Customer Service


Shirley Bryant

Excellent customer service is the biggest and least expensive favor you can do yourself and your business. To stay viable, any business depends on both new customers and on repeat customers. As big as the Internet is, you will keep running into the same people/customers over and over.

The old adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t correct, of course, but it should be your guiding light in dealing with your customers. Even if you have a situation where you must disagree totally with your customer, you need to do it in a win/win way. No one likes to be backed into a corner or told that they’re dumb or a deadbeat (even if they are). You need to be assertive but not aggressive, and allow your customer to walk away from your discussion feeling he has been treated fairly, and that you’re an okay person.

Even online, word of mouth is our best method of advertising. I can’t stress enough how valuable it will be to you. Guard it carefully, and return the favor–praise customers every chance you get!

Part of your customer service should be to spell out very plainly and exactly what your selling terms are. Whether you allow returns for any reason, if the item is not as described, or that you don’t allow returns at all (which I can’t imagine). If there is a time limit for returns, state what it is. Same thing for your shipping charges. Build your materials expense into your shipping charges and don’t stick a handling fee on it separately. Handling fees are very subjective and arbitrary, and leave buyers feeling taken advantage of, particularly if they are not justified in your terms. If you accept foreign orders, specify that foreign shipping will be different from domestic shipping. Tell what shipping method you use, and if there is a choice. Spell out what payment methods you accept, and if shipment will be held until a check clears. Ship promptly. And ALWAYS pack safely. The bit of extra effort and expense will repay you time and again, with no disappointed customers receiving damaged shipments and no refunds for the same. And it is, of course, your responsibility to get the item to the buyer safely in mail order situations. The title does not change hands until the buyer receives the item in the same condition as advertised.

Not all buyers will read all of your conditions, of course,but if those conditions are in your description, you have a “legal” leg to stand on.

Communicate with your buyer freely. It only takes a few minutes to explain delays, problems, progress, expectations, etc. Most people will work with you, if they know what is going on.

I think the best method of communicating, when in an adversarial position, is to kill with kindness. Never, ever allow anger to show up in your communications, whetherby voice or email. Again, be assertive but not aggressive. You can explain calmly that such and such is not acceptable (particularly when you have spelled out in your terms what is acceptable), and suggest a constructive way to remedy the problem. Criticism, if not accompanied by a constructive solution, never solves anything. Never get personal, as in insults, never flame anyone– in fact, just never treat any customer in a way other than you would want to be treated, yourself. Think of email as dealing with your customer face-to-face, and don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to his face. If you’re angry,compose your email but don’t send it–stop and think for a couple of hours before pushing “send”.

Always try to find a way where that win/win situation makes your customer feel he has saved face. He’ll come away from the encounter with respect for you, and many times turns into a good, repeat customer. Winning is not the most important thing–so you get to keep $20 or $200; if you’ve made an enemy, that money is not worth it. A satisfied customer will spend much more than that with you, over a series of transactions, and will recommend you to others.

To sum up: treat your customers as you’d wish to be treated,and treat them in a way that will keep them as repeat customers. They are your most valuable asset.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website