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One of the obvious building blocks of having a brand is having people who interact with you. Customers, subscribers, followers, and fans are inevitable parts of your brand.

You might decide to sell t-shirts or something else to bring in some extra income, or perhaps you decide to build a new membership website for your content.

No matter how good you are at running your business, you’re probably going to run into issues that will affect your customers. Orders get dropped, payments don’t go through, web pages don’t load, and somewhere down the line someone will have a bad experience.

How you respond in these situations will dictate the relationship between you and your audience. It’s not just about customer retention, it’s how you are you allowing your brand to be perceived.

In the episode, we’ll be sharing stories of exceptional customer service and how to apply that to your brand.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Customer service is about how a person is going to perceive your brand from this point forward.
  • Take responsibility for the issues that happen in connection with your brand if you want to win.
  • Give your customers the same positive customer service experience you would want.
  • When you go above and beyond for the customer, you’re communicating that you care about their experience more than you care about the cost it took to make things right.
  • Help your customers feel really taken care of.
  • Approach every interaction with your customers through the framework of how you want your brand to be perceived as a whole.
  • Cultivating a relationship with your audience is going to take some sacrifice, but that’s how you build a successful brand.
  • Giving customers free products isn’t the only way to create a positive experience.
Show Notes
  • 03:09 Cory: I had the term “customer support” in the title initially, but I changed it to “service,” because customer support implies just fixing a problem. Customer service implies that you are actually going out of your way to serve the people who are interacting with your brand. This is really important. Regardless of whether you’re selling something or building something, as you develop your brand, you’re always going to be interacting with people. That’s the point of having any kind of brand—to interact with people.
  • 03:45 As you interact with people, you begin to build relationships. The point of having a company, a business, or a brand, is to interact in some way with other human beings. As you do that, there are always going to be positive interactions and less positive interactions.

At some point, no matter how good you are at running your brand/business, you’re going to run into issues that will effect your customers and your audience.

  • 04:30 It could be orders getting dropped, a payment not going through, you shipped something in the mail and it gets lost, or someone is trying to access your website and there’s a 404 error or some server issue. There are going to be problems like that. Maybe they log into YouTube, and this happened last week—YouTube was down for 15 minutes, and everyone was freaking out.
  • 04:50 That’s a long time for YouTube. There are always going to be things like that, where you’re going to have to step up and not just be about customer or audience acquisition, but you’re going to have to work on retention and customer service. We want to address those things today. There are certain ways of doing customer service that are okay, others that are terrible, and even others that are exceptional and that will go a long way to producing lifelong relationships.

Take Responsibility

  • 05:38 Cory: Kyle and I have a few stories of our personal experiences with other brands or with our own brands, and I wanted to share those and pull them apart to see how those work toward building lifelong relationships with your audience. I want to open it up for customer experience stories.
  • 06:14 Kyle: My story is related to my recent product launch. This is sort of my first, and I say “sort of” because I’ve had some things for sale before. This is many more sales and many more customers to make sure that everything is going smoothly. One customer, a few days ago, had a problem. It’s a long story, so I’ll shorten it. Paypal didn’t reject the payment, but my site timed out because Paypal was having issues that day. They were down for just long enough that my store back-end decided that it was too long and it cancelled the payment.
  • 07:00 This person’s order was cancelled, because it was assumed that they didn’t pay or didn’t have the funds to pay. As far as they knew, they paid, everything went smoothly, and they got a confirmation email that they went through the checkout and all of those things. I emailed them and said, “I’m sorry to see that your order was cancelled and I wanted to check in with you and make sure that there wasn’t an issue. Either way, thank you for your interest in my products.” The person replied, and they thought everything had gone smoothly. They had no idea that there was a problem or that their payment had failed.
  • 07:46 My first reaction was to look into it more and say, “What’s going on? How can they go fix it? How can they change this and make sure the payment goes through for them?” That was my first reaction. I started looking into things, and all I could tell on my end was that Paypal did not send the payment to me, so I told them that it was an issue on Paypal’s end. I left it at that, but I wasn’t feeling good about that experience. I basically left it up to him to find out what happened with Paypal, come back, and order the product again, only to potentially go through the same issue.
  • 08:32 I dug into it a little more. I researched the error it was showing on my side, and I discovered that it was likely an issue with my site, not Paypal. Paypal may have had an issue, but my site decided to time out the order and cancel it.
  • 08:51 Cory: Also, it was without warning. It didn’t alert you. It didn’t alert the customer. Everything seemed like it was okay.
  • 09:00 Kyle: It was at that point I decided that I don’t want to make somebody jump through hoops. It’s not his fault that the order was cancelled. It’s my responsibility to take on. I own the store, and someone ordered from my brand. This comes down to how someone’s experience is handled. It goes far beyond what the product is, how much it’s worth, or how much it’s going to cost me to fix this.

Customer service is about how a person is going to perceive your brand from this point forward.

  • 09:42 The way I handled this situation directly correlates with that. I emailed him back and said, “You know what, let’s not jump through all of these hoops or mess with this. From what I can tell, this was an issue on my end with my site. I’ll send this to you for free this time, don’t worry about it.” He actually wrote back and said, “I can buy it again, that’s fine. I don’t mind going through this again or giving you my credit card information.” I said, “No, this is on me. I want to do this. I shouldn’t even have had to bother you with the problem. This should have been a seamless experience for you.”
  • 10:35 Who knows if that person will ever return to the store or if I’ll ever have another sale from them? Who knows if they’ll ever think of my brand again? I can’t guarantee any of those things, but I do know that that level of customer service is what I would expect from a company that I ordered from. It’s not that I would expect it, but it would take my experience to another level. It would take me a step forward rather than making me cautious of approaching that brand again.
  • 11:16 Cory: I like that Kyle took responsibility for it. Yeah, maybe Paypal was having an issue. Maybe a certain server was down and there were problems that morning, but the customer doesn’t care about that. The customer cares about their interaction with your brand. They were on your website, and that was what was important to them. That was what was in their face. Paypal was just a gateway, a tool that was used to interact with your brand and purchase your product. I like that Kyle stepped forward and said, “I’m going to take responsibility and eat the cost on this.”
  • 11:58 We use the term “eat the cost” because it feels like you’re just losing money here, but what you’re gaining is trust and positive perception. That goes into deeper topics like customer lifetime value. What’s more important—customer acquisition or customer retention? There are people all over the spectrum on this. All these things are happening, but the perception is on you, not on Paypal.

If you take responsibility for the issues that happen in connection with your brand, you’re going to win.

  • 12:51 Even if the issue is Paypal’s fault and you’re the one solving it, you’re placing yourself in a better light in the customer’s eyes than Paypal or whatever gateway or platform you’re using. That’s how you have to look at it. Don’t blame the platform! Blame yourself. You need to take responsibility. If you’re using that platform, it’s your fault that you chose them, so it’s your responsibility. Adina just said in the chat, “This is a huge problem with Etsy right now. Tons of orders are going through on Etsy’s end, and all the sellers are looking bad to their customers. They have no control over what’s going on with Etsy and the company they use for credit card payments.”
  • 13:38 Then she follows up, “I’m so happy to be done with them.” That’s so true. People go on there trying to connect with this company, and they think, “Why isn’t this order processing? It’s not working.” Maybe they’ll blame Etsy, but all they know is that they can find what they want to get someplace else.

Treat Your Customers the Way You Would Want to Be Treated

  • 14:04 Kyle: I was actually in a similar situation to this person that I’m mentioning. Examine the way you would appreciate things to turn out with customer service. I say that because the more I started thinking about this issue, I really wish that I hadn’t sent the first email, detailing how payment can be redone. It was sort of a knee-jerk reaction. When I started thinking about it, I realized that, at one point, I ordered from a really awesome company called Field Notes. I’m sure people have seen these, but they sell these pocket notebooks. I ordered a pocket notebook and a space pen.
  • 14:55 Space pens are basically these really tiny pens that are really small, so you can put them in your pocket and carry them around. I don’t even notice they’re in my pocket most of the time. When I pull it out and open it up, it’s a full-sized pen. They’re really cool. I ordered that, and this is probably a $50 order. It got lost in transit. One day, the shipping just kept the tracking for it at one place, and it never moved from there. I had even paid for faster shipping, because I wanted to have it before a trip I was going on.
  • 15:41 I sent them an email, and my first reaction was that they were probably going to say something like, “We’ll figure it out and let you know.” All these things run through your mind, and you assume that you’re going to have to jump through hoops. Instantly after I sent them an email, 10 or 15 minutes later, someone emailed me back and said, “We see that it’s stuck as well. We’ve already got another one ready. We sent it in the mail, so you should be getting it in a day or two. If the other one shows up, just let us know.”
  • 16:16 It was excellent, mind-blowingly good, that they said, “We’re going to send another one. It doesn’t matter, we want you to be able to get your product.” They took full responsibility for what was going on with the United States Postal Service, even though they didn’t have to. They could have said, “Call this number and talk to the postal service to see what’s going on with this shipment. Here’s how you find out.” They could have made you do the leg work, but instead, they just sent me another one.

I want my customers to have the same positive customer service experience that I’ve have had.

  • 16:57 Cory: This is something that people get hung up on. They think, “If I set this precedent that I go above and beyond, what about everyone else that has issues?” First off, don’t assume that you’re only ever going to have issues. If you do, you need to fix that. Secondly, let’s say you have 100 customers and one of them has a problem. You end up losing $20 because you have to reship a product. In the grand scheme of things, what’s more important—that $20 or the way that your brand is perceived?

Go Above & Beyond

  • 17:32 Cory: Michael in the chat just asked, “If stuff like that happens, do you feel obliged to give something extra to the customer, like collateral for the mistake, or do you stick only to apologizing to the customer?” First off, the way you produce lifelong relationships through exceptional customer service not only by asking, “What can I do?” but also by asking, “What else can I do?” When you ask, “What else can I do?” it means that not only have you gone above and beyond the fix, but you’re communicating something to the customer.

When you go above and beyond for the customer, you’re communicating that you care about their experience more than you care about the cost it took to make things right.

  • 18:25 That is so important! That’s how you produce lifelong relationships. This story came to my mind as we are talking about this topic. Last year, I was investing in trying to build up a DSLR setup, and one of the things I wanted to buy was a flexible, compact, lightweight tripod. My first mistake was buying cheap. I bought something for $20, and it arrived in the mail. It was a lot shorter than I expected, it was really flimsy, and trying to stick a DSLR on the top of it made it shake around. I was really disappointed. I couldn’t be bothered to send it back.
  • 19:20 About a month after that, I was going through my Amazon feedback forms where you leave feedback for the items I purchased, and I left a two or three star rating on the tripod. I left a review saying, “Avoid. Spend a few extra dollars and get something reliable. This is really rickety. It’s not going to be helpful for your DSLR. If you’re using it for something lightweight, it’s probably okay.” I wrote something like that to try and be helpful for other people. The next day, I received a phone call from a representative of the company.
  • 20:11 He said, “Hi, my name is Dave. I read your review on this particular tripod, and I want to make it right to you. I want to send you the step up, the next tier tripod, absolutely for free, and I’d love for you to try that out.” I don’t know that he asked for me to leave a different review, but he said that he had a new tripod in the mail for me that was a better version. I was blown away. I got the new tripod in the mail, and it’s a really decent tripod. Dave probably sent me a $60 tripod. In the grand scheme of things, they might look at that and think, “We just lost $60 plus however much it took to ship, plus packaging and processing.” Let’s say they lost $100 on that sale.
  • 21:31 What they gained was my trust as a customer. They didn’t ask me, but I went in and edited my review. I said, “This is a great company. Even though this tripod may not be the best solution, go get this other one.” I think you can leave a review on Amazon even if you haven’t purchased that thing on Amazon, and I went and left a five star review for this other tripod, not just for the tripod, but also on behalf of the company. Immediately, I was turned from a two star reviewer who was going to forget everything about them to being a person who actually would advocate for them, all because I had a personal interaction with one of their representatives, and they asked themselves, “What else can we do for this person?”
  • 22:26 They didn’t just ask, “What can we do?” They could have come and apologized or had me send it back for a refund, but they said, “Keep that tripod. Here’s another one. Don’t worry about it.” That’s incredibly powerful. That was an exceptional experience with customer service. I have had various other encounters like that. That’s what the goal should be. The goal should always be, “What else can I do?” Granted, we don’t do this all the time. There are things that we can’t do. Let’s say the person on Kyle’s website went and made his purchase—Kyle can’t go on and reactivate that purchase. You can’t send a note to Paypal and say, “Hey, charge the customer again.”
  • 23:21 What you can do is take ownership and do something else. You can send them a free product, give them a call, or send them an email. Any of that stuff is doable. There’s always something else that you can do.

Think about what else you can do—it’s going to set you apart as having exceptional customer service and make you memorable.

  • 23:42 You want your brand to be memorable, not something that will be forgotten because someone had a subpar or even an average experience with your brand.
  • 24:04 Kyle: Your customers don’t care about the product. When they’re going through customer service, they don’t care about the product. They care about the experience they’re going to have or the connection they have with your brand. If you can create that really good connection, they’ll come to you over and over. Let’s look at this from an objective point of view. There are really great companies out there with really great tripods, these high-level corporations. You purchased from a company that may not be at that status, but now that’s who you’ll go back to if you want a tripod. That’s the first place you’ll look or be interested in, because you were taken care of well.
  • 24:54 They appealed to the way you would like to be treated, and they showed a different level of humanity than a company that says, “Sorry, you’re just going to have to figure this out. We’ll just cancel your order and try it again.” They took care of you really well, and you’re going to remember them. That’s who you’re going back to. Cory and I both know this company called Sweetwater. When I want cables or any kind of audio equipment, that’s the first place I go, because they take care of you. Even though common sense says, “You have an Amazon Prime account. Look for it there! You have free two day shipping,” that’s not who I go to because I want to support this other brand.
  • 25:44 Their product does not matter. It doesn’t matter if, on paper, they have a lesser product. What matters is that you can order from a company and feel really taken care of, that you can get behind them and want them to succeed as a brand. That’s why certain brands succeed that come into a market that’s “oversaturated.” They show a level of care and attention to their customers, or a connection to the way a customer would like to approach their life, that other brands don’t.

Customer Lifetime Value

  • 26:43 Cory: I’ve read a lot of articles and seen a lot of businesses and marketers talk about this idea of customer lifetime value. Customer lifetime value is looking at the scope of someone’s lifetime of interaction with you and what monetary value or gain you will see from that relationship. If someone looks at your brand and gives you $0, and they never give you any money, their customer lifetime value is $0. There’s a lot of math that goes into this. In fact, it’s less than $0, because them looking at your website costs you money, bandwidth for views. If they stream any videos, that’s bandwidth. You’re actually losing money for that traffic.
  • 27:39 There are various algorithms and you look at that, people will say, “Does it make more sense to spend X amount of money on this potential customer? Is the loss outweighed by the gain?” As a very simple example, let’s say a customer costs you $20 over the course of their relationship with you—either in a product you made, the website they’re on, or a business card that you handed them. Overall, that’s $20 you spend, and they end up spending $10. You haven’t gained anything. Maybe you spend $200 on a customer. They buy a product, and you put money back into that.
  • 28:41 Let’s say that there’s a problem and you put money into it to make it okay. They have a good relationship with you, and over the course of their interaction with you over a long period of time, they spend $1,000. In a simple way, you have a profit of $800. There’s a better gain there. A lot of people will look at this and try and do the math. They’ll try to figure out if it’s more important to retain the customer or save their own time.

Approach every interaction with your customers through the framework of how you want your brand to be perceived as a whole.

  • 29:29 What if this person you interact with goes to every single one of your audience members and tells them how that experience was? Is that going to be a positive or a negative thing? Certainly, things can be different in different circumstances. I’m not saying that you should spend $200 on every single customer. If there’s a problem and someone is ungrateful, hard to work with, and they’re going out of their way to make you unhappy and inconvenienced, that’s something to take into consideration vs. someone who has been a loyal customer for years who has a problem.
  • 30:18 There needs to be a base level that you are willing to go to to provide exceptional customer service. It’s not just about that one customer. It’s about the entirety of your brand and how it interacts with the rest of the world.

When Customers Take Advantage

  • 30:39 Cory: Michael asks again, “It’s understandable that we go the extra mile to make customers happy, and of course we should, but what if the customer ends up taking advantage of the situation? Where do you draw the line to not be taken advantage of?” There’s a level of common sense here.
  • 30:53 Imagine you send something in the mail and they say, “Hey, I didn’t receive it,” you look at the tracking, and it says that it was received, so you say, “It says that it was received, but I’ll send you another.” If they tell you that one wasn’t received, it’s possible that there’s a bigger issue. You need to evaluate that and use some wisdom. Again, you need to ask yourself, “What is going to be the net result, not just financially, but with how people are going to look at my brand?” If someone’s going to take advantage of you, you can’t stop them from trying. All you can do is stick with your values and evaluate the situation based on those values and how you want people to look at your brand.
  • 31:41 Kyle: In the situation I was talking about earlier, where I sent the product for free to this customer, one of the things I did on the back-end of my website was to add a customer note. I use WooCommerce, but I’m pretty sure whatever you’re using for sales on your own platform will let you add a customer note. I wrote a private note that said, “Explained the situation, what’s happening, and that I’m sending it for free.” If this issue ever arises again with this or any other customer, I could simply search and make sure I haven’t had this problem with them before so I can evaluate the situation.
  • 32:22 I understand where this question is coming from. That is your first reaction, for better or worse. Maybe they’re trying to take advantage of the situation! I think that’s misplaced. Most people who approach you with a problem aren’t trying to get something for free. They just want to find out what’s going on. This customer forwarded the email and said, “It shows here that my order was complete. I’m confused.” You have to have a level of trust with people and realize that not everyone is trying to take advantage. If someone requests special treatment over and over, maybe that’s something to evaluate, but customers taking advantage of you like that will be very few and far between.

Exceptional Experiences Don’t Always Cost Money

  • 33:21 Cory: You also don’t need to spend money to create an exceptional experience. Kyle could write out, “Sorry about this problem. I want you to know that I’m calling the United States Postal Service or the Our Local Country Post Office. I talked with Gerald on the phone, and I’m getting this sorted out for you.” Talking in language that demonstrates that you’re going above and beyond is really powerful.
  • seanwes”>34:05 Kyle and I work for seanwes, and we have a membership you can join to access great, curated learning material to build and grow a sustainable business. You also get access to the Community, which is where we are right now. It’s live, 24/7 interaction with people all around the world who are building their businesses. Imagine if you got a seanwes membership and that same day or the next, you got a phone call from me saying, “Welcome to seanwes! We’re excited to have you as part of the membership. My name is Cory Miller, Director of Member Success, and I’d love to welcome you, see if there’s any issues, make sure you got the welcome email, and make sure everything’s going well and that you’re able to log in.”
  • 34:59 That kind of customer experience would be so incredible, right? I’m not saying that we’re going to do that. As an example, what if we did that? What if someone purchased something from Kyle’s store and he sent them a personal email, not just the automated ones, or he wrote a little note or made a phone call? Any of those things where you go above and beyond don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. That’s just you taking an additional step toward providing an exceptional customer experience. Be a little bit creative.
  • 35:39 It doesn’t have to be a thing where you send them a new product for free or you give them access to something or give them a coupon. It doesn’t always have to be that way, but that’s our go-to automatically. “Sorry you had a problem. Here’s 10% off your next order.” Or, “Sorry there was an issue. I’m shipping a new thing.”

Giving our customers free products is often our first solution, but there are other solutions you can use to create that positive experience.

  • 36:06 Kyle: That’s very true. Some of those things aren’t things I’ve thought through, to be honest. As the introvert on the podcast, I would be a little bit weirded out if someone called me when I signed up. Those are still really good things, and it still reflects on your brand. Even if the person doesn’t answer the phone, they still notice. With the company I mentioned earlier, Sweetwater, the first time they called, I answered and talked with them, and it was really interesting. Since then, there have been a few times that I’ve ordered, they’ve called, and I missed it. Honestly, I don’t call back, but it still makes an impression. On their side, I’m not sure they’re worried about people calling back, because it’s about the gesture.
  • 37:16 Cory: You’re talking about when Dan calls. I know that every time I buy from Sweetwater, Dan’s going to call and ask if everything went well, that the order is being processed, and I should be receiving it. If I have any problems, I should give him a call, here’s his personal extension.
  • 37:48 Kyle: Those are really good experiences that people want to have. It’s tough, because businesses exist to make money. The brands that represent those businesses are in place to fuel their effort to become financially sustainable, however that looks. It could be through donations, if you’re a non-profit, through sales, or through client-services. In the end, that is how a brand functions and helps the company that it represents. It’s tough to think of things where you lose money. Let’s be real—you lose money with a lot of these things, or you lose time that you could be spending on other things.
  • 38:52 This is the really important stuff, the stuff that shows the character of your brand and moves it beyond an input-output sales brand, something generic where you buy from them, they ship to you, and you never have an interaction with them. Instead, you’re a company that cares about it’s customers’ experience. Cultivating a relationship with your audience is going to take some sacrifice. That could be financial, time, or whatever. It’s going to take sacrifice to have a brand that people connect with beyond having interesting products.
  • 40:07 Cory: I just want to see more people thinking of what else they can do. That’s how you cultivate relationships, and cultivating relationships is how you build a successful brand. It’s not just about making sure you have the money or the right logo. It’s about how you’re interacting with the rest of the world. A successful brand is known and perceived in the way it wants to be. Think through how you want to be treated, and then say, “What else can I do for my customers?”