October 15, 2006

When you start a company that offers a service for others, it's a hard, hard task. You've got a "baby" that you're releasing to other people for them to use, sometimes abuse and misuse as well. It's hard to set a website design or a blog design out there and let others critique it and complain that it's difficult to navigate and use. Add in that you've put tons and tons of hours and thought and work into it and ever little criticism is at best a frustration and at worst a little stab.

But that's okay. Those of us who do this for a living have to discover a way to develop both a thick skin and a good customer service attitude ... to accept gracefully all the things the various users or customers say and find a way to integrate all that into the beautiful design you thought was perfect or the excellent code you thought was self-explanatory and easy to use. Oh sure, we may rant for a while after receiving the comment - I know it can be dangerous to tender ears to be around me immediately after I get a design criticism I disagree with. But that's just the initial reaction and venting process.

However, particularly when you're working with a bunch of writers with at least some audience ... perhaps an audience of those very people who'll be using your service ... it's imperative to know that sometimes you'll get someone who's simply going to write a review or a post of what they see to be the truth. And how you deal with that eventuality says far more about you and your service than all of the code and design that you've put together.

What draws us to one program or site or blog more than another?

Well, it's subjective. Everyone's brains work differently ... so while I have a traffic exchange that I enjoy ... it might not be the best system for someone else. And I have a great online friend who is quite active in an exchange that I just can't stand anymore. That's okay. That doesn't mean that either exchange is actually "better" than the other one. They each draw different kinds of people to them.

For me, however, one of the things that will turn me off to a particular service - any kind of service - is their "bedside manner," so to speak. Below is an email I recently received from one blog service ... I've deleted the name of the service, because who it is doesn't matter ... I'm discussing customer service attitudes, not the merits of one service over another.

Message from "BLOGAPALOOZA" Blog Service
A recent blog entry by one of our members has started an issue about our service.
One in particular about automated response emails, we would like to clarify that we have no automated response service set up and each email that we receive is replied by ourselves. As for his site not being seen, perhaps he should check his counter properly as we have visual evidence that his site has been seen quite a few times.
While we only assumed that people would use common sense, it seems that for some members this proves difficult, so we would like to inform all our members that if they have any problems with the service provided by "BLOGAPALOOZA" Blog Service, that they would be better off actually emailing us for real, rather than imagining it and then complaining about it on their blog.
Thank you to all the members who contacted us and let us know about this blog entry.

First, a good number of basic bloggers are gonna whine. Look at the titles of so many blogs. Ramblings, Rants, Venting, Angry ... all common words for the title of a blog. And if you're in the business of offering a blog service you should know and understand this or get out of the business (because you have to understand your customer or you're going to fail to some competitor who does understand your customer).

Second, bloggers are going to post about your service on their blog. This is part of why they got a blog to begin with - to write about whatever is on their minds. And, while it's frustrating and potentially quite damaging, it's simply going to happen.

The best advertisement of your service, in my opinion, is your response when this happens. A calm and diplomatic tone tells your users - and potential users - that you take all of this seriously and professionally.

The example above, instead, clearly marks the Blog-High-School-O-Sphere.

You remember? All the in-fighting and crap that you put up with from about 13 or 14 until you left school for the real world or college or trade school?

Does Adobe leave a comment on a blog entry criticizing the latest release of Photoshop and whine that they expected their users to have common sense in using their product? No. You can bet that they've got people who comb the blogs and teh interwebs in general to look for complaints about their product as well as look at other comments and tutorials that their users have published somewhere in this vast landscape of words and images we keep continually expanding upon. I'm sure they comment on many of the things they find ... sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially.

But here's the deal. Companies who do the snarky response better be like T-Shirt Hell ... a service which is already, by definition, snarky. Their products are snarky, their web schtick is snarky. And it works for them. If I write to them and complain about a shirt that fell apart (and this is completely fictional ... I haven't had any such thing happen with their products!!!), I expect a mostly serious response from them. I would also expect to see some of the same writing style in their email as I do on their site. So, I'd expect some snarkiness, but I'd mostly expect a resolution to the issue. Maybe something like:

We're sorry the left sleeve fell off your shirt. You can rest assured that we've beaten Dobbly the t-shirt elf within an inch of his life and increased his days off by one. He cried about it a little, all right, he bawled like the baby that he is, but hey, we're running a business here. His sister-in-law Dumbly-Dora is sending you a new shirt today and making sure that all sleeves will stay attached.

Now, I don't actually expect T-Shirt Hell to make goofy Harry Potter references, but this is one way for them to maintain the attitude they have on the site and still maintain good customer service. This fictional example doesn't blame the t-shirt owner for over-reacting and it should make them happy - both for staying "in-character" of the site itself and for getting a situation resolved.

But this particular email is disturbing for the way that it denigrates one of their customers.

It might be that this particular person is a total thorn in the side for this company. Maybe this is the 978th time the guy has posted bad things about this company and they are sick of him and want him gone.

However, most of the users/customers probably don't know any of this back story. Most users simply see: customer complained; service got very publicly snarky about it.

This is not customer service. This is customer warning to the members that this service may not brook any public complaints at all.

For me, any company (blog site or not) which responds to problems with defensiveness has either some serious insecurities or has something to hide.

This isn't the first time this particular blog service ... this "Blogapalooza" ... has responded to complaints or even simple reviews with a snide response. And at least for me, it gives me no reason for confidence or trust in that service if the first response that goes out publicly to everyone is rude and denigrating.

On the other hand, if the author had taken a little time to craft the email to all users just a bit more, this could have been spun to their advantage. Imagine this instead:

We've seen some blog posts recently suggesting several issues with our site. We'd like to take a moment to assure everyone that we do not, in fact, have an automated emailing system in place. Instead, we prefer to answer each email we receive individually to ensure that each customer issue is personally dealt with. This sometimes takes longer than an automated system, but we feel it's actually more efficient in handling your needs. Please, if you do notice a problem or have an issue with some aspect of our system, please email us to let us know. It might take us a day to get back to you, but we do answer each email personally.
In addition, we understand that it can sometimes be difficult to understand why there is sometimes a difference between how your statistics counter counts visits and how we count page views. (explantion here)

This type of response explains the issues, and doesn't bring in the petty fight started by the customer. This type of response builds confidence in users and customers and assures them that they're in the hands of professionals who care about what they do. And, while "speaking plainly" may seem the fastest and most honest route to go, taking an extra couple of minutes to cool off and phrase things neutrally earns far more trust in your service and is not in any way dishonest or less "real" somehow.

Professionalism ... it's not just for breakfast anymore.

Oh, and another blog talks about a customer service issue which the company attempted to handle well ... and then human error kicked in. Check it out (it's a great laugh): Rain on my Tirade.

Posted by Red Monkey at October 15, 2006 8:59 PM | Blog | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Rev. Qelqoth said:

I used to work in tech support. Had to do some customer service, be nice over the phone when really, I just wanted to bite the heads off of incompetant users. Meh. I hate customer service although I'd love to service them real good in the grease pipe.

October 16, 2006 1:59 PM


Babs said:

I received the same email and was put off by it. But I also saw the blog that wrote the complaint before I saw the email and didn't think their complaint on their blog was that bad. People are going to blow off steam on their blogs. The email just had a feeling like they were calling the blogger "stupid" without coming out and saying that word. I'm glad I only use their free service. I was not impressed with that email at all.

October 17, 2006 7:51 AM


Kelley said:

Yikes, I can't believe they actually sent out that e-mail - holy snark!

I'm inclined to believe that few disputes are ever resolved by being overly defensive - you don't ever win anyone over with that kind of argument, because you're setting it up so that only one of you can "win". It just fuels the fire. I learned that very quickly back when I had a customer service job.

(btw, thanks for the link - that was really flattering!)

October 17, 2006 4:34 PM


imparare said:

Interesting comments.. :D

April 15, 2007 1:28 AM
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