The Ugly Side of Customer Service


One Startup. No Secrets. Start at the beginning.


Warning: We’re about to talk trash.

In the spirit of transparency, which is the point of this startup journey blog, this post is going to cover (a select few of) our customers. We love our customers. We really do. But as anyone who has ever dealt with customer service knows, there are always the few who will drive you absolutely crazy. Admitting this goes against the golden rule of customer service: “The Customer is Always Right”. But we hope you’ll forgive our rudeness for just a moment while we expose one of the most important aspects of running a business.

Onward.

If you’re anything like us, your first months in business were smooth sailing customer service-wise. Initially, all our customers knew us, or loosely knew us through friends and family. They had endless tolerance for mistakes, delays, and slow responses. But then our community expanded, and along with it, our customer base.

About a year ago, we dealt with our first customer who seemed to be certifiably insane. It involved a long line of questioning about a foreign object in their honey, a fuzzy laptop selfie, and a long phone call assuring them it was just the pepper that’s in every bottle. A few weeks later, another customer reported us as a fraudulent charge to their credit card company even though their package had been sitting with their doorman for days.

Emails have flown in with personal insults and caps lock tirades, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!” Someone even left a furious voicemail, upset that they had received spicy honey when they clearly ordered "the plain one". “I can’t eat spicy things!” screamed the person calling the phone number for Bees Knees Spicy Honey.

But here’s the thing: this was fantastic news! One of the earliest signs of growth is when you start getting the crazies. It means you’ve moved beyond your circle and into the real, wild, and unpredictable world where anything can happen.

Now we own our mistakes, and there have been plenty of them, but we'll privately admit that 10% of the time the issue at hand is not our fault. Our public policy, however, is that it is our fault 100% of the time. That was a hard pill to swallow at first, but once we started seeing upset customers quickly convert into repeat customers we knew it was the only way to operate.

Best practices for dealing with crazy customers:

  1. Take a deep breath. Curse their ancestors and roll your eyes, sure. But when you’re ready to deal with the issue, start with a deep breath.
  2. Understand the root of the problem. If you have the luxury of dealing with the issue over email, read it at least twice before you respond. If you’re faced with an irate customer over the phone, close your eyes and listen with patience.
  3. Offer two things: a genuine apology and an actionable solution. The first words out of your mouth absolutely must be “I’m sorry”. There’s no getting around this rule.
  4. The quickest way around a problem is fixing it. Offer a clear solution that requires no effort from the customer. If it seems like they want a refund, say it before they do. Tell them a replacement bottle is going in the mail before they think to ask for it. Get ahead of the issue with a resolution.
  5. Every explanation is an excuse. Skip the why and the how of the problem. No one cares and now is not the time for pride.
  6. People are softer on the phone. It’s easier, for customers and businesses alike, to hide behind a computer screen. But resolving an issue over the phone goes a long way towards showing you care. Whenever I get an especially nasty email, my first response is to call them. It’s a no-fail way of getting them back on your team.
  7. Keep the communication door open. Just because the issue has been resolved today doesn’t mean you’ll never hear from them again. Encourage them to keep in touch (I know...but just do it) and welcome every new complaint.
  8. Save all correspondence in a special place. If you’ve followed steps 1-7, you have every right to return to these emails later with your colleagues over beers.

And one last thing.

To the 99%, the generous, kind, patient customers: thank you. We save every sweet email, hang all your letters on the wall, and consistently refer to your praise as the guideposts of this business. Never underestimate how far a kind word can go.

 

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Haven't tried our Sticky Spicy Goodness Yet? Go ahead, order a bottle or two. We're so confident you'll love it that we'll give your money back if you're unhappy for any reason.


3 comments


  • Esteban Quito

    This is an excellent product!


  • Tammy

    The crazies complaining are a sign of your amazing success. I can’t wait to try my new hot sauce!


  • David Reid

    That was AWESOME! Well done. Have been looking for your honey locally for some biscuit order drizzlin’. Keep up the positive , and you definitely have a new fan!


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