Today I had the pleasure to deal with a new customer that reminded me the importance of being a good customer in my own life, you know the other party at the other end of the transaction whom so-called experts say is always right, no matter what, even when the customer caused the problems to start with. As ecommerce vendors or website owners, we sometimes forget that we are customers too when we deal with various vendors for our business needs. We've all heard stories of nightmare customers, or on the flip side, customer service that left much to be desired, but I would like to concentrate this article on the side of being a good customer and still getting what you need from a new vendor. So I will dispense of the arguments for good customer service and save those for other posts.
So how do you practice being a good customer? There is no hard fast rule set and you still need to tread carefully as there are plenty of people on the web that will take advantage of you and others. So assuming that there actually are some decent companies that people would like to start doing business with, here are some great tips to help your new vendor offer you great service when things don't go as planned due to technology failures.
Patience When Something Goes Wrong: This tip is for those situations that are not mission critical such as not getting your SSL certificate issued within a 2 day deadline landing on a weekend when an entire server full of hundreds of ecommerce sites that depend on secure transactions. No, this covers those that happen when you may or may not be in a hurry but you are not facing a truly life threatening issue for your business and you are working with a company or person that appears to fit your needs and comfort level as a new vendor.
Things go wrong with technology and email delivery, even for those that are good at customer service. Do not jump to conclusions and assume ill will on their behalf. This will save you a lot of frustration in dealing with their customer service processes.
Contact the Vendor, Calmly and Professionally: This is obvious, but what is not obvious is the attitude in which you approach the situation. Seek a solution, not revenge nor react out of malice. Think of it as karma. After all, when your customers start making claims in their anger, is this the face you see in the mirror when you are the customer? Most companies and people will solve your issue as soon as they are aware of the situation. So do not become the customer you detest.
Do not count on email as a sure thing: This is a cardinal rule in my mind. Email delivery can be disrupted in so many ways, ranging from spam filters at the server and/or mail client level to accidental deletion with other spam. If you have contacted them via email, do not assume they are ignoring you if you receive no response. Instead assume that your email is getting caught in spam or not being delivered due to an error on one side or another.
Do Not Assume the Worst: In one recent instance, I saw a customer get themselves blocked by a server's security systems and then threaten to do the vendor harm because they thought the vendor was afraid to admit that their services had appeared to go offline, when it was only the customer that could not reach the site. Such assumptions, if they are untrue, will prevent you from having a good relationship with the vendor in the future especially when you threaten them and it could have been your oversight or actions that led to the problem in the first place.
Don't Hold a Vendor Hostage: This only weakens your relationship. If you practice this with your vendors, you will be the first customer they cut when they no longer wish to deal with your hassle or they find more pleasant customers to deal with. Also, if you paid $50 for services, don't expect $100 in support services. Be reasonable and fair according to the value you you exchanged with your vendor.
Escalate with Good Intent: If you receive no reply, especially if you cannot gain access to their site for a long while (a day or more), maybe you will not be able to reach them. If you paid them via a service such as PayPal, lodge a dispute with them. Use this option as last resort when all other efforts such as site access, emails and phone calls have yielded no results. This will most likely get their attention in the case where their website seems down and emails seem to disappear into the nether regions. In the case I mention above, it was the only way to get the vendor's attention for the customer, however they assumed bad intent and sabotaged the resolution and degraded down to making threats to do the vendor economic harm by taking out a word out of context they wished to use as justification for their bad attitude. So try to work it out with the vendor. In most cases where it's an established business, it will end in no harm and no foul if handled respectfully and with no malice at the outset.
In the end, being a good customer comes down to having charity and giving the other party the benefit of the doubt. Whether you believe in karma or consider it wisdom, being the customer you would want to work with will get you a lot further with a vendor and allows a chance for a mutually benefiting relationship to foster.