Last night I was at my computer and a Skype chat window opened up with a link in it from a stranger. I clicked the link and was taken to one of those “You would have to be crazy to pass up this business opportunity” sites. You know, the kind with great testimonials and it seems too good to be true possible outcomes. All it takes is a few hours a day and you can be pulling in thousands of dollars! Wow, sounds great. Of course there was no mention of what the business actually is.
Call me paranoid but if an opportunity has to be hidden that makes me suspicious. The sales copy is alluring, the testimonials seem to come from real people just like me, and the financial incentives are extraordinary given how much time they claim is required for success. It’s all just a little too good to be true, and worse still you can’t even judge for yourself because they won’t tell you what the business is unless you sign up for more hyperbole marketing materials.
I sent back a message to the person that sent me the link stating that the message appears an awful lot like SPAM and I prefer it when strangers say hello first on Skype rather then just shoot me a link. The person responded and we ended up having a conversation which was filled with more and more claims of how amazing the system was, how other people were making so much money with it etc. I said I was quite happy with my income and lifestyle and I wasn’t interested. The conversation continued with more and more sales pitching. I was even once accused of being crabby and told I was probably unhappy because of the way I had responded to the original message. The chat had all the ingredients for a flame war which is never very productive so I wished them luck with their enterprise and killed the conversation.
I’ve worked in customer service for quite a few years. I’ve never had significant formal training and usually stuck to my gut instincts, intuition, logic and empathy to guide me through. This technique has served me well and safely negotiated plenty of potentially “heated” moments with angry people.
There are two simple rules that I believe are at the crust of good customer support:
1. Treat the customer as a human being and,
2. Remove your emotions – don’t take anything personally
Online communication can often get very intense quickly because people feel less inhibited due to the lack of face-to-face interaction. People hide safely behind their computers and may never meet the person they are communicating with so they feel safe to rant and rave. Text is also a very poor medium to communicate with. It lacks emotion and is very easily misinterpreted. It’s amazing the emotional reaction people experience or how quickly they can form judgements about other people simply from words on a screen. That’s why flame wars start so easily in chat rooms, on forums and on instant messaging. The normal societal control they place on themselves in the real world is somewhat relaxed online.
Running an online business means that most of the customer support I do is via email. I’ve continued to use my golden rules when dealing with clients and again they has served me well. I rarely do a “hard sell” of my services and prefer to simply answer questions when asked. I look at customers as human beings with needs. This is so important because your business should be about meeting other people’s needs. Your ability to empathise with a customer’s situation means that you can identify their needs and go to work servicing them as best as you can. This is what successful businesses are based on. You don’t make a product and then convince someone they need it, they come to you with a need and then you build the solution.
I recently had a client tell me that they liked my business because I am easy to deal with. All I did to receive this praise was to answer the phone when called, converse as if I was talking to a person and not a potential customer to be converted and respond to emails in a timely manner clearly addressing the questions asked. As a result I now have a customer loyal to my business and unlikely to change to a competitor as long as we keep meeting their needs. This is a competitive advantage created simply by treating a customer as a human.
Some organisations have so much trouble grasping the idea of business run by humans for humans. They are so distracted by conversion rates, sales systems, best practice procedures and the bottom line that they neglect the human condition. Courtesy, respect, honesty, empathy are all traits humans naturally appreciate and gravitate to. Unfortunately this if often forgotten and business relationships can be abusive and toxic.
I believe this is symptomatic of our corporate structure, where profit is chased to the expense of everything else. Treating customers as humans may not always yield the quickest response. Being honest might not always maximise returns. These are not acceptable conditions if there are shareholders to please and profit targets to meet.
Running a business as a human servicing other humans is sustainable and personally gratifying practice. I would rather lose a few customers and perhaps reap a smaller margin knowing that I was honest and respected my client as a human, not a sales figure. This practice also leads to very positive business outcomes. Customer loyalty increases, word of mouth is encouraged and perceptions change so that clients face less resistance when making a choice to purchase in the future. It’s not hard to implement. Communicate with your client as if you are talking to a mate, offer honest answers and be courteous. Don’t involve your emotions, don’t take things personally and know when it’s a good time to stop communicating. These are smart practices for general life and make just as much sense when applied to business.