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A little service goes a long way

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#1 Respree


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Posted 04 May 2004 - 10:31 AM

As some of you may know, I run an online store. There are basically two challenging areas in this type of business -- getting the customer and keeping the customer.

You may be successful on the first part, but fail miserably on the second. With industry conversion rates at less than 2%, it's so important that when you do snag one, to make sure it doesn't get off the hook <sorry for the crude fishing analogy>.

Keeping the customer (i.e. doing everything you can to make sure they come back again) is highly dependent on the overall shopping experience that they have. E-tailers are mistaken to think they can put up a website full of products, click, click, click and thats the end of that. Developing an online rapport with the customer, making sure their needs are attended to, asking yourself how would 'you' want to be treated are all integral parts of the 'user experience.'

I'd like to share one recent interaction between a customer and myself which demonstrates this point. I have changed the name to protect the innocent. :)

--- Chronological order ----

Hi Betty:

Thank you for the orders you placed on our website today.

I noticed you placed a second order, shortly after your initial order. I'd would like to save you some money, if you have no objection.

On your second order, our systems charged you a second shipping fee of $5.95.  I will be combining both orders into the same shipment and reversing the second shipping charge, so you can save some money on your order.  Your revised order total for the second order will be $35.81 (instead of $41.76).

I hope this comes as a *pleasant* surprise. =)

Thanks for visiting our store and have a great day.

[Sig file follows]

That is so nice of you and I really appreciate it ! Thank you for your fabulous customer service... you have great artwork to choose from... I will be a returning customer for sure!


Hi Betty:

Many thanks for your kind words.  We like to think our meticulous attention to the details of our customers' orders is what sets us apart from other merchants offering similar products on the Internet.

Please feel free to tell your online friends and family about your shopping experience with us.

I'm sure you will enjoy your new art prints for many years to come and it is my hopes they will lift your spirits on the days it needs lifting.

If I can be of further service to you, please feel free to contact us at the toll-free number below.

Thanks again and have a great day.

[Sig file follows]

This customer placed two orders, hours apart from each other. The second order charged her a shipping fee for a second time. In reality, both orders will be consolidated and put into the same shipping box.

Our system was not intelligent enough to realize she had just been there -- but I was. At this point, I could have easily taken the shipping fee for the second order and just turned my head. My other choice was to take advantage of an opportunity to establish a rapport with my customer and to demonstrate that we're looking out for their interests. I chose this option. As you can see, the customer was most pleased. Will she remember our site the next time she needs an art print. I think so.

<edited for typos>

#2 cre8pc


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Posted 04 May 2004 - 10:49 AM

EXCELLENT example. I'm showing this off in my Blog. Nicely done. Bravo.


#3 Caissa


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 04:51 AM

WTG Respree!

The personalization of service is a key to repeat business. One should always look for ways to make contact with customers. Look at mistakes (both yours and their's) as opportunities to show your best customer care.

We keep a database in ACT of all our customers and their purchases. Since we have no "bonus points" associated in our cart, when a person makes several purchases from our site, we include a "bonus" in their package. They love it!

While other sites make claims they rarely fill, we like to surprise our customers with unexpected excellence.

#4 Respree


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 05:02 AM

Thanks, Caissa.

Over promise, under deliver = never come back - ever
Under promise, over deliver = happy customer = repeat customer

They're so precious. You have to treat them like gold, which I in fact do!

Sometimes, I feel its just you and I who are E-tailers.

Any others out there? Please feel free to join in on the discussion and share your experiences. :D

#5 amjid


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 08:00 AM

I agree... it's all about the service. The internet is the facilitator, but in my experiences it is the human touch that is the differentiator.

I used to work for an online sneaker store [memories of addictions are returning!] and we used to get loads of calls/e-mails about different sneaks... some which we didn't stock. Rather than just say 'sorry' our staff told the customers where they could buy the shoes and what shops were best [in the case of vintage/rare items there are a lot of fakes].

Some could argue that we were sending customers to our 'competition', but I think that by doing this, it enhanced our reputation in the individual's eye as being 'a good guy' and this encouraged them to interact with us more.

Similarly when we got queries not relating to any products/sales we would try to provide assistance again to enhance our standing... my view was very much not to 'sell products', but rather to 'serve our customers'.

OK all this talk of sneaks means I need to go and check my dwindling collection :D


#6 Ruud


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 08:04 AM

For a number of years I have been active on and via eBay. Taking my own experiences and 'feel' from eBay transactions I took the time to answer bidders' emails with more than a one-liner ('it is black').

Once they had won the bid I would email-walk them through the process. I knew how it felt to send off money, never hear anything back, and just wait and wait until someday (you hope) your item shows up. Instead, my very first email would outline the process:

- payment,
- you receive a "payment received" email,
- I email you when the package goes out

Two or three weeks later I would email again to confirm they had received their package and were happy with it. Needless to say my feedback rate was excellent.

At times there were people who were really not happy with what they had bought - close to being sad. One of those really sour experiences in life. Like the man who bought a hard disk from a huge batch I had bought (I advertised it as "untested, 'as-is', no warranty, possibly defect, buy at your own risk"). He had bought it for his daughter's computer to give her a larger hard disk on her birthday. Not taking any risk to send him another bad one I wiped a 1GB hard disk I had in one of my own computers, took it out and sent it to him for free. He never bought something from me again - but he did refer a bunch of people who bought printer ink cartridges for a long time.

I think the best way to do business is to be your own customer. Treat the others like you want to be treated. Take what ticks you off in a transaction, inverse it - and you have high quality service.


#7 Caissa


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 09:12 AM

As Internet retailers we have to go the extra mile to bring a sense of confidence to the purchase. Maybe we can add to this thread some ways we out shine our competition by going the extra mile.

So far the list includes:

* Making sure the customer does not pay extra for a purchase
* Shirprise bonuses
* Being the expert in your field (knowing your competition)
* Making the customer happy even when you don't have to

I would like to add another customer care that I provide. When a customer gets a defective piece of merchandise I immediately send him the replacement with a SASE. If he is outside the USA I offer a free ebook for his trouble. My competiton makes you send it back first and THEN sends a relacement. Needless to say, we have many repeat customers because they know we will take care of them promptly!

Respree, since this is the forum I hang out in most, maybe we can change the forum name from "Online Marketing and Promotion" to add something like Ecommerce Solutions? I don't think it warrants a category by itself. Just a thought

#8 domokun


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 09:15 AM

nice touch respree

#9 amjid


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 09:50 AM


I wish I had bought from you in eBay :( The amount of times I paid my dough only to never hear anything until the product arrived at my doorstep... was worrying!

Caissa, to add to your list, I think that being highly responsive is an important factor. It helps provide customers with confidence and reassurance.


#10 Respree


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 10:44 AM

Glad to see the discussion is starting to get rolling! Thanks for joining in folks.

I've been involved with E-Commerce for a number of years now and after a while, you start to hear from your customers what other companies are doing in terms of their customer service. I've heard instances where an item was out of stock and the company took 4 weeks to let them know their order won't be showing up. Other companies quickly processed the payment, but neglected in filling the order. Still others continually (and quite possibly, intentionally) ignore customer inquiry e-mails, despite repeated attempts to determine the status of their order. Horror stories galore.

I can't say if these types of examples are the exception, rather than the rule but whatever the percentage, doing a little means a lot (to the customer). This particular e-mail was rare, which is the reason I thought I'd share it. I think most customers who do receive great service and think highly of the company that provided it, sadly never get back to the company to let them know they appreciated the meticulous attention that was given to them.

When I first started out in E-Commerce, I was understandably curious what kind of techniques allowed Amazon.com to become the largest E-tailer on the planet. In the book, Amazon.com : Get Big Fast, there is a chapter entitled "a**l-retentive about customer service." It describes how Jeff Bezos' early 1995 vision was to make Amazon the "most customer-concentric" company in history. Here's a small snippet from that book.

Treat the others like you want to be treated.

Couldn't agree with your more on that point, Ruud.

Off Topic

Respree, since this is the forum I hang out in most, maybe we can change the forum name from "Online Marketing and Promotion" to add something like Ecommerce Solutions? I don't think it warrants a category by itself.

I've been considering proposing that idea for some time now, partly because I felt it was an unaddressed, but important category and partly because of my shameless self interest in attracting others like myself for a mutual exchange in information specific to our industry.

However, the discussions on E-Commerce have been fewer than I had hoped and didn't seem to warrant it's own category. It's kind of like trying to get credit for the first time (i.e. how can I demonstrate my credit worthiness unless you give me a credit card). I'll seek the wisdom of the other Moderators to see if we come up with a strategy that will fill the void.

<edited for typo>

#11 Black_Knight


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 02:44 PM

It is all about the customer. That should be the first rule of all marketing, and should be a placard on every office wall.

The old version of the saying was "The customer is always right". That one kind of fell out of favour over a decade ago, but it's true meaning is still as apt as ever. Business is about supplying a demand.

Whatever the customer is demanding is an opportunity for you to make money in supplying. The customer is never ever wrong in demands, but sometimes you are the wrong business to be demanding it of. Some other business may supply that demand - but that's then some other business getting that customer.

Sometimes you need to remember that the customer is always right, and find out if that is the right customer for you. In this way, you can grow to appeal to a wider market, or narrow down to better penetrate a particular niche market.

Hope that sheds some fresh light on an old truth. :)

This is all classic and fundamental marketing. The company sometimes sells what it can make. Smart marketing is about turning that around, so that the smart business makes what it can sell. That means knowing customer demands first. Then supplying them as no other can or has.

Good service is always a demand, but it is balanced against other considerations. People will often pay more for excellent service (see any five star hotel), but then again, price is a consideration too (see how local stores where the clerk knows your name have declined in favour of supermarkets and superstores).

We are looking at the basic 4P's of marketing.


Every product or service has a unique mix of those 4 criteria that defines it, and if you don't control the mix consciously, it will just fall into its own mix (which will probably not be optimal, and most often involves spending a lot more on promotion).

Customer service is part of the first P - Product. The product is not just what you sell, but rather is its quality and value. Ideally, you always want to offer as much product as possible, you may think. But, adding to the product will increase the price.

Armani make great suits, but the price cuts many suit-buyers out of their customer market.

Clothing chain stores often sell far more suits because while the product is much less, its price is more easily afforded.

Product is what they want. Price is what they can afford. Sometimes the customer is willing to pay more for a better product, and sometimes you'd actually make more cash from cheapening the product so that you can lower the price and sell more units.

Its a balance that only you can decide upon. There is no single right answer, but rather, this is one of the areas where you differentiate from the competition and create a USP.

Often you can increase the value considerably without much increasing the price. That's usually a good thing, but not always the right thing. Sometimes people would actually need a cheaper product, simply because they just cannot afford what is available, and so instead more profits would actually come from lowering the price by cutting out one of the more expensive but non-essential parts of the product.

People want great customer service, but will sacrifice that to get cheaper prices and greater convenience at a super-store.

Its a mix. The recipe is unique to each cook. Tastes are individual, and the mass market may actually prefer very different tastes to the gourmet. Amazing as it may seem, some people actually like the taste of McDonalds, and view better food as over-priced crap. :lol:

#12 Cindy


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Posted 06 May 2004 - 07:36 PM

We sell swimwear, so as you can imagine, we get a lot of returns. We try to process them within 30 days of receipt, but during the spring, our busiest season, it sometimes takes 3 or 4 weeks to get through them.

Even though we have our 30 day policy posted on the return form and on the web site, I always try to drop them an email when their return is processed, just so they know and don't have to worry. I'm always pleasantly surprised at how many people write me back and thank me for the extra effort. It seems only natural to me, but I guess most merchants don't do this.

#13 Respree


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Posted 07 May 2004 - 05:17 PM

We have a 30 day return policy too. I once had a customer who called me asking if we would take back the return after 45 days. He had been out of town on a business trip, so he missed the 30 day deadline.

I'm sure in his mind, he thought he was going to get 'stuck' with a product he wasn't quite happy with. He knew he was in the wrong and I was in the right, but probably thought, "The worst they can say is no. If you don't ask, you won't get."

I granted him the authorization for the return and he was so grateful that he wrote an unsolicted testimonial for my website.

Through this testimonial, he now helps me sell product all day long earning me many times more than his returned unit. ;)

"This is by far the best experience that I've had as far as customer service goes. You guys allowed for a return that was more than 45 days old, as well as answered all my e-mails immediately, and I just wanted to tell you guys that I really appreciated that. I will certainly be back regularly to your site to look for more items as well as recommend it to others. Thanks again."

#14 Tim


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Posted 07 May 2004 - 05:26 PM

Well done again Garrick!
Just one note...by him saying that on your site, its not going to make every customer assume they'd automatically get a 45 day return as well is it?

- Tim

#15 Respree


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Posted 07 May 2004 - 05:34 PM

At the time, I had carefully considered if I was setting an unwarranted precedent. It was a calculated risk, but decided to proceed anyway. In my view, the potential for good far outweighed the risk of abuse.

The way I run my business is that I call them Policies, but treat them more like guidelines. It is sometimes a balancing act trying to create fantastic customer service that few others are offering and determining what makes financial sense for your business.

In hindsight, my gut instinct on both granting the customer's request and putting that testimonial on my website was the correct. That story is actually very old and it's never happened again since. I think most people are usually respectful of store policies, but like anything, there are exceptions to the rule.

<minor edit for content>

#16 Caissa


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Posted 07 May 2004 - 05:38 PM

I want to share a horror story. I have a CD burner that is OLD and only will take 72 minute CDs. These are becoming scarce and so I buy many when I find them.

Here is what happened on just this one product.

The first place I ordered sent the 80 min though I had bought the 72, When I emailed and asked them if they had any 72 they said they never carried those??? They sent 80 because that was what they carried. I asked for a RMA and they complied. Cost me $15.00 to ship (registered, I am no fool) and so far in a month and a half after repeated emails I have no credit and no response.

Immediately, I bought some more at place #2. Again I received 80 min CDs. I emailed, I called. Finally, I got someone to answer the phone and he said he waould have customer support contact me for a return address. Never happened and I suppose never will.

Place #3 took the order and then said they did not stock it any more. That was fine, at least they told me.

Place #4 was the place I used to buy at but had been out of stock. I received their sale email and looked - LO there was 72 min. But when I clicked the buy now button it said 80 min. I called. These folks (I spent $$$$$$$ with them before) went and checked stock and made sure I got 72 min. I bought a year's supply.

Meanwhile store #3 gets them in and sends them without notifying me. Now I have 2 year's supply.

Needless to say next week I call my credit card company and have them issue me a credit at store #1 and 2. A little courtesy may have earned these guys many orders, of course this will not happen and if I have a chance to write a review somewhere well...

I could go on with many bad experiences shopping on the Internet. I even told Kohl's they should shut their Internet door they were giving it a bad reputation!

Why do people shop Amazon? Because they can get satisfaction. Why do we small shops get so little of the billions, because other stores have hurt Internet crediabilty. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me!

#17 Black_Knight


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Posted 08 May 2004 - 05:46 AM

To reinforce this important point, I wanted to refer you to the "Marketing 101 - The Essentials of Marketing" discussion, and especially my second post where I explain Customer Lifetime Values and how to calculate them. It is a real hard wake-up call to anyone who isn't putting massive emphasis on developing ongoing customer relationships.

#18 Respree


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Posted 24 February 2005 - 07:39 PM

Yes, Ammon, customer relationships are important.

To further illustrate the point, I had two very similar experiences today while engaging in my favorite pastime (feeding my face).

The commonality to both stories is that something went wrong, although the manner in which these situations were handled was 'very' different.

Situation 1: I am standing in line waiting to buy a sandwich. Another customer enters the restaurant and apparently has come to pick up her called in order. She picks up her bag, examines the contents, and then quickly returns to the counter. "Is this the Sante Fe wrap I ordered," she asks. The clerk replies, "No, we discontinued that sandwich a couple of weeks ago so we're substituting it for the one I gave you. We assume most people like this one just as well."

Customer: "But this one has rice. I don't want rice."

Clerk: "Sorry, but I'm afraid there's nothing I can do."

She leaves the restaurant in a huff (probably not the confrontational type).

Can you spot the problems?

- No communication to the customer she was not getting what she ordered.
- No offer to make things right for the customer (i.e. offer a refund or another no-charge sandwich).
- The clerk knowingly gave her the wrong product and said nothing.
- No concept of customer retention and satisfaction.

Can you imagine how she must have felt? Will she ever return for more treatment like this? Highly unlikely.

Situation 2: I am getting my daily fix of caffeine at Starbucks. Their network is down which prevents the prepaid card I have from working properly.

Me: "Sorry, I don't think I have enough on this card to cover the balance of my order today. Can you put another $25 on my card?"

Starbucks Clerk: "I'm sorry, but our network is down today, so we're unable to do any transactions on your card. Whatever balance is due is on the house today." <She smiles>

Me: "In that case, add 10 pounds of whole-bean coffee to my drink order. <I smile. She laughs.> Just kidding. Thanks a lot."

Can you spot the difference in how the two situations were handled?

Companies that look at the big picture and pay careful attention to consumer satisfaction will undoubtedly do far better than those who do not.

Rather than putting me in the potentially embarrassing position of "Sorry, buddy. You have to pay cash (when maybe I had none)," they capitalize on an opportunity to bond with customers by graciously turning a potentially unpleasant experience into a favorable one. So they lost a few cents on the free coffee they gave me today, but successfully retained the $1,000+/year business I give them (did I mention I have a coffee addiction?).

There's no doubt in my mind that the way Starbucks handled this situation was not an accident - it's by design and the mark of a company who understands the importance of customer satisfaction.

Will I be back again tomorrow? Yes.

#19 cre8pc


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Posted 24 February 2005 - 08:43 PM

And a little bit of fun can be had with clients too.

Usually my services are flat fee based, but an interesting thing happened this week, as I got more and more orders for new projects coming in. I began booking them out f***her into the future than I normally do, because I can usually give quick turnarounds.

Feeling badly about a new job request that came in yesterday that I couldn't get to for 3 weeks, I offered the client some free complimentary copies of my epubs to play with and apply to his site while he waited for me to get to his site.

Turns out he'd already bought them, which is why he hired me to work on his site!

I happened to mention I was a real fan of the main product on his site, so since he liked my attempt to make the wait more pleasant, he offered to send me a free sample of one of his hottest sellers!

Cool! So I turned around and threw in some extra details into the test plan I'll use for his site but he gets it for the same price I originally promised to do the job for.

Which just goes to prove I can be sweet talked into doing more work, but heck, I get a free gift and I instantly *like* this client because he's so fun.

So it goes both ways. We provide services, but sometimes our customers make it so worthwhile, you get more out of the experience than money. He may refer me to someone else and that would be great.

And I'll likely be ordering more products from his site and become a new customer! :wink:

It's a win-win scenerio!

#20 thirstymoose_2000


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Posted 25 February 2005 - 04:01 PM

Under promise, over deliver = happy customer = repeat customer

I live by this credo. A prof I had introduced me to this saying and I've tried to live by it in everything I do.

One thing I have found, and it really discouraging is how many people go for the big promises rather than common sense (I recently discussed this with some friends). They'd rather go to the company who promises free submition to over 600 search engines than use the company who explains how things really work or go with a company that offer a low price on a home package that is missing a number of items rather than go for the package that is higher priced, but includes everything.

There was an article I read recently (I think on Clickz) that talked about this very issue. The article suggests that the new way of doing things is to make big promises and then deliver what you can.

I don't know, I'd rather stick to the other way (under-promise and over-deliver)and feel good about how I do business.

I love customer service --- it is a passion of mine. People are surprised when instead of telling them I am in the web design business or marketing business, I tell them that I am a service agency. Really, isn't that what most of us do?

I spent a lot of time in retail and trying to train people and find people with this mindset is extremely challenging. That's why I also believe in a comment I read from an executive, 'hire the smile and train the rest'.

Anyway, great topic Respree!

#21 Respree


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Posted 25 February 2005 - 04:14 PM

Under promise, over deliver = happy customer = repeat customer

I live by this credo.

Absolutely. Coincidentally, so do I. :lol:

I think too many companies take the short-sighted view of watching the pennies, losing sight of what it 'really' takes to make the dollars. In this competitive world (and especially, the online one) when you don't have your customers' best interest in mind, it's all too easy for them to simply choose someone else.

To me, this is so common-sense, but you'd be surprised at how many companies simply don't care enough to go the extra mile.

#22 thirstymoose_2000


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Posted 25 February 2005 - 04:16 PM

I had a similar experience at Starbucks, there was a problem with the cash so the barrista (I think that's what they call themselves) told me he'd give me the coffee on the house. By the time he poured my coffee, the other employee had the cash fixed so I offered to pay but he wouldn't take my money because he already offered it to me for free. And I really wouldn't have minded paying.

The same type of thing happened when I was a commercial sales manager. I had a client return a tool for repair (we offered repair service through our locations for convenience) and somehwere along the line one of my employees lost it. I asked the customer (he was a regular) if I could have a couple fo days to find it, I never did. I told him to come in as I had something for him. When he got there I replaced his banged-up old thing with a brand new one. 'Here you go!', I told him.

He was absolutely shocked. He even offered to pay half of the cost and I totally refused saying that it wasn't his fault one of the employees lost it.

But even little stuff like hand-written comments on invoices thanking them for their recent business or a heads-up about an upcomming promotion or event that might interest them went a long long way to build a relationship with our clients.

#23 thirstymoose_2000


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Posted 25 February 2005 - 04:20 PM

To me, this is so common-sense, but you'd be surprised at how many companies simply don't care enough to go the extra mile.

Exactly, it's so frustrating!

I recently emailed a local publication asking for a rate card because I was interested in running some ads --- they provide the email right in their publication --- no one ever answered --- after repeated requests. You think something as simple as hitting a reply button and attaching a file to it would be something you could expect someone to do, but I guess they don't value business enough.

#24 AbleReach


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Posted 25 February 2005 - 05:22 PM

Last night I did a talk about branding for a small group of business owners. I had a bag full of visual aides. I'd pull a package out of the bag and say "What do you think they mean to demonstrate?" "Are they showing who they are or telling you what to think?" "Do you believe them?" "Why?" "What does this demonstrate to you about this brand?" "What from this/that kind of branding is available without a mega-budget?"

Part of one of the attendee's brand will be the way her smile warms everything she does. Her eyes lit up as she confessed that she'd forgotten to fill an order for a regular customer. Two days late she called and sincerely apologized, offering a freebie. The customer came back almost immediately just to say thanks for understanding.

She said it was a no brainer, except for an "oh no!" moment between noticing the unfilled order and picking up the phone... and she sees that celebrating customer service with heart is part of her brand. Bingo!

Three of my visual aides were "energy" drinks. Guess who left my talk with the energy drink of choice? She was driving carpool, so it seemed like a nice thing for me to offer. I didn't even consider that next time we meet there may be a freebie in my future. Whatever happens, I love that smile of hers.

This is Very Fun Stuff made from what could easily be a PIA.


#25 Caissa


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Posted 26 February 2005 - 05:00 PM

I buy from my competition just to see what their customer service is like.

I was very impressed with one of my competitors. They say "we will match anyone's prices". So I emailed and asked if they would match another competitor's price on a 20 item order. They said yes if I bought 20. So I bought 20 (which obviously was the plan).

Two days later they emailed me said they were refusing the order because they were in short supply and wanted to keep them for THEIR customers. What was I, chopped liver???

No more worries about that competitor.

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