A lot of people think that customer support is something that you do after you make the sale, but that’s just not the case. Not only does customer service begin before you close the deal; it’s an integral part of marketing that many companies overlook.
Consider my recent experiences with two companies—one good, one bad:
I’ve recently made the decision to target companies that offer “green” products and services. As part of the rebranding effort I’m currently working on, I decided I needed to make a more personal commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. I couldn’t afford to install solar panels on the roof of my house (yet), so I looked around for something simple I could do to get started. I decided that I would get a solar-powered charger for my mobile phone.
I researched several small, palm-sized models that I had heard of. The marketing for most of them was great—until I looked at the user reviews. To my dismay, the online ratings for every one of these products were almost universally bad. This was unfortunate, because I could tell by reading them that a lot of people had been enthusiastic and excited when they made their initial purchase. They really wanted these devices to work and were extremely disappointed when they didn’t deliver.
So I broadened my search and started looking at larger solar chargers. I ultimately hit upon a solar backpack made by Voltaic Systems. This time most of the user reviews on several sites were enthusiastic, but I still wasn’t sold.
On the company’s website, I found a customer support box prominently located on the home page with this message: “Question or comment? We respond quickly.” I dashed off a quick message detailing the make and model of my phone, my mp3 player, and my e-book reader. I got a response within an hour, telling me that the backpack could charge all of these devices and many more, and that the modular connectors that came as part of the standard kit should do the trick. I was impressed by this rapid personal service, and placed my order.
When my backpack arrived a few days later, I promptly started testing it with my favorite gizmos. It worked great with the phone and mp3 player, but the e-book reader wouldn’t charge correctly with the connector I was using. I went back to the website’s support box, and again received the fast response the company promised. The support guy who responded did some research on his end and suggested that I try a different connector that wasn’t part of the standard kit. This adaptor normally sells for $4, but he sent me one for free. It solved my problem and made me a very happy customer.
Note that I ended up purchasing a product that was more expensive and more elaborate than I had originally intended. I was glad to do it because I was reassured that I was working with a company that had a serious commitment to stand by their product. Simply put, their benefits trumped my needs. Their first-class customer support was the most effective marketing technique in their arsenal. It not only closed the sale but is now bringing them free publicity in the form of this blog post.
Here’s the flip side of this powerful tool: my office laser printer recently and unaccountably died on me. It was a little over a year old…in other words, just out of warranty. I won’t mention the company name to protect the guilty, but let’s just say they make a Heap of Printers (hint, hint). It seems that one particular model (mine) has a key component that tends to die young, creating misleading error messages to add to the frustration.
It turns out that I’m not alone. Many other people, including at least one colleague in my freelancer’s networking group, bought the same printer and had the same problem. I found many complaints in online reviews from people who swear they’ll never buy anything from this company again. If my printer had been an automobile, there would have been a safety recall and lots of soothing apologies by now. The company’s response? “Sorry, your product is out of warranty.”
Now granted, they’re probably not legally obligated to do anything about this widespread problem. But this is a big company with a worldwide reputation to maintain. What’s going to cost them more in the long term: a recall of a poorly-made product, or the widespread ill will they’ve generated by abdicating responsibility?
This is more than a short-sighted approach to customer service; it’s bad marketing. Many people who use these inexpensive printers at home make purchasing choices for more expensive printers, copiers, fax machines, and other devices at their workplace. Which company do you think they’re going to call last?
I solved this problem by replacing their product with a comparable model made by one of their biggest competitors. To be frank, I don’t like my new printer as well, but I’ll think more than twice before I ever buy another product from the company that left me high and dry.
In the meantime, I’m redoubling my efforts to be user-friendly to my own clients. I’ve always tried to do my best for every customer, even the ones that I don’t think will be back for repeat business. I don’t just think of it as being professional anymore…I now know that it’s also some of the best marketing work I can do.
Thanks to Tom “TNT” Tumbusch of Digital Dynamite in Cincinnati OH.