Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Business Musings: Customer service pt 1

Before my current RL employment, I worked in customer service for a number of years as a sales associate. As a result, I'm fairly knowlegeable when it comes to what sorts of things you can reasonably expect from both a retailer and a consumer perspective, and what you can't. Its no secret that the success of a business can hinge on this thread, particularly in a highly compeditive business enviroment like the one we have in Secondlife. Fortunately, Secondlife gives us a chance to run a business without the real life worries and overheads, and we get to experience things from both sides of the table. We are both the consumers and the business owners if we want to be. Although, many people who run businesses in Secondlife don't have business management training, hell most don't even have staff. So the issue of customer service in a virtual business becomes very interesting.

View Point 1: The Consumer
Obviously the most familiar point of view for most people is going to be on the consumer end. In the real world, if a product is broken or wrong when we buy it we can take it back to the store and have it refunded. If we are dissatisfied with service, we can complain bitterly and make store managers bend and fall all over themselves to make us happy. If we get bad service or bad food at a restaurant, we can get a free meal. Its commonly accepted in our society that if we aren't pleased with the product, service, or consumable we've paid for, we will make damn sure the establishment takes it back or refunds our money. This same behavior translates over to Secondlife business. I've heard of many 'customer service' horror stories through various mediums including first hand. Sometimes, these are genuinely bad, and sometimes I'm sensing something that as a seasoned customer service person like to call a 'sucky customer'.

Its fine to expect reasonable customer service from even a virtual business, but the key word here is reasonable. When you endevor as a consumer to get the best in customer service, you want to be a 'savvy client' and not a 'sucky customer'. Dollars to nickels the savvy client will have the store owner happy to bend over backwards to satisfy their client. So what is the savvy client vs the sucky customer? Glad you asked!

The savvy client is, in a word, smart. They are careful with their shopping and also careful to read the policies of the store they are in before making large purchases. They try demos, get people to model potential purchases for them. They KNOW what they are buying. They might ask around if anyone has bought from a particular designer if its a very large purchase. Many store owners have policy notecards avaliable at their stores, and if they don't, ask!
The savvy client knows the following about secondlife business:

1) Permissions sometimes make it impossible to 'return' an item purchased. ( no transfer). Many retailers do not give refunds on no transfer items. No transfer also makes it impossible to exchange. Be sure that you can live with a retailers return policy before buying!

2) In secondlife, 9 out of 10 times you are going to be dealing directly with the designer, of which there is only one, with potentially hundreds of customers. So that designer is a very busy person. If you have to talk with them, be polite but direct. Sending a 'hi' message likely will get ignored. Its best to be brief. eg: " Hi there, I just bought your (blank) at your store in (blank) sim, It said it was a modable, but the permissions appear to be wrong. Can you help?"

3) You get more flies with honey. Being polite and courteous will get you a lot further than threats or swearing. That sort of behavior turns the conversation off right there. Many designers are more than willing to make compromises or fixes to help a customer, but if the customer starts getting angry and mean, they are going to be a lot less inclined to help you. If the designer is not willing to accomidate your immediate request, then try to find a compromise. Many designers are not willing to refund money, but might be willing to assist you with product.

4) Deal with problems right away. Don't want for a month before going back to a designer and asking for a change or refund. Try your product right away and make sure it works the way you intended it to. In real life, refunds and exchanges are limited to 30 -90 days. In secondlife, a lot of retailers only keep records for a month, so if they go to verify your purchase after a month, its going to be hard. Some retailers might keep longer records, but its really best to deal with things immediately.

5)Make sure you are talking to the right person for the right problem. Some retailers are groups of people, each one having a different responsibility. If you are having trouble with a script in a product, make sure you are talking to the scripter and not the texture artist.

6) Retailers are not responsible for your after the fact modifications. While most retailers will happily replace products that disappear from inventories or are accidentally lost or damaged, they are NOT responsible for your meddling after the purchase. They are also not responsible for making other people's products work with their products. Being that there are hundreds of thousands of different products out there, there is no way to make them all compatable 100%. It is highly unreasonable to assume otherwise. After that point of you modifying something, it becomes asking for help. Its not even support, because its not the same as when you bought it. You are asking for help, be respectful. Some retailers don't have time to provide that sort of help, but they might be able to recommend you to someone who can.

7) Be very careful about your purchases. Make sure you aren't lagging, no one is clicking the same vendor as you, and the vendor has fully rezed before you buy anything. Lag is a huge cause of bad buys, especially in highly lagged areas like malls. Be aware, buy with care.

The rules of thumb: Ask nicely. Be polite. Say please and thank you. Read all notecards carefully before buying. This will make sure you are prepared to know who you are dealing with and what their rules are.

The 'sucky customer' is almost the complete opposite of the savvy client. They are rude, demanding, badgering, belligerant, angry, swearing, ignorant, and often vindictive. They tend to be the ones that sour tempermental designers against even the savvy consumer. Artsy people don't usually have the temperments to be bitched at by a hundred people in one day, and anyone tends to reflect the emotional noise they get bombarded with. So if they are having a bad day, chances are, the designer is going to be crabby. Its best to assume designers have had a bad day.

Okay, so what happens when you've been a good consumer and been polite and the designer still isn't helping you. Okay, there is a few options. First one is to look at what exactly you are asking for and try some variations. Can't get a cash refund? Okay, well what about a exchange? Is there only one part of the purchase you don't like? ( color, feature, style) and can you get or purchase just that part? The next thing is to check the designer's policies. Many designers will hit you over the head with them. Is there a way to work within the policies to make you happy with your purchase? Try that.

Still not able to work something out? Well this might well be into a case of Sucktacular Service then. Most times if the customer is polite and flexible, the retailer and customer will be able to work out some kind of compromise. But the retailer does have the right to put his or her foot down and refuse service to someone who is beligerent. You may not agree, but they have the right. Retailers IRL have this too. Its usually called " Denial of Service" and its a punishment usually reserved for shoplifters, problem customers, or particularly beligerent or obnoxous individuals. So if you are a sucky customer, they can, and will ignore you. Its best to be a savvy customer and you are much more likely to get what you want.


At 12:16 AM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Torley said...

Good words of advice! More "savvy customers" make things more rewarding for all involved. The consumer gets to enjoy the wares, and the designer is pleased such a result has happened. It's a win-win situation.

Are you going to do a flipside one for how merchants should treat their customers? :) (I am assuming, and hopefully safely, that it'll be Pt. II!)

At 4:38 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Ida said...

Very nice post. I think many people forget that there are two sides to every Customer Service Incident. Especially when they are hiding behind their avatar - the things some people say to others in Second Life they would NEVER say to anyone in real life!

At 4:24 AM, July 07, 2006, Blogger Someone said...

Having really had not a lot of vendors in the past, just recently I've had a few problems with purchasing from people.

And have been really disappointed with the response I have had back from the creators. With in some cases not even a response at all to my polite request for them to please look into their vendor at x as at x time when I purhased x it didn't work.

Would of been nice to receive even just a 'tough luck' kind of response. None at all = not good customer service. As a result, this major designer no longer gets my custom, nor do I recommend them to friends.

~ Venice Craven

At 1:52 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger sachi Vixen said...

This is a fantastic article, thank you very much.I am going to link this on my blog.

I am very lucky as I don't get many complaints but I have had a few bad experiences. About 99% of the problems I do get from items purchased are server lag, which is cured by the customer relogging, people who can't mod hair and don't take a copy before messing with it(oh wouldn't a standard head size be nice?), and the other customer problem I've had is from people who don't read the signs and policies and don't try a demo and then complain because they don't look exactly like the avatar in the ad pic. Sadly these are often most aggressive and belligerent.


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