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non-customers never say thank you
Why bother helping
Marshall




msg:4403090
 4:41 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

The one e-commerce site I manage receives a lot of emails, contact us forms, and phone calls regarding products. It never fails that when this client receives a complaint, it has nothing to do with them. in fact, to my knowledge, in 12 years of business, this client itself never received a complaint.

Earlier, an email was received stating "I bought your product,..." and the individual went on to complain about it. The response was simply "we do not sell that product, please contact the seller or manufacturer." Of course, you never hear a "thank you for your help."

The other time is when people cannot find a product and email asking "do you have..." or "do you know where I can get..." My client always does her best to locate the product and inform the person where he/she can get it. You would think good p.r. However, based on all the emails I have seen, less than 1% actually write back and thank her for her help. And, to my knowledge, these people do not shop on her site in the future despite the fact she has demonstrated great customer service.

On the other hand, when she helps a paying customer, over 99% write and say thank you and return to shop again.

Bottom line question: Is it really worth taking the time to help people who are not customers? I believe it is important to respond to people who complain, especially when they are in error as to whom they bought the product from, but all of this is time consuming and it seems to me the return on the investment is not worth more than some boilerplate response.

Marshall

 

Planet13




msg:4403104
 6:56 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

How expensive are the products that the client sells? Are they pretty pricy?

It might be a good idea to put the names and emails of the people who contact them down in the calendar and follow up with them a week later and ask;

"Hi Joe, you wrote / phoned us a while back and I was wondering if you ever fond the web site of the widget dealer you were looking for? I really hope so.

Anyway, just wanted to check in because we got some really nice new widgets in stock and that totally reminded me of your email / phone call last week. You can see the new widgets we got by clicking here...

BTW: We pride ourselves on our customer service, and if you think we were helpful in you finding the website you were looking for, we hope you will Like our FaceBook page here..."


Anyway, it's just a thought about how you MIGHT be able to turn a contact into a marketing opportunity as well. I don't know if it is going to be efficient though; you could have most of it boilerplate, I guess.

dpd1




msg:4403116
 7:48 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've noticed over the last 5 years or so, that people in general have become increasingly lazy and rude on the internet. It's a completely different world than it was just 10-15 years ago. I'm always sending stuff to friends that I know they're into... Many don't reply or say thanks, the majority of the time now. I've just sort of gotten to the point where I'm like... OK, you know what... I'm not going to just keep sending you cool stuff like an idiot if you're never going to answer. So I stopped with a lot of them.

I get tons of customer questions. Some of them buy, many don't... nor do they reply or say thanks. Unfortunately, I don't think you have much of a choice, other than to respond, because you never know which way they will turn out. I get annoyed as much as anybody, but I think it's a bad idea to start getting emotional about it.

Then on the other hand... Yeah, if somebody starts the never ending parade of questions, and they obviously aren't going to buy anything... Then maybe cut them off. But still, that is risky... because you never know what they're going to tell other people. One place I do draw the line is when somebody asks me to recommend somebody else who sells what I sell. That one is always a head scratcher... 'OK, so you are basically telling me you don't want my stuff, but you want me to tell you what competition of mine you can buy from?' I just tell them I don't know.

jecasc




msg:4403123
 9:33 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Strange. I don't like it when people write "thank you" emails. They have a question, I reply - end of story if the problem was solved. I hate it when I open my ticket system and I have to spend the first five minutes of the day reading through tickets that were already resolved and setting the ticket status back to "resolved" just because some people felt the urge to write a thank you email and by doing so reopened the ticket.

We also aks customer for reviews after they order and while it is nice to get positive feedback I always think: "If you liked our services so much why did you not click the link to the review website in the email and tell the world, instead of clogging up my ticket system with a thank you email. Luckily most do, though.

If you think you provide a good service and you are craving for customer feedback, then simpy ask for it. Put a link to a review website in your email signatur that says:

"Liked our service? Don't tell us - tell the world!"

Actually from my experience I know that the majority of people like to reward good customer service - if you provide an easy channel to say "thank you". And let's face it: While a personal thank you email may provide a warm fuzzy feeling, a five star rating on a review website is worth more in the long run.

The reason most customers don't write back thank you emails in my opinion is that in most companies the person that answered their email is not necesarilly the person who will receive the "thank you" mail.

topr8




msg:4403126
 9:53 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

... i sell the kind of widget where i get lots of emails with questions of various types from people who certainly won't be buyers,

so i set up a forum on a new domain and answer the questions there, if they post the question, when i get an email via the website i refer them to the forum, virtually no-one ever bothers to post there - i guess the registering process is too much for them (even though it is very simple!)

the forum has slowly come to rank for the odd term and i get the occasional referal to the ecom site from it.

Marshall




msg:4403150
 12:31 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

If you think you provide a good service and you are craving for customer feedback, then simpy ask for it.


No, that's not the issue. There is a survey form for customers. I was referring to non-customers whom you help when they obviously are at a loss.

I've noticed over the last 5 years or so, that people in general have become increasingly lazy and rude on the internet.


I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. That, coupled with the fact everyone expects things are the internet to be free. Add to that the lack of interpersonal interaction, a.k.a. face-to-face. If these same people walked into your store and asked for help, they would generally say thank you.

It might be a good idea to put the names and emails of the people who contact them down in the calendar and follow up with them a week later and ask;


Very good idea.

I think it comes down to a combination of the above. Ironically, it is the smaller e-commerce sites that suffer from this because obviously the big boys would not even bothering answering their question, let alone helping them find what they are looking for.

On a side <rant>, have people forgotten what the shift key does when they type emails or fill in forms? It is either all upper or all lower case. UGH!</rant>

Marshall

wheel




msg:4403156
 1:00 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

If you can't be bothered to help folks out unless you're getting paid, then ignore the requests.

Marshall




msg:4403163
 1:35 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

wheel,

My client is not expecting to be paid and is willing to help people. It may be just me, but I was brought up in an era of saying please and thank you. And everyone knows, in this day of social networking, blogs, etc., the moment you do not help someone, customer or not, your name could be smeared across the net without you even knowing.

I admit there is another aspect I personally have issue with and that is on her Contact Us page, it clearly states "Company Name is an authorized retailer for Brand A, Brand B, Brand C, and Brand D." So why can't people read? The email I mentioned in the OP stated "I bought your product..." Obviously, my client is not a manufacturer, only a retailer.

Maybe I am being too sensitive. I know it is an issue we all have to deal with and there really is no right answer. As the saying goes, "your damned if you do and your damned if you don't."

Marshall

jwolthuis




msg:4403180
 3:09 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Obviously, my client is not a manufacturer, only a retailer.

I'm confused; isn't it the retailers' job to be the front-end for those manufacturers that he's authorized to represent? To answer product questions, offer advice or training, handle exchanges and returns?

If not, what value does he add? If the customer has to contact the manufacturer for support, or to get his questions answered, he's better off buying directly from them.

Obviously, if they contact you by mistake about an order they placed elsewhere, that's one thing.

But if they ask about "the product you manufacture", you *are* the customer-facing representative for that manufacturer, and should answer any/all questions, and support the products.

If a customer asks about a competing product, it's a great opportunity to convert them to a product you do sell.

Yes, it's important to help non-customers, even if they don't offer their thanks.

rocknbil




msg:4403232
 5:49 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

The response was simply "we do not sell that product, please contact the seller or manufacturer." Of course, you never hear a "thank you for your help."


Of course not. The answer failed to "solve their problem" so they aren't interested in "wasting time on you." We get these all the time and find them mildly amusing. :-)

What we've learned to do is address the deeper issue, their frustration, something like

"Oh that's terrible, but sorry, we don't sell that product. We do have these (link) that are (less expensive, better product, define value) if you'd like to have a look. Best of luck in resolving your problem, thank you for shopping with (companyname.)"

Believe it or not, we've seen these responses convert, sometimes within minutes. Other times, well, you just can't make some people happy and that's their problem.

.... based on all the emails I have seen, less than 1% actually write back and thank her for her help. And, to my knowledge, these people do not shop on her site in the future despite the fact she has demonstrated great customer service.


... the moment you do not help someone, customer or not, your name could be smeared across the net without you even knowing.


That really answers it, I think. Always take the higher ground, even if it doesn't seem worth it.

So why can't people read?


Oh they can. They choose not to, they are blinded by what they want, that's all that's important to them. One of my clients gets bombed with "wholesale" requests even though the big bright fire engine red warning text says "we are a retail site and are not prepared to sell wholesale."

dpd1




msg:4403293
 9:13 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'd have to say... The ones that perplex me more, are the ones that ask you technical questions on how to get something working (which I get every day)... and so then you ask them a couple questions about what they're using/doing, so you can figure out the problem. Then they either don't write back at all... or if they do, they don't answer the questions you asked them, but instead just whine about the problem more. For my own amusement, a few times I actually tuned it into a game. They'd whine about a problem... I'd ask them a few questions about what they are doing, so I can figure it out... They'd ignore me and whine more... Then I'd ask the same exact questions... on and on. So far I think my record is about 5 repetitions, with them never answering the questions. My all-time record for trying to help a customer get something working is over 50 emails. Yes, 50. I counted them. I think about 30 of those were me repeating the same questions he refused to answer.

wheel




msg:4403299
 9:27 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

And you wonder why they're not your customers? It's not a game for them.

What you should've done is quit screwing around and told them to pick up the phone and call you. Spend 5 minutes on the phone helping them out. And if they won't call, then you can blow them off.

If you can't turn technical conversations into sales then maybe you should continue treating your business as a game.

Habtom




msg:4403313
 10:17 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think helping customers locate products on other websites/stores is just a waste of time. Customer loyalty is not as important as it used to be. I would go with this:

"Oh that's terrible, but sorry, we don't sell that product. We do have these (link) that are (less expensive, better product, define value) if you'd like to have a look. Best of luck in resolving your problem, thank you for shopping with (companyname.)"

tangor




msg:4403316
 10:30 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I run into a slight variation (a reverse of the OP's observation):

The web, for all the "social", "free", and "access" the web provides, the folks I help are genuinely surprised, as in: "Gee, all the other websites are so rude, or so difficult to get answers from, or I can't find what I'm looking for, and the search engines don't see to be working the same way any more." So, when I take the few minutes necessary to do a little goodwill, it does come back as an asset somewhere down the line.

Then again, the hand-wringers, whiners, and rude rubes don't get quite as much help.

[edited by: tangor at 10:53 pm (utc) on Jan 3, 2012]

dpd1




msg:4403319
 10:40 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

And you wonder why they're not your customers? It's not a game for them.

What you should've done is quit screwing around and told them to pick up the phone and call you. Spend 5 minutes on the phone helping them out. And if they won't call, then you can blow them off.

If you can't turn technical conversations into sales then maybe you should continue treating your business as a game.


lol Wow... You have just decided to make me your little project, huh Wheel? Was it when I said being obnoxious loses sales too? Is that what did it?

lorax




msg:4403336
 11:41 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

A good tech support specialist can solve the problem. A GREAT tech support specialist solves the problem AND leaves the caller feeling like they were important and well taken care of.

I think wheel is dead on with regards to your playing a game with the customer. I spent a number of years as a tech support specialist myself and I know how frustrating it can be for the tech. But I also know how frustrating it is for the person needing help. The stuff we think of as simple is sometimes completely lost on the caller. Patience (beyond normal) can pay off in a big way.

And I agree that a phone call would have been the best solution. The nuances of a conversation get lost in email support. I'd much rather have them on the phone to discuss the situation because then I can ask rapid questions and zero in on the issue. AND if I'm offering the support, you can be sure I also offer an upsell channel to make it worth my while - like a service contract - so it doesn't hurt to spend a bit of time on an non-paying customer.

frontpage




msg:4403340
 11:52 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

When responding to an email or phone call for a complaint, start by requesting the transaction number to verify they are in the right place to begin with.

If the caller/emailer can't provide one, state, "I am sorry that we can't help you as you are not one of our customers." :)

pshea




msg:4403380
 1:10 am on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Marshall asked: <<Is it really worth taking the time to help people who are not customers?>>

Yes -- with templates. It's easy to construct a generic response.

[Hi and thanks for visiting Blue Widgets!

We don't offer the products you need at this time.

We look forward to your next visit when you need the world's best selection of yellow flower beans (www.yfb dot com).

Good luck in your search!


Best regards,

The YFB Team]


I wouldn't run around and shop for the customer, but a template response that nice and cheery? That is rather easy to facilitate.

/pshea

Planet13




msg:4403451
 7:15 am on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Maybe I am being too sensitive.


Yeah, because really, at the end of the day, what you actually want is their business (and their assistance in helping to promote your business), not their thanks.

I've messed up orders for customers in the past, and they were pretty irate. By apologizing and telling them the truth (even when I wanted to yell at them), and by giving them a discount coupon for a future order, I have turned some of them into repeat customers. It hasn't been killer for me, but every bit helps.

So what I think your client needs to do is just somehow make every contact an opportunity to market his products / promote his brand, and not take it personally when their isn't a thank you email.

In the real estate world, they say, ABP: Always Be Prospecting, and that is what I think you have to do when people send you an email. Not necessarily "push" them to buy from you, but at least mention what you got and why it is so special.

Also, I like wheel's suggestion of getting them to call (Note: Unlike most mortals, wheel has the gift of gab. If you have no phone skills, you might want to write a script of some sort before you invite people to call you so you at least have an idea of how to begin and end a conversation in a courteous manner).

Planet13




msg:4403452
 7:17 am on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

My all-time record for trying to help a customer get something working is over 50 emails. Yes, 50. I counted them.


If I were smart, I would think there is a business opportunity in there somewhere.

Marshall




msg:4403525
 12:37 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

If I were smart, I would think there is a business opportunity in there somewhere.


Maybe an online clearinghouse for responding to non-customer emails.

Back to the original OP...

In the end, I guess the response to a non-customer depends on a business owner's personality. I know my client will continue to help people and enjoys doing so. I have to admit, at times I think she's a little idealistic, but I'm only the webmaster who occasional manages her online sales.

Thanks everyone for your responses.

Marshall

cazgh




msg:4403585
 3:42 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi,

We supply chemical products and janitorial products as one branch of what we do and a large part of this is COSHH sheets. We never get requests from existing customers for this but we get them from non purchasing customers from all over the world - bearing in mind we dont manufacture these products we just distribute them and it isnt our responsibility to provide this info.

For the past 5/6 years we have happily sent this info out in the hope that these people will become our customers. We have received thank yous for our responses many times - but never once has it converted into a sale.

Unfortunately due to the time it takes to source the COSHH sheet sometimes and send it out, and the little ROI that this has brought into the company we are no longer going to be sending them out in future. Sad but true - but at the end of the day we need to make money not friends and our customer services department has to spend time on profitable stuff.

Planet13




msg:4403587
 3:54 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Maybe an online clearinghouse for responding to non-customer emails.


LOL!

No, what I meant was that if it took 50 emails to help get the item working properly for the customer, then probably there are a LOT of frustrated customers out there... so it might be a good idea to have tutorials or video demos or something else on how to use the product.

In the end, I guess the response to a non-customer depends on a business owner's personality.


Or their ability to create a marketing opportunity out of it.

One other thought is that I try to take customer emails and turn them into blog posts or other content for my site as well, or use it as inspiration for facebook / other social media. Also, it does pay to go through them because you will learn what products THAT YOU DON'T CURRENTLY CARRY are popular.

Hope this helps.

HRoth




msg:4403720
 8:09 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

If someone emails to ask where to get something that I don't have, I will ask them what they want it for and recommend an alternative that I do have and how they can use it to address whatever issue they are having. I have found that these people usually do end up buying something from me. What they really want is not the widget itself but some help. They will accept some other thing if they feel it will help them. And they will usually thank me profusely.

I also get people who are looking for something specific, and that is all they want, not help for an issue. Usually these are people who are not in my actual niche and it just so happens that what they want appears in my niche. If I don't have it, I will tell them where they can get it if I can do so off the top of my head. I used to give them a url I would quick look up, but I got sick of the absence of a positive result, like a thank you, much less a purchase, so nowadays I just give them the name of a company. Generally, they don't say thank you. Instead, it they email back if I have their phone number or url, I say no, you can look it up online.

Then there are retailers who are sourcing things. They never say thanks and I never help them anymore. I say I don't know where they can get it, even if I do.

Generally, I get the same same approaches on the phone, where it's much easier to suss out what people want the item for and of course to guide them to something I do have. On the phone, I'm more likely to give them a phone number.

dpd1




msg:4403779
 11:12 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

No, what I meant was that if it took 50 emails to help get the item working properly for the customer, then probably there are a LOT of frustrated customers out there... so it might be a good idea to have tutorials or video demos or something else on how to use the product.


There's not a lot of frustrated customers... There's a very small number of people who have something wrong with them, and they take effort equal to 100 normal customers. This was a rare occurrence. Thank god. And just FYI... I did talk to that guy on the phone, and eventually did talk to the other guy as well. Both of them were not exactly hitting on all 8 cylinders, which is what I could pretty much tell from the emails to begin with... and they never did answer the questions I asked. Thus, my general ambivalence to those two particular situations. I am never rude and always courteous. But when somebody is not playing with a full deck, it's usually pretty obvious right from the get-go.... and then from that point it's just about being polite until they go away. Unfortunately that took 50 emails... and I had no choice, because the guy lives on the most busy forum for the subject... and I knew I would suffer his insane wrath if I didn't play along.

I have guides, instructions, what have you... up the ying yang, included on the site and also in paper with items. A good portion of people completely ignore all of it. I'll get emails from people asking how to do something that is right in the instructions that came with it... Then when I tell them that, they say something like "the instructions were sort of lengthy... can you just explain it to me?" Which I guess would entail me writing out in a personal email to them, the same exact info in the instructions... Which I have done. These are all things 99% of companies would never bother with. But you can only do so much.

Like I said though, these are thankfully the minority.

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