You may have read something about the recent email exchange between Ocean Marketing, a customer, and Penny Arcade.  If not, you can get the story here:  http://penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html.  In a nutshell, a customer contacted Ocean Marketing several times trying to find out about why the shipment of his order was delayed.  The conversation became more heated and escalated to the point where Paul from Ocean Marketing handled the matter in about the worst way possible.  The exchange has been making the rounds on the internet and has resulted in Ocean Marketing being fired from representing the company whose product was involved.  Paul from Ocean Marketing has also been the target of massive backlash from the gaming and general internet communities.

I see some valuable lessons in this story for the rest of us, though I believe that few of my readers would take the kind of action that we observe in this tale.

Mistake #1 – Not keeping the customers informed of delays.  The worst thing you can do in this situation is to remain silent and leave the customer wondering.  In this case, the customer wasn’t informed of the delay until after it had occurred and he had complained.

Mistake #2 – Not responding in a polite and courteous manner.  The full response was “Dec 17″.  At the very least, the response should have apologized for the delay.

Mistake #3 – Not responding with sufficient information so that the customer doesn’t have to follow up with additional questions.  “Dec 17″ did not give the customer an idea as to when he might receive the order, and it turned out to be the date that the shipment was expected to leave China!

Mistake #4 – Belittling the customer.  I can not conceive of a situation where it is appropriate to tell a customer to “put on your big boy hat”.  The customer may not always be right, but they should always be treated with respect.

Mistake #5 – Telling the customer that you would benefit from them cancelling their order. Do that too many times and guess what, you have no orders.

Mistake #6 – Getting the customer’s name wrong.  It is better to be generic and not address them by name than to use the wrong one.  Our names are part of our identity and when someone gets it wrong we tend to see it as the act of someone who doesn’t respect us.

Mistake #7 – Responding to an irate customer’s remarks in kind.  It is human nature to get defensive and even lash out when we feel we are attacked, but taking a few moments to cool down before responding is advisable.  This exchange was through email, so it would be easy to step away and calm down before responding.

Mistake #8 – Believing that the old adage about there being no bad publicity is true.  It’s not.  With the speed and reach of modern communications, a reputation can be utterly destroyed in less than a day.

Mistake #9 – Thinking that you are such a connected big dog in your industry that your reputation is bullet-proof.  Unless you are actually the top dog, there is always at least one bigger.  You are not likely to truly impress anyone acting this way.

Mistake #10 – Continuing to attack your customer when you are now visible to many potential customers.  They are potential customers, who do you think they will be identifying with in this interchange?

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.  There are several follow ups to the incident where Paul from Ocean Marketing tries to apologize to the customer and to Gabe at Penny Arcade, but his apologies turn into a string of excuses.  It’s sad, really.

Okay, let’s take the mistakes above and turn them into a few guidelines to help us avoid situations anywhere close to this one.

1. Keep your customers informed.  Be proactive when you realize that delays or other situations have arisen that your customer should know about.

2. Be courteous.  Even if you send your customer a canned response, let them know that you value them and that you see them as a person, not just a sale.

3. Try to anticipate questions that your customer may have and answer them before they ask them.  This will show them you are on top of things and will cut down on the amount of subsequent correspondence.

4. Treat your customers with respect.  We all want to be respected.  It promotes good will and it costs you nothing.

5. Make sure the customer knows that you appreciate their business, no matter how small the order.

6. Respect the customer’s name.  It is part of their personal brand.  Use it correctly and they may return the favor.

7. Resist the urge to go on the offensive when a customer complains.  Think of each complaint as feedback on how you can make your business better.  The customer is doing you a favor by telling you what is wrong.  Without it, you could be losing customers and never know why.

8. Protect your reputation.  Act in a manner that will not tarnish it, and take action to quickly and fairly correct any problems that left unattended would cast your company in a bad light.

9. Impress your customers by providing quality goods and services that address their needs and desires.

10. Always interact with your customers like the entire world is watching, because they very well could be.

What other lessons do you see from Ocean Marketing’s faux pas?

Filed under: Customer Service

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