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What is Customer Service really?

written 3/28/07

When you think of or see the term Customer Service, what does it mean to you? As a customer of any business it probably means something different to you then it will when you are the business and you have customers of your own that will want you to help them with whatever problems they might have.

First of all, you should always try to help every customer as much as reasonably possible. But be prepared to be shocked and amazed by people who will want YOU to bend over backwards, kiss their feet, and beg them to let you be their servant in whatever way will make them happy to stay with your business regardless of how rude, pompous, ignorant, oblivious, moronic, or downright stupid the particular customer might be.

This is not a joke. We are very serious. If you sell something as simple as a cardboard bookmarker then you will literally soon get a phone call or an email from an irate customer who is incredibly angry and frustrated because they just can't figure out how to use it. The most unbelievable part will be that instead of admitting and accepting that they themselves are just too dumb to understand how to use such a simple object they will instead blame YOU for selling a defective product.

It doesn't matter how simple your product or service is. It doesn't matter whether you provide step by step, detailed instructions. It doesn't matter if you provide examples of how the product or service will be used. You will get customers who just don't get it and are determined to make it all YOUR fault.

What do you do in a situation like that? Apparently, it has become a standard practice by many businesses to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, no matter what. Even if it means that you have to beg for their forgiveness and admit to them that you are ashamed that you sell such an inferior cardboard bookmark. You then have to go to their location, regardless of the expense, and personally demonstrate how to correctly use the bookmark. You then have to give a lifetime supply of bookmarks and promise to be at their beckon call for the rest of their life.

That sounds ridiculous right? Well, be prepared because that is what people expect these days. They expect it because that is what they have received for many years from the big corporations with deep pockets. The same big corporations who pay their workers slave wages and their lawyers a kings ransom to defend them against consumer lawsuits. The result has created a culture of people who feel they are entitled to be treated like they are always right no matter how wrong they really are. The statement "The customer is always right." was no doubt first said by a merchant who was extremely desperate for customers and then spent the rest of his life regretting that he ever said it.

We know what you're thinking right now. "Does that mean I have to accept that poor treatment and abuse by my customers too? And if I don't, will I get sued?" The answer to the first question is absolutely not. Just because somebody bought something from you does not mean you have to accept any grief, harassment, abuse, or nonsense from them. Whether they can sue you or not is another story. That ultimately depends on the laws where you do business. However, if you are confident that the product or service you sell is good and always performs in the way that you claim it will then you should view any lawsuit that does arise as an opportunity instead of a problem because in alot of cases a counter-suit could ultimately be more lucrative for you.

If you are not confident in your product or service or your ability to successfully defend it then a smartly worded terms of service agreement and/or return policy will effectively protect you from any unsatisfied and litigious disgruntled customers.

So, how should you handle problem customers? We get hundreds of emails from customers needing help every day. We expect that. That's why we offer support options. Without fail, at least once a week we get an email like the following,

"I am  custmer and your stupid sofware won't do what I want. Call me now or I will take business some where elses."

Again, no joke. Misspellings, demanding, angry, disrespectful, and many more adjectives. Most of the time we will respond with a brief and to the point statement like the following,


Please explain in as much detail as possible the problem you are having. Phone support is reserved for issues that are too complex to fully resolve by email alone. All support requests must first be sent in detail by email."

We didn't always have that policy, but we decided to go that route to ensure that we always have a written record of all problems and support requests. It helps us in both improving our software and defending ourselves should any lawsuit or complaint to a higher power arise.

Sometimes we also don't even bother responding to emails like that. What's the point? It's obvious that no matter what we do the person will never be happy. So why bother wasting our valuable time and resources to even try? When we do reply to those types of emails, half the responses back are more complaints about us not calling them instead of details about whatever their problem really is. That always makes us laugh because that shows the true nature of whoever you are dealing with and we usually end it there.

If the person does respond correctly and includes the details of their problem then we make every effort to explain how to fix it or we fix it for them. If they did something incorrectly then we tell them so. That's the only way that they will learn from the mistake. For some inexplicable reason though, some people just can't handle being told that they are wrong or did something wrong and they will proceed to berate us or threaten us with canceling their account. When that occurs then we will sometimes give them a warning that that type of behavior is unwarranted, unwelcome, and unnecessary. Or sometimes we will just call their bluff and immediately cancel their account. We just don't have any interest in having a customer like that and fortunately, we don't need them. We would much rather spend our time helping people who actually appreciate it and can acknowledge the effort we put into our product and business overall. By focusing our time and energy on people like that instead on a vocal and belligerent minority of problem makers our business has grow in large part in an organic way through appreciative customer referrals. A complainer will never do anything positive for the growth of your business so why bother trying to change their opinion?

We're not advocating ignoring or being confrontational with customers who have problems with your product or service. By all means, you should make some attempt to solve their problem. But if they don't accept, appreciate, or otherwise berate your attempt then don't put up with it. Make people take responsibility for their own actions and if they made a mistake or did something wrong then tell them so. Call a spade a spade and hopefully it will have an effect on changing the way people behave.

Also, keep that in mind when you are the customer and you have some sort of problem and need help from any business. You are not entitled to be arrogant, rude, obnoxious, etc. just because you bought something and the person assigned to help you with your problem doesn't deserve to be treated poorly just because you are not happy.

Want to share some of your customer service horror stories? Use the form below to submit them and we'll post the best ones here for other users to learn from. Please include both the customer's original complaint and your response or actions to it. Do not include any customer names, account numbers, email addresses, or other indentification of the customer. Links to your own website are allowed and ecouraged.

 - Support

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Posted 3/28/07 - No sooner did we publish this article and we got a real example of what we wrote about.

"To Whom it May Concern,
I am not able to download any of our video's are audio's that is over 15 minutes long. Why? I do have plenty of space. There must be something wrong with your system whats going on?"

First, what the guy is actually trying to do is UPLOAD files, not download them. Notice how the cause of the problem is immediately "something wrong" with our system. Could it not be that the person is just doing it wrong themselves? Right away, we are not looking forward to helping this person because they are already convinced that the problem is on our end. So before we can even help the person solve the problem we have to try to get them to accept the possibility that it might not be us.

Since they didn't really provide us with enough information to know what it is they are doing we have basically taken a general guess at why they can't upload their incredibly long videos and audio files. Our guess is.... they're too big! One minute of audio is usually 1 megabyte in file size and one minute of video is typically 3 - 5 megabytes. A 20 minute file of either type would be anywhere from 20 - 100 megabytes in total file size. Can you imagine any visitor waiting long enough for a file that size to download and play even on a broadband connection? We can't either and that's why we limit the size of uploaded files to 20 megabytes or less.

Of course, if we didn't have that limit then this same person would inevitably email asking why his videos never play. The answer would be because they never finish downloading to his player before he grew impatient and quit waiting!

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