homepage Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from
register, free tools, login, search, pro membership, help, library, announcements, recent posts, open posts,
Become a Pro Member
Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Webmaster General
Forum Library, Charter, Moderators: phranque & physics

Webmaster General Forum

This 37 message thread spans 2 pages: < < 37 ( 1 [2]     
Dealing with Vague or Stupid Customer Service Questions

 5:57 am on Sep 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

I run a "the complete guide to blue widgets" style content site. Approx 100 pages on blue widgets.

I swear to god about twice a week I get emails some completely ridiculous email like this (This is an actual email).

Dear sir,
Am interested in <blue widgets>, kindly send me information.

I get about 20 questions a week and always spend time to write a detailed (500-1000 words) responce (which I then turn into an article. But there is no way to answer this guy in an email, the entire SITE is information... sheeesh.



 5:26 am on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Okay.. you're right. You be a company and be right, and we'll be the customers and be wrong. And then when you don't have any customers left, will you still be a company?

The customer is always right. It has to be that way. If you are a company and you think the customer is wrong, you need some lessons on diplomacy and persuasion. the customer is not wrong; the customer is frustrated and annoyed.

Well, as someone who's spent an awful lot of time - some of it awful ;) - behind various cash-registers, I'm going to disagree.

To say 'the customer is always right' is about the same as saying 'all people are good all the time' or as saying 'I want everybody to be my customer' - which is to say that it's ridiculous. This is a much more nuanced area than that.

My experience in retail business - both in managerial positions and in positions of little responsibility - is that there is a small, but vocal and extremely unpleasant core of people who interpret the 'customer is always right' mantra that they're always being fed as an absolute license to behave in ways that would get them shunned, arrested, fired, beaten up or institutionalized if they tried it in their own workplaces, homes or around their friends.

(Incidentally, I should make it clear that I'm not just talking about someone who's a little gruff with a complaint. I quite agree that any reasonably-expressed complaint or request should be dealt with professionally and courteously)

But in my opinion, putting up with the kind of behaviour I'm talking about (when they throw things, damage merchandise, shout, bully, threaten, intimidate or cheat you or your staff) is too much to ask of any self-respecting person. No business or salary is worth what some of these supposedly infalliable customers will routinely put staff through. In all of the service-oriented jobs I have ever had, when confronted with truly outrageous behaviour from a customer, I have politely asked them to leave the premises and not return - and not once was I ever reprimanded by my bosses for doing so. These employers understood that the kind of customer we're talking about cost their companies money by taking up time and reducing the effectiveness of their staff.

Incidentally, it has become much more common in recent years for companies to recognize that some customers cost much more to retain than to lose, and some companies will actually review the ranks of their customers and 'fire' the worst offenders [google.com]...

An actual event where I thought the customer should have been kicked down the stairs and out of the building, but instead was given what he wanted [!]:

At a major retailer, an acquaintance was in charge of housewares in a particular store. One fine day, a customer came in with a complaint; seems that he had bought a new set of pots and pans recently and allowed one to boil or cook completely dry. This had the consequence of burning out the bottom of the pan and allowing burning (flaming) food, to fall to the kitchen floor, burning it rather badly.

The customer insisted that the pots were defective and demanded a) that the price of the pots be refunded and b) that his kitchen floor be replaced by the store. They agreed the idiots... (although my acquaintance claims she almost strangled the fellow...)


Incidentally, anyone in my industry is welcome to out-compete me for that particular group of customers... ;-)


 9:10 am on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Yes I too have spent time on floor working with the public my distaste of them stems from - being sworn/shuted at and physically threatened.

While customer with a legit complaint/enquire should be dealt with, with a high of grace and courtesy the others should be executed.


 9:30 am on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

'the customer is always right'

I heard that the original phrase was 'the customer is always right when he choses to buy from us'. I don't know if it is true? But if it is, then it does have quite a different slant - not when he complains or returns goods or places an enquiry, but when he buys (i.e. gives money) from you (i.e. not a competitor).

Quite different.


 2:16 pm on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

But if it is, then it does have quite a different slant - not when he...places an enquiry, but when he buys (i.e. gives money) from you (i.e. not a competitor).

I agree with the enquiry part, especially with a content site.

I am not selling my visitors anything, in fact I am giving them hundreds of pages of free content. If they purchased something from me and then had a question I believe I have an obligation to answer it in a timely manner. However since I am not, I am no obligation to answer silly questions like the one in post 1 which waste my time for no return (other than a satisfied visitor who most likely found what he needed and moved on).

Of course answering questions can help boost loyal visitors, but certainly I do not have an obligation to answer them.

One question: For a free content site, are visitors my customers? They don't pay me anything, but they do directly influence the people who do pay me.

Shannon Moore

 3:16 pm on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

One question: For a free content site, are visitors my customers? They don't pay me anything, but they do directly influence the people who do pay me.

If you have advertising of any kind, visitors are indirectly paying you. If you don't have advertising but use your content site(s) to add credibility to or promote your other sites, your visitors are your potential customers on the revenue-generating site(s).

If a site's completely non-commercial and just online to serve the whim of its owner (describes many "blog" sites), I suppose there are no customers but there's still an audience.


 3:17 pm on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

One question: For a free content site, are visitors my customers? They don't pay me anything, but they do directly influence the people who do pay me.

It's more like customers are your product, what you are providing to advertisers in return for payment. That's not to say that you shouldn't treat them with respect and courtesy, quite the opposite. But there's no obligation to pander to the most annoying ones, and you would be doing your advertisers a favour by keeping the worst away from them.


 8:23 pm on Sep 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

The converse of "The customer is always right" is "The customer is never wrong". No person is never wrong so the premise fails.

I spent so many years in retail that I could no longer stand hearing a phone ring; I just wanted to tear it off the wall and throw it. It took several years of soothing wet coast island life with phone ringer turned off (immediate voicemail pickup) and no doorbell to return some semblance of sanity.

No business is error free and solid, timely, honest customer support is a priority. However, there are many ignorant, silly, incompetent, abusive people in the world and each of them is someones customer.

The trick is to make them someone elses customer in such a helpful and considerate manner that they speak nicely of you while complaining of whoever they actually do deal with.

Sad to say I became very good at this.

I learned early on that volume of sales/customers is not necessarily the most profitable route. A friend and I took a retail bricks and mortar company to over 20M annual gross within five years with long hours, low draws, and no vacations.

On testing various solutions to give us more return and more time off we discovered that by selectively dropping almost eighty percent of our customers our gross only dropped by half, our profit quintupled, and customer complaints almost disappeared.

Internet queries, sales, comments are a greater challenge in that you can't see the person except through the filter of e-mail.

I recommend to my clients that one person be solely tasked with replying appropriately to received messages, that response templates be designed and utilised for silly/less serious problems and order confirmation/updates, that genuine complaints be immediately addressed - by phone if possible as it indicates concern while allowing a conversation to quickly acquire information.

I also recommend politely pointing problem customers elsewhere. Using a template of course.

This 37 message thread spans 2 pages: < < 37 ( 1 [2]
Global Options:
 top home search open messages active posts  

Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Webmaster General
rss feed

All trademarks and copyrights held by respective owners. Member comments are owned by the poster.
Home ¦ Free Tools ¦ Terms of Service ¦ Privacy Policy ¦ Report Problem ¦ About ¦ Library ¦ Newsletter
WebmasterWorld is a Developer Shed Community owned by Jim Boykin.
© Webmaster World 1996-2014 all rights reserved