Customer Complaints and General Correspondence :
As a serial entrepreneur, I take the customers side in most of their complaints. I have found they are usually right and we have erred by not responding fast enough, blaming them for complexity caused by us, or our product/service is simply not right for them.
The key to good customer service is what you do and how fast you do it. A slick letter will not cover up delay, poor products, or the like. However, a good correspondence strategy linked with your customer service can do wonders.
My first real eye opener happened in the Umbroller stroller company. This straightened out my approach for life.
In that business, US retailers tended to not buy in the holiday season. This meant there was tremendous pressure in January to make up for all of this since babies are born pretty evenly throughout the year.
The result would be total pressure to ship between January and March, and then in early April we could take a breath and get back to normal. It was in April one year I got to the customer complaint desk and found two people working and stacks ofunanswered customer issues.
I talked to the two and asked what we could do to fix the problem and they said it took a long time to write letters. According to them, the letters had to be right. It would probably take 90 days or so to get the pile down a bit because new letters were comingin all the time. I pointed out our customers needed their strollers fixed not our letters. They looked at me sadly as a wayward child and sighed.
It was 30 minutes before their quitting time at 4 PM. I got the supervisor and said when they left bring all the letters to the conference table. Then get our second shift shipper who did UPS and the three of us would get the work done that evening.
Here is your case study. As with painting, 80% is prep work only 20% the painting or doing the letters.
As you can figure too, a stroller operates much like a car: it rolls on wheels (so tires would be an issue); babies sit, drink, and carry on in the seats (so seats would be an issue). Nothing much else since frames rarely have a problem unless hit, bumped, or in our case, run over in a driveway.
So, at 4:15 PM I sat alone at a conference table and began dividing the letters into three piles for wheels, seats, and an all other pile. By about 4:45 I had 1400 letters in the 3piles: 600 in each the wheel and seat categories, and the last 200 in all other. At this point I grabbed the supervisor and UPS shipper to be sure we had enough prepacked replacement kits to fill these orders and we did. Even worse, we had everything theconsumer wanted, our process was just were getting in their way of getting it. I then checked that we had enough stickers I had bought when we were smaller, before the two complaint ladies showed disdain for them, that said, We didn't have time to write,so enclosed what you wanted.
I made sure we had enough COD labels for the shipments requiring these (we did) and then worked on the wheel pile. I divided them into 2 piles: those that should get free ones (our error) and those that should pay for them due to their use (many peopleasked to do so in these letters).
As I was doing this, the supervisor and shipper commented that we would duplicate some orders due to the big pile, I said, Probably triplicate too; but it is our fault so let's get it done fast. At 5:15 PM we had about 300 wheel kits ready to go out COD and 300free.
Our internal UPS guy got to work and processed the orders. By 5:45 PM, we had 300 seat kits ready to go out COD and 300 Free.
At this point, both guys said, You really expect to finish tonight, don't you? Absolutely I did.
They said, These are an awful lot of problems. I said, Not really; 1400 came over 3 months or about 240,000 strollers had been built and shipped during the same period. The 1400 represent only about 0.50 percent! And many are simply seeking replacementparts for well used products, a good thing.
By 6:15 PM I had 80 COD stroller labels and about 80 free stroller stickers set aside. Two hours after starting I had only 40 letters left to answer or respond to that were out of the ordinary. Some were ideas; some were hard to know what to do with. I had a cup of coffee; thought it over and came up with my consumer resolution process for life: I sent them each a free stroller with their letter with the sticker on it. Each of the 1400 packages included the original letter with the sticker. I figured we had taken so darn long they may have forgotten all about us.
Now guess what happened the next morning when our two complaint ladies came to work and saw the clean desk top with no letters?
One asked the supervisor what happened, then stormed into my office and told me what a jerk I was. She quit on the spot. The other walked in and requested reassignment to another department less subject to CEO meddling.
Now guess what happened in the next couple of weeks from the consumers? We got back 25% of the COD shipments because they were duplicates. They went right back into inventory and eloquently demonstrated what a lousy customer service department we had had. We made about $5,000 cash above all the costs of the materials and shipments. We got over 200 letters of thanks! We had made lemonade out of lemons.
We got 10 letters back saying how bloody slow we were. I wrote back they were right and we had reformed by having all letters processed through my office so it wouldn't happen againthat would show them! And 8 of them wrote back, good glad wehelped.
This saga shows why letters, faxes, and emails won't solve any problems unless you have integrated them into an overall plan.
We can help you most by encouraging you to work most diligently on the prep work, your plan, then the implementation will be simple and often fun.
What did I learn?
· Parkinson's law: work tends to expand to fill up the time.
· People forget to have the end in mind, solving the consumer problem.
· Almost every consumer SAID exactly what they wanted and what they would pay, or not pay. Our people just put them aside instead of doing it.
· That we should sell replacement parts.
· We started encouraging our small dealers to carry them. This solved the inevitable return problem people either needed a new replacement stroller or new parts.
· The parts sales made them additional sales instead of costing time on returns and that paperwork.
How big was the actual problem (1400 letters) versus the created problem (the backlog of 1400 letters)?
In 90 business days, we had received 1400 letters or about 16 per day. Half were duplicates or triplicates so we were receiving about 8 original problem letters per day. On those same days we were shipping 3000 new strollers, so this was no big deal.
By creating a replacement part policy through the small dealers and Toys R US, and several mail order firms, within 90 days we had cut the 8 down to 4. I handled those in about 2 minutes each day. Win/win.
We still wrote no letters. We used the stickers. Got the products out. And then got our biggest surprise consumers loved our speed and sent back glowing letters about it.
What does this mean for your business?
In my next companies, I learned that any employee assigned to customer service developed a similar way of resisting and fighting consumer complaints. They resented them. So I have kept the job to myself ever since.
At Simply Magazine, you can find our tech support at simplymagazine.net or simplymedia.com. We have a tech support section built from scratch on customer inquiries. Most of the solutions relate to Windows issues and since our products resideon Windows, we don't take the It ain't my job approach and do the best we can to simplify the complex answers to many Windows system questions. Over time, we realized we should divide the answers into systems and titles which we have done.
We also provide a How to Use button on the more complicated application programs (where you have to do something versus just look at it or print it) such as Simply Money check writing or Greeting Card Publisher. This CD is just point and click, using your default word processor to open all of its documents. Simpler and more foolproof than any program that installs.
Your feedback led us to this solution. We keep changing tech doc wording if people email us that they don't find we have written the answer correctly.
If anyone doesn't find or like the answer, we just give them our email and say write away. No separate departments. Nothing to stand between the consumer and us. We sell about 2 million CDs per month and have reduced tech questions to about 5 per day.This is a tiny fraction of our sales. But even this fraction usually relates to an issue we can improve on. This is our daily report card.
View your customer support/complaints as your daily report card. What can you learn from it? What can you do better?
We virtually always answer inquiries in less than 24 hours. During the day we try to do so within the hour. Speed, speed, speed gets compliments, compliments, compliments.
Complaint issues can be made simpler and responded to more quickly by using your website in conjunction with emails. People believe what they read so this can be both more effective and more efficient for you and your customers.
Tech documents are in clear English not in tech speak. We try to number the answers for easy reference. So here are some sample email answers:
Go to simplymagazine.net, under tech support, under titles, and print out Simply Money. The free Quick Start Guide can be a handy tool to get started, especially with the problem you are having. Also note the complete manual you can download, save on your hard disk, and search as you want (and print any pages you want).
Thanks for writing.
Go to simplymagazine.net, under tech support, under titles, and print out Texas Hold'em. You are having a Windows 3D issue and it is addressed there. If that doesn't work, click on the free upgrade link with your CD installed.
Thanks for writing so we could point you in a better direction.
We are sorry you were disappointed with our CD.
What would you like us to do about it?
Thanks for letting us know.
The simplest solution to many consumer problems is to ask them what they want. In our case, since our CDs cost $1 to $2 each in most cases in the stores and $5 prepaid on the web, we have few actual requests for anything other than a growl or two. Anapology generally resolves that.
If you get a lot of complaints about price and the price/value relationship, this is a clear tip off that your pricing is stretched and undoubtedly limiting your sales. We noticed ourcustomer satisfaction grew rapidly as we reduced our retails. We were always low at $5, but as we went down to $1, people got much more enthusiastic and bought more. A virtuous circle.
How did we find out? Our daily report card.
This area takes work. The effort is worth it. Then do the correspondence. The planning is the key. The writing should be the instrument for your plan. Keep your letters short and to the point.
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