Kickstarter Lesson #132: The 6 Core Philosophies for Great Customer Service

17 December 2014 | 19 Comments

As I mentioned last week, I’m at the peak of “shipping season” for my two 2014 Kickstarter campaigns, Tuscany and the Treasure Chest. It’s a stressful time, and I must admit that I haven’t been my best self. I strive for great customer service, and I think I’ve been falling short on some requests.

Here’s a specific ongoing example: In a recent Treasure Chest project update, I informed US backers at the $39 and $59 levels (special December delivery for backers only, not pre-order customers) that all of their orders had been shipped. If they hadn’t received a shipment notification from Amazon fulfillment, I asked them to e-mail me so I could make sure everything was okay. The update went on to note that all other US Treasure Chest backers would get a notification when their shipment arrived.

Over the next couple of days, I proceeded to get several dozen e-mails from $33 backers (January delivery) telling me they hadn’t gotten notification from Amazon. The e-mails ranged from super nice to super aggressive.

Under normal circumstances, I reply to backer misunderstandings in a really nice way. Sure, they hadn’t read the update very carefully, but it’s just a few backers out of thousands. No big deal, and it’s a reminder to me to be clearer in updates to avoid confusion.

However–this is no excuse, just reality–it’s shipping season, so I’m inundated with e-mails and logistics. Time is precious. So I have to admit that these e-mails have been getting on my nerves, and I’ve replied in a much more snippy way than I should.

Then, just a few days ago, a contributor to the Kickstarter Best Practices group on Facebook (Rafal Pilewicz) linked to a brilliant article by Derek Sivers about customer service. Reading it really centered me on the great philosophies about customer service that I was falling short of achieving.

The article reminded me that the true test of great customer service isn’t when you’re at your happiest, but rather when you’re stressed and short-tempered–those are the defining moments (for you, at least. The customer doesn’t know your mood, and thus your mood should never impact their experience in a negative way).

I’m going to summarize the article here (the bold part of each point is a direct quote from Sivers’ article), but I highly suggest your read the full article.

  1. You can afford to be generous. Derek talks about the attitude of abundance and how customers respond to it. He also talks about the opposite: “All bad service comes from a mindset of scarcity.” And yeah, sometimes things truly are scarce on Kickstarter. You made a print run of 1500 games from 1400 backers–the margin of error while shipping is pretty thin. But…he’s right. By being generous, your customers will be the ones who champion your product.
  2. The customer is more important than the company. This is sometimes the hardest to implement when the company is just you, as many Kickstarter creators experience. In those circumstances, the advice could be rephrased like this: “The customer is more important than you.” That’s a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it? How can you survive if you always put other people’s needs before own? The truth is that you won’t just survive if you do that–you’ll thrive.
  3. Customer service is a profit center. Businesses spend tons of resources (time and money) trying to get new customers. Kickstarter creators do too. Are you trying to launch a product or a company? If it’s the latter, each customer you already have is worth way more than customers you don’t have. Stop spending so much time, energy, and money on the people who don’t support you and start focusing on those who already do.
  4. Every interaction is your moment to shine. This one really hit home with me for the reasons I stated at the beginning of this post. I had an opportunity to shine–to be kind, to make the customer feel smart instead of dumb, to connect with a backer–and I wasted it. Think about this: Even on Kickstarter, when direct interaction with individuals is relatively high, you will still probably only have direct contact with about 10-20% of backers at most. The vast majority will never comment or send you a message. So if someone takes the time to contact you–no matter their attitude or tone–it’s a a huge gift to you. It’s a rare opportunity for you to shine. Don’t waste it like I’ve been doing.
  5. Lose every fight. Damn Sivers, it’s like you know me. Again, this one really connected with me. I didn’t realize I was doing it, but I was essentially trying to “win” those backer exchanges. How dumb is that? The thing I learned while waiting tables a long time ago is that the customer isn’t always right, but they’re always respected. It’s disrespectful to get defensive. Instead of pointing out to my backers why they were wrong, I should have apologized for the confusion my update caused. By eating humble pie, you put your backer in a power position–you get to make them feel good. That’s a win every time.
  6. Rebelliously right the wrongs of the world. A great Kickstarter creator doesn’t just make their project better when they treat their backers well–they make all of Kickstarter better. The longer Kickstarter exists, the more people are going to get burned at some point. Those people may not return, and that hurt other creators just as much as it hurts you. So here’s your chance to keep this awesome platform alive. By treating backers with kindness, empathy, and generosity, you allow them to continue to feel good about Kickstarter. That’s pretty cool to me. I love my backers, and I also love my fellow creators for the risks they take to create something awesome for the world. Every little bit I can do to help both of those groups is worth it to me.

What do you think about Sivers’ philosophies? They apply to pretty much any business, so can you think of a time when you’ve done one or more of these things and were surprised by how well it worked out?

Also read: Kickstarter Lesson #72: The 10 Elements of Great Customer Service for a Kickstarter Creator

19 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #132: The 6 Core Philosophies for Great Customer Service

  1. That advice is good for any interaction in life, but especially for anyone in a service oriented role. I work in IT at a University and as a freelancer in the game industry. Both areas have me in a service role helping others succeed with their endeavors. That fifth point of “Lose every fight” is the most challenging, especially when you “feel you are right.” Being willing to step back and humble yourself to their needs is a challenge, but goes such a long way to building a long term relationship of trust. That trust then leads to opportunities to educate and increase the effectiveness of the person you are serving. Thanks for sharing this list and your personal experiences. It is a worthy challenge to all of us to live out these six principles.

    1. T.R.: Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s tough when you feel that you’re right, isn’t it? I’ve been struggling with that. But you and Derek are right–the customer has a much better experience when you humble yourself to them, and it leads to a lot of trust.

  2. Hard to say no to those words since they all make sense :)
    I would elaborate that to an extend when replying to any costumer enquiries you have to forget about your emotions. Still not become a robot, though separating customers experience of your business from your person is a must.

    I believe that, though in the email you should ‘lose the fight’, you still should say something along the side ‘read the posts better next time’. Not so bluntly of course. For instance:
    ‘We apologise for this confusion we will make sure to highlight this better next time’.

    All the Best Jamey & wish you more patience next time… saying a guy who most likely would take any distaste towards their business personal… until he read this :)

    1. Konrad: These are great points. As for the one about “teaching” customers/backers, one thing I’ve been doing is reminding them to add stonemaiergames@gmail.com to their e-mail contacts list, as a lot of them would be more informed if e-mails from me hadn’t gone to their spam or promotions folder.

      As for the emotions, that makes sense, though I have one example of a way that emoting can be really effective: When something goes wrong, whether it’s in your control or out of it, it can often help to let your backers know that you’re frustrated about it. It can mean a lot to backers to see that you’re actually affected by stuff that’s going wrong, as long as you stay professional and solution-focused.

      1. I think that you’re spot on about expressing frustration openly.

        I think that the key is perhaps to BE emotional – show your excitement about your project, your frustration and anger at mishaps.

        However, whenever you show negative emotions, perhaps it’s best to remember to direct those emotions at events. Don’t tarnish anyone’s name hastily and definitely never direct negative emotions towards backers.

        I think that if you direct your negative emotions at events, it’s perfectly OK.

        Of course, I don’t think anyone will complain about positive emotions being directed towards them. :-)

        1. Behrooz: Exactly, I think that’s well said. It’s almost like if you want to emote, choose things that you and backers have in common. Like, everyone gets frustrated with customs. When customs stops your shipment, let backers know that you’re frustrated. You’re affected by this. I think it helps to show them that you’re going to do everything you can to fix the frustration, for you and for them.

          1. When I read your ideas and experiences, it does remind me of another entrepreneur Peter Shankman (social media and marketing expert) who recently tweeted:
            “For the love of God, stop trying to make your customers smarter! Just stop!
            http://t.co/09OxDZOWl1
            He mentions an encounter with a 80 sth year old lady, who doesn’t use smartphones too much. Anyway, my understanding of this is, should we be teaching our customers how to buy from us? Or should we attempt to provide them with various methods they use in everyday life?

          2. Rafal: Thanks for sharing yet another great article! To me, his point was about making customers feel safe. Sometimes that means offering them a few different options so they can choose the one they’re the most comfortable with.

  3. Having worked in retail and various customer service jobs for years, I can certainly attest to this information being inline with what constitutes as great customer service. Your direct interactions with people are probably one of the most important aspects of any business that involves service.

    I really appreciate point 4, and I think it’s especially important for those new publishers, as their following will be small in the beginning. It is a reward to be able to reach an individual and engage in a transaction with them, and we need to seize the opportunity to exceed their expectations. I used to own a spa business, and there was a lot of local competition. The way to differentiated my spa’s services from the others was to go above and beyond in making sure my customers were happy. We personalized each treatment for them, and made them feel like they were the only customer. Sure, it may take a bit more of your time and energy, but now you have a returning customer, and they go out and share their experience with their friends. Word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertisement.

    Point 6 really got my attention as well, as this I believe is one of the most important ideas every new publisher coming to KS should understand and take very seriously. As KS project creators, we are ambassadors to KS, and we are the ones creating the reputation of this amazing platform. By offering excellent customer service, and exceeding our backers expectations, we are not only strengthening our future business, but helping set the foundation for new project creators so they can do the same.

    1. Mike: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, especially the story about the spa. I really admire this line: “[We] made them feel like they were the only customer.” That is so spot on.

      On Kickstarter I think there’s an interesting push and pull in regards to that line. On one hand, you truly have the opportunity to make every customer feel special (especially every customer who reaches out to you personally). But at the same time, if you try to cater to every customer, a lot of things aren’t possible, like if different people want a different token in the game or a different card or a bigger box or a smaller box–everyone wants something different. So the challenge–in my experience–is to make every backer feel heard and respected, but at the same time convey that you’re looking out for all backers in the sweeping decisions you make about the product. It’s tough to do, and it’s definitely a learning process for me.

      1. You’re welcome Jamey, and I agree that it is a challenge to make everyone happy, as you will have many that may want something different from someone else. I think services are undoubtedly easier to tailor toward a customer’s needs or wants. Products are definitely a challenge, in trying to find that happy medium where the majority are satisfied. I think that all you can do, is try to develop the product in the best way you feel your target market would get the most value from it. And of course, knowing and understanding your target market well. Likewise, if your customers know what to expect from you, and you consistently deliver on that expectation, I think most reasonable people will be satisfied. There will always been that one or two that are unreasonable, and will never be satisfied no matter what you do, so you can’t beat yourself up over them.

  4. This is a wonderful list. I love, particularly, the “lose every fight” point. Back when I was a competitive debater, my coach taught me ” fight fire with water”. The nastier a competitor got, the sweeter I got, and the result was usually very positive (and certainly impressed the judges.) When we’re exceptionally apologetic, understanding, and generous it usually sucks any anger out of the equation and gets everyone back on track. Most importantly, it allows us to stay centered in our own values.

    I think it’s also valuable to remember that at the root of conflict in these situations is some sort of fear (in ourselves and others) and it’s probably useful to stop for a moment and identify that fear so it can be addressed as directly as possible.

    I think constantly about the fact that backers place a tremendous amount of trust in us. You’ve got a track record for delivery, so backers should feel safe by now. But we’ve got over 800 backers who are sticking with us, though we’re over six months behind schedule. I consider them something akin to saints, and I think they have every right to be on edge (though they haven’t displayed that yet.) I feel deeply indebted to them, not just for their financial support but for their patience, trust, and enthusiasm. They’ll get the best care I can possibly give them.

    1. Wendy: Thanks for the great comment. I like the example about your time on the debate team, and the insight about our fears and insecurities is really interesting. You used the words “trust” and “safe” here, which I think are both hugely important. I keep trying to put myself in backers’ shoes, and that little trick really helps when I get the more aggressive e-mails from backers.

  5. Hey Jamey:

    Just wanted to say a big thanks for your amazing KS archive. I began binge reading it today (Currently in the middle of the “Create Your Project” lessons) and have learned A TON!

    You have earned yourself a fan and a customer of your KS Book whenever you decide to publish it. (If join your newsletter, will there be a notification of when it comes out?)

    This particular article is very helpful. I can understand you wanting to “Win”, its how I would feel. But learning to “Lose” every fight” make so much sense. Not to mention the path of least resistance.

  6. Thanks Dapman! I’m glad to hear this blog has been helpful to you. This is a post that I like to read every week or so, so I appreciate the chance to return to it and be reminded of that “lose every fight” concept.

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