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Work/Life: Policy is a dirty word

Customer evangelism tip: if you want to bring your customers closer to you, don’t use the p-word, at least not to their face. Don’t say “Our policy is …” because they don’t want to hear about your freaking policy. They want to hear how you can help them. You’ve been there, right? Moreover, beware of how your business partners are using the p-word, because while you’re merrily trying to build beautiful relationships with customers, your partners’ efforts could be throwing a pickle in the cheesecake, so to speak.

Customer evangelism tip: if you want to bring your customers closer to you, don’t use the p-word, at least not to their face.

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Don’t say “Our policy is …” because they don’t want to hear about your freaking policy. They want to hear how you can help them. You’ve been there, right?

Moreover, beware of how your business partners are using the p-word, because while you’re merrily trying to build beautiful relationships with customers, your partners’ efforts could be throwing a pickle in the cheesecake, so to speak.

Lynette Chiang and Bike Friday Club of Sydney
Your best friends, at times your worst enemies, and everything in between – ultimately, customers enable us to be paid. It’s all good, if you allow it to be.

Our company works in partnership with a number of tour companies. One such company offers a really fine product, which is strictly low-cost and therefore comes with a no-refunds and no-exchange policy. How strict I didn’t truly appreciate, until a recent SOS email from a customer. (For some reason when people are unhappy they bang on the door of the company Customer Evangelist, as if I’m supposed to Hail Mary and work a miracle. Well I do try!)

The customer, a single working mother, told me she was unable to do the tour she signed up for, but wanted to transfer her investment to another tour later in the year, and even better, sign up her son as well.

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So let me add that up … 1+1 = 3. That’s two sales, plus an extra point for sheer customer satisfaction – that’s Customer Evangelism mathematics.

But the tour company would hear nothing of it. Their policy says ‘no refunds’ – customers need to get travel insurance or be damned.

Could the company not make an exception – after all, it was not like they’d spent the money already? No, who the hell was I to tell them how to run their business?

After giving me a long email lecture on their successful business model, they grudgingly agreed to let her transfer because she was signing up someone else.

The customer was overjoyed – even more than when she’d first signed up. Great! Phew.

After the tour, I happened to be sitting at dinner with 4 customers who had been on the tour – well, actually three. Unfortunately, one girl’s flight was delayed a day due to bad weather, and she arrived to miss the orientation session, and was refused entry. She did not have trip insurance – bad move. Not only that, she was told she could not get even a partial credit towards another tour, and was effectively left stranded at the airport, having to wrangle herself a long stay at a stranger’s house.

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Yes, she read, and was read, the riot act, she should have known better. But the bottom line? A sad and stranded customer out of pocket $600.

It’s called ‘buyer beware’. Does a fast company really want to operate in that realm?

Over dinner we discussed how she might approach the company to get special consideration – what if she enlisted some people to join? She was somewhat cheered by this prospect, and we ran it by the tour operator.

The tour operator said she’d get $50 referral bonus for each one, offsetting her loss.

Now although this seems like a great solution – make a customer earn back her investment – you might as well dress her in a striped shirt and pants and give her a potato peeler and a bucket of spuds.

People know what caveat emptor means, but that doesn’t bring them into the fold – it’s simply a golden opportunity to drive them away. Nor do they want to hear the old chestnut “we stand behind our products” either – unless you get out from behind that wall of stuff and prove it.

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There are some areas where it pays to take care of future sales rather than the one right in front of you. As I described in a previous post, the Wolford manageress was well in her rights to tell me to go and get knotted, but she didn’t. I’m a happy customer. (I’m no longer a fan of Velcro, though).

Rigid policies are fine for a bargain basement table of Jurassic Park-themed oven mitts marked ‘as is’, when you’re talking the realm of good will, good feelings and the ‘touchy feely’ – especially in this day and age of money-back-satisfaction-guarantees, and branding for the long run – the p-word just turns people off.

Buyer Beware is a property law doctrine – an important fall back position, but the last thing a business based on relationships should resort to.

Hello Lynette,

I’m writing to request removal of my company from your roster due to your repeated demands that we alter our policies (which are at the heart of our business model) to suit your fancy. If compliance with such demands is a requirement towards participation, we simply wish to have nothing to do with such a program. I am absolutely not going to have business partners telling me how to run my company when they have little or no understanding of our business model.

We provide what is for most of our clients a life-changing experience, that is both unique and sacred. We make that experience available to as many people as possible by keeping our pricing ridiculously low. However to do so while staying highly profitable we must operate on a very strict budget framework where all unnecessary costs are trimmed and all policies, including the no-tour-switch or refund policies are strictly enforced. At the same time, we are a member of the Better Business Bureau and Co-Op America. We operate to the highest legal, ethical, social and green standards required for membership with both of these highly respected entities …

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Lynette Chiang aka The Galfromdownunder is in a curious position of lobbying for her customers, her employer, it’s business partners, it’s partner’s partners …in fact, the whole dang lot. That’s the wide, wide world of Customer Evangelism.

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About the author

Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press.

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