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Handling Customer Service Email Dangers In The New Virtual World

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” – Henry Ford

Recently the internet was filled with a PR companies massive failure and published abusive emails to a customer. The overview is a PR Agent verbally abused a customer asking about a shipment over and over. The customer started cc’ing industry bloggers to help get some answers and the PR Agent then started abusing the Industry Analyst Bloggers who came asking questions also. In short its been a PR disaster for the company with its Amazon ratings and reputation having been killed. On top of that the internet has lit up with memes mocking the PR Agent and product represented. As if it couldnt get any worse, the fired PR Agent continues to speak out focusing attention further on the problems and continuing to drive the story. The Company admits they knew the Agent was “rough around the edges.” Who in their right mind would put someone like that in a Customer Service role?

I wont pile on to it naming names because I think in our new virtual tech world the problem is bigger than just one person. I’ve complained about this many times on my blog (see this). I’ve experienced this disconnect many a time that as this virtual world grows from ‘brick and mortar’ business and face to face time with the customer disappears. One of the major problems I’ve seen is that as in this case and others, tech startups are not taking Customer Service into account or will hire representatives on the ultra cheap. Worst case they’ll hire anyone who can fog a mirror and will work for free. If you are not making Customer Service a top priority, you are playing Russian Roulette with your Company. I’ve heard startups suggest the excuse they were too small and couldnt provide customer service. Customer Service starts on Startup Day 1. It should be ingrained into your employees heads Day 1. It should be in your Mission Statement and Policy Manuals. If you think you cant afford it, talk to the company who ended up in the mess I’m referring to. You have NO business being in business if you do not get this concept.

The customer pays for every job in a business and every employee wage. It should be treated as an honor and a privilege that a customer will trust you with their money and interests. A customer can choose to spend their money anywhere they like. They entrust it with you. The money exchange is a contract. If they are angry or abusive they have that right because they feel you betrayed their trust and interests in some way. Whether you are a secretary, mail clerk or CEO the customer pays your paycheck. If your boss yells at you, do you yell back? Probably not if you want to keep your job. The same is true of the customer, they might be unruly or angry but they truly are YOUR BOSS.

I think one of the new dangers of moving from ‘brick and mortar’ to virtual online business is we no longer meet the customers face to face anymore. Its too easy now to look at an email and not look at the customer as a real person on the other end. Even this PR Agent failure would likely have never spoken to a customer in person in the way that they did on email. In the “old” days when I would go into a business you would see a “Customer is always right” or “Customer #1” sign on the wall. Most all of them had a framed picture of their First Dollar the business ever made. It was to honor the trust that Customer gave them. It always was a sign to the employees that the customer is honored here and most important. If you violated the message of that sign you knew where your job was headed. Maybe more Tech companies need a Customer #1 sign in the lobby?

Many times an abusive customer just wants to be heard and know that the company cares about his/her concerns. They are asking you to re-validate their trust in you and improve relations. Its a sign you need to do a better job. An apology is a notification to the customer that you recognize their concerns, always make an apology. Is the customer always right? In very small cases no, there are some people who are just evil or suffer behavior issues whom you will never please. In those cases give them their money back or refuse to do business with them. Dont hold hostage the clients money and interests like in the case of this internet PR disaster.

In the brick and mortar business days a dissatisfied customer by word of mouth will tell eight to sixteen others. In the internet age, one person can virtually tell millions. As the CEO its up to you to set the tone of your Brand to customer service and its starts the minute you open for business. Its the first and most important thing whether the face of the company is an employee or 3rd party. They can make or break you. If you are an employee, remember who pays your paycheck. Its The Customer.

A Customer
A customer is the most important person in any business
A customer is not dependent upon us. We are dependent upon him.
A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the sole purpose of it.
A customer does us a favor when he comes in. We aren’t doing him a favor by waiting on him.
A customer is an essential part of our business–not an outsider.
A customer is not just money in the cash register. He is a human being with feelings and deserves to be treated with respect.
A customer is a person who comes to us with his needs and his wants. It is our job to fill them.
A customer deserves the most courteous attention we can give him. He is the lifeblood of this and every business. He pays your salary. Without him we would have to close our doors. Don’t ever forget it.

-This is all over the internet but attributed it seems to Sam Walton founder of Wal-Mart.