquired about another wine with a significantly higher posted price. Soon after, I was assigned my own salesperson so I could “get more personal attention.” Well wasn’t that nice. I felt a bit special. I had previously ordered and paid for a special wine not yet available. It was a gift for Joe so delivery date was important. When it was ready to ship The Wine Guy arranged for quick shipping but inadvertently charged me again for the wine. It hit an account that was at its limit, so the shipment was canceled.  I was embarrassed and got pretty upset. I made a couple phone calls; left some rather terse messages and sent some e-mails. The Wine Guy got the wine to me in time, albeit costing me almost as much in shipping as I had paid for the wine. The ordeal made me rethink future purchases.

Last week, The Wine Guy sends me an email about another release. I quickly email back with a request to purchase, but say I need to check with Joe for the quantity. The Wine Guy immediately emails back offering to ship 3-day for the cost of ground, if I order by 3 p.m. the next day.  Based on his offer, I order eight bottles, since Houston summer heat in the 90s tends to spoil most anything shipped ground.  So, I get a confirmation that my order has shipped with a tracking number. Ground. Not air. Six days from California to Houston in 90+ degree heat.

I immediately email The Wine Guy before the shipment goes out. I wait. I send two more e-mails on subsequent days. And I wait.

Four Days.

On the day the shipment should arrive, I finally get a response.

The Wine Guy says he missed my messages because he was celebrating his birthday.  Well that’s one helluva celebration! Did I mention during the interim he sent me ‘sales’ email?

The shipping snafu? He says he forgot that I use a UPS option for shipping, and his offer was for FedEx. So, you see, there is no way he could honor his offer upon which I based my purchase.  Guess what shipping option I use? Wait, here’s a hint.

FedEx.

Guide to a Good Relationship

Here are ten points to make sure you and your employees keep your customers coming back.

1. Answer E-mails Promptly. Pot. Kettle. Black, some of you might say. I’m not the fastest at answering e-mail. Just ask my Husband. Or my Mother. Or my friends. Or Constance. I have four different email accounts, and I get a lot of spam. And I don’t use any of them for sales.

2. Apologize. Joe worked with a woman who knows how to do this. We joke with her that even though it is usually not her fault she says, “Why yes. It is my fault. What can I do to make it right?” It makes the customer feel better.

3. Don’t Make Excuses. Even if you have a perfectly legitimate reason for not answering an email. Or screwing up an order.  Customers do not want excuses. And they shouldn’t get them. Just admitting a mistake often smooths over the mistake.

4. Do Not Blame the Customer. Whatever happened to the old adage, “The Customer is Always Right”? If not for customers or clients, we wouldn’t have sales. If we don’t make sales, we can’t pay salaries. We can’t buy inventory. Our business closes. Even if it is his fault, do not blame the customer.

5. Do What You Say You’re Going to Do. This is the number one way to build or lose trust. With customers, with co-workers, even with kids. If you cannot commit to something, say “I’ll try to …” But if you promise something, deliver.

6. Honor Your Offer. Everyone in sales should be forced to sit through a course in Contract law. If you make an offer and your customer accepts the offer by making a purchase, you cannot revoke it. You misunderstood? You forgot? The sale sign for 25% off is wrong? Then find a way to make it right. If the customer relies on your offer by making a purchase you are bound by it. Pure and Simple. The Wine Guy could have shipped 3-day, charged me for 3-day, and given me a discount to make up the difference.

7. Follow Through. Make sure the sale goes smoothly. Don’t just turn in the order to the fulfillment group and hope all goes well. Especially if the customer has had a previous order snafu.

8. Treat Every Customer with Respect. This doesn’t just apply to sales. We pretend to abhor a caste system while treating others as if one exists. Even if it’s basic human decency, failing to do so can affect your bottom line. That $10 sale today may turn into a $1000 sale tomorrow.

9. See the Complaint as a Gift. A greater number of customers simply stop doing business with the offending entity, rather than registering a complaint. Just read this. And if you don’t believe me, there is plenty of empirical research to back it up. Just read A Complaint as A Gift, by Janelle Barlow, Claus Møller.

10. Be Consistent. Customers tend to buy from places they know will treat them right. Every time. Develop a customer service program and make it part of your operating plan. Good will goes a long, long way in a tough economy.

Not everyone is willing to say “Third Time’s A Charm.” If The Wine Guy had bothered to respond, or explained, I might have told him to go ahead and ship 3-day. Now I worry the wine may spoil along the way. I worry about serving it to our friends. Because a wine blogger who promotes bad wine tends to make people think he is either an idiot or a shill.

Customer Service will affect your bottom line. Don’t let business slip through your fingertips. Even when a customer appears to be a high maintenance pain-in-the-ass. Like Me.

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

*Picture by WineDiverGirl, used with permission. Visit her at California Life: Better Than Happy Hour

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • http://wineconnoisseur101.blogspot.com Constance C

    You are wonderful at answering emails -Don't put yourself down like that ;)

    I'm sorry to hear you had such an unfortunate experience – lucky for him you didn't post the company!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      Actually, I am the one that is terrible about answering emails a lot of the time. My idea of answering is usually to forward them to Amy. :)

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Oh I was talking about the first email you sent that took me about a month to reply to :) I try to get back to you as soon as I can now :)

  • http://www.1winedude.com 1WineDude

    I love true tails of the customers not-so-well-serviced! Keep 'em coming!

    • http://www.1winedude.com 1WineDude

      Whoops – meant tales… and I haven't had anything to drink yet!

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

        Joe, do you really expect us to believe that it is after noon and you aren't drunk yet? :P~

        Btw, I hear we will be seeing you sometime in July. Looking forward to it!

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        I did admit to being a pain-in-the-ass, so the spelling is understandable ;)

  • Karl

    Great column, Amy. I'm saddened to hear of your experience with that certain someone at that northern university. Surest way to keep a small donor small is to treat him as small.

  • Karl

    Great column, Amy. I’m saddened to hear of your experience with that certain someone at that northern university. Surest way to keep a small donor small is to treat him as small.

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