Kickstarter Lesson #190: 4 More Elements of Great Customer Service

16 June 2016 | 29 Comments

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting about customer service with podcaster Steve Ruduski on episode 60 of The Company Bard. You can listen to the episode to get the full story, but I took some notes about interesting things Steve said, so I wanted to share my thoughts on them here.

  1. Be responsibly responsive

I’m at the computer for about 14 hours a day. If I get a message or question from a customer, I try to reply within minutes. However, this isn’t always a good thing.

Sometimes the questions I receive are tough to read. Either the tone is overly aggressive or I made a mistake or one of my colleagues made a mistake–the point is, I get a bit heated reading certain messages/questions.

So what do I do? I respond right away in the heat of the moment. Sometimes my replies are composed, and other times they’re much blunter than they should be.

Here’s Steve’s advice for those situations: Reply right away to tell the customer you’ve received their e-mail, but save a detailed response for a few hours later. This is SO much better than what I typically do, and I’m going to try it from now on.

2. Empathize with pain

Steve brought up empathy, which is one of my favorite words when discussing customer service. It’s the simple solution of putting myself in someone else’s shoes and treating them as I would hope to be treated.

When Steve apologizes to a customer, he includes a key phrase that I’d like to incorporate into future apologies I write (not just because it’s effective, but because it will help me be more empathetic). The phrase is: “I’d be frustrated too if…”

It’s empathetic, it puts myself in their shoes, and it shows that I’ve correctly identified their pain.

3. Empower the helpless

Something I’ve realized over time is that a lot of the pain and frustration customers feel stems from helplessness. For example, if a creator isn’t posting project updates on a regular basis, customers may feel helpless because they don’t have any information. They don’t know what the silence means, and they’re helpless to learn more.

Sometimes it’s less overt. Like, sometimes a customer will receive a damaged game, and they’ll tell me about it. I used to to just tell them what we’d do to solve the problem, but solving a problem doesn’t always make a customer feel less helpless.

So now I give the customer the thing they’ve lost: Control. I put them in control of the solution by offering them a few solutions, and they get to pick the one that’s right for them.

4. Engage inactive customers

There will always be customers who are inactive simply because no one has ever asked them if they had anything to say. Every now and then, Steve will reach out to an inactive but consistent customer to check in with them.

I love this strategy, whether it’s during a Kickstarter campaign or after you’ve released 20 products. Maybe the customer won’t care or won’t respond, but at worst they’ll probably appreciate that you took the time to consider them. At best, you might learn some really interesting things from a valued customer.

The one thing Steve and I couldn’t figure out is how to identify inactive customers. There are ways to see if a customer has ordered multiple products, but it’s much harder to track their engagement through social media and e-mail. If you know of any solutions for this, please share in the comments.

Steve and I talked about one other interesting element of customer service near the end of our conversation, but it’s a topic for its own post, probably next week. What are your thoughts on these elements?

Also read: Kickstarter Lesson #72: The 10 Elements of Great Customer Service for a Kickstarter Creator and (off site) How to Say You’re Sorry

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29 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #190: 4 More Elements of Great Customer Service

  1. As usual a great article on customer service, which is something I think Stonemaier excels at, I would just say, people should be careful with “empathy” as a pre-requisite of service. If you feel empathy for someone’s situation let them know that, but nothing is more likely to turn me from annoyed to enraged than being told how I feel by someone who doesn’t really connect to my situation. A few times I’ve overheard customer service exchanges in stores or restaurants that run something along the lines of
    “I’d be frustrated too in your position.”
    “I’m not frustrated, I’m angry.”
    And that’s normally an indication that the exchange in question is doomed. Empathy is good if its there, but forcing it can shift a situation from bad to worse.

  2. I work in customer service and always try to use the three A’s that I learned from a sandwich shop I worked at for 6 years.

    Acknowledge – Make sure you understand the problem by asking good questions and more importantly restating what you believe to be the complaint or issue at hand. It’s amazing after you have something completely figured out that someone will say, “No that’s not it at all”. The other two A’s follow this step in order and hinge on you knowing what the problem is.

    Apologize – If it is your mistake apologize for the mistake promptly and clearly. As mentioned in your lesson Jamey, I often apologize for how someone is feeling or the situation that they have found themselves. This to me is a transition step that we don’t want to get caught in because ultimately the goal is to fix the problem. Occasionally someone may berate you or continue to try and make you feel bad for the mistake, this is the time to move them onto the Act ASAP. If they do not want to get to the Act then you probably are unable to help them.

    Act – Hopefully your business has a wide latitude to fix problems. Money back guarantees, promos, free stuff, etc help to make people leave a situation more happy. At the sandwich store we would give cookies to people all the time. We would also give people replacement drinks and sandwiches when they’d drop them.

    The real secret is by fixing a mistake you can actually make people more invested in your company. There’s a story about how when Toyota rolled out the first Lexus’s to customers they actually needed to be recalled for the repair of a defect. Toyota spent a ton of extra time and money making the process as pain free for customers with personalized calls, sending a mechanic out to Alaska if I recall correctly and all sorts of other crazy stuff. The result is that people felt like Lexus cared about them and was committed to making their customers happy. This is the same reason why so many people post on r/boardgames when a company replaces a piece for free.

    1. Wyatt: Thank you so much for sharing this! This is brilliant. I read a book a while ago about a sandwich shop that offered revolutionary customer service–I wonder if it’s the same one.

  3. Sometimes you just can’t please a person. I noticed that someone had given Scythe a score of 1 on BGG – the reason being that you didn’t let him buy the game at KS price after the campaign has ended. I find that very silly. :)

  4. Jamie,
    Great post. I think great customer service is one of the keys to any business success. You and Stonemaier Games are definitely leading the way in that department. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on juggling customer service requests/needs with making a profit and running a successful business. I read one of your posts on shipping the other day. In the post, you describe having to refund or send out hundreds of games to customers who claimed they never received the package. I understand mistakes happen or things are lost or customers put in the wrong information, but if you have to reimburse hundreds of people (even if most are at fault for the loss or damage…wrong address, non-secure address, etc.) how can one stay afloat? Personally, if I make the mistake, I do not expect the company to reimburse me. I would pay for a new game if I put the wrong address. I’d be mad for making such a simple mistake, but I’d take ownership.

    In your opinion, is there a line where customer service ends and business begins?

    1. Denny: That’s a good question. I think the key is that those hundreds of packages are spread across many campaigns. If they all happened during the same campaign, it would be a bigger burden, but not as much when it’s spread over the last few years.

      But I do agree that there are times when I wish backers would take more responsibility for not giving me a current, secure address. I reach out to backers in a number of ways to make sure they know to give me such an address, but even then there are many times when it doesn’t happen. Sometimes I’ve had to draw a line there. Like, for example, if a package is stolen from an address, I absolutely will not deliver to that address again, no matter how much the customer says that’s what they want. It simply doesn’t make sense for me to send another expensive product to the same place that has already proven to the be theft friendly. Usually customers understand this, but a few of them have not been so understanding.

      1. Just out of curiosity, but exactly how do someone get a package stolen? I get the whole thing about not being able to deliver to a proper adress. But stolen? Do the company just leave the package on the dorstep/lawn.

        Here, in Sweden, most companied just ship the packages to a local company in charge of storing. You will get a pice of paper telling you your package have arieved at this adress (some companies use there own so I have 4 different pickup places in my area). After that you got x amout of time to get the packadge or it is returned to the sender.

        Could you not argue that the delivery company have have failed to uphold to their end of the contract and that they have to reimburse you for the stolen game?

        I would argue that if they leave the packadge so it can be stolen it is clearly a fault of teh delivering company. If they can´t deliver becaus you provided a “faulty” adress then unfortunetly it goes on you but you still should get the game back. Or are they arguing that the contract is for delivering from A to B and not from person A to person B?

        1. Daniel: Yes, many couriers deliver to the doorstep without a signature (I’ve found that many backers actually prefer that), and then the package is stolen. That’s why I ask backers for secure addresses without a history of theft or where someone can receive the game when it’s delivered.

          Couriers won’t refund you for stolen packages, as they did their job–they delivered the game from point A to point B.

  5. Could you not use the same, or a slightly modified variant, software they use for media coverage. Where you can enter “Stonemaire Games” and it will notify you when that frace is mentiond in media. You could do the same with a costomer and just limit the places you search to as an example BGG and your forum? + blogg. Just s thought.

    1. Daniel: That’s an interesting method. I do use software called Mention to see when my company is discussed somewhere. But I need a comprehensive way to do that for 20,000 e-newsletter subscribers (not one by one). :)

      1. Yes I know, and that is where the probably needed modification comes in. You need to limit where you look, I asume looking everywhere is to much work and not entirely sure it is legal.

        And then you just invert the code to only return persons/adresses/usernames that do not show up anywhere. That would make you lost of inactiv persons. It is not a 100% way to do it but it is a way. And obviously you need to be able to enter all 20,000 people at once. =)

        I would asume that the activ to inactiv ratio is 1:9 / 2:8 so the big mass is inactiv. But it is only a guess.

        Just out of curiosity. Would you not say targeting alpha gamers, as a company / out of a financial standpoint, is the only group “worth” contacting. If you can identify them. Or do you a alteriour motive for wantiing to contact inactiv people. Or is it just to check if every thing is ok?

        There is a lot of dada out there showing that targeting alpha “something” people is a very effective way of doing marketing. This is why famous peoeple get free stuff, why blogger get free stuff as long as they talk about it on there blogg and so on.

        Or are you trying to convert inactiv people to active people?

        Not saying never talk to any one but alpha gamers, just playing the devils advocate here for arguments sake. I personaly think it is a good policy to folow up with costomers, it show you as a company care about them. =)

        1. Daniel: Ah, I see what you’re saying. That could potentially work.

          My main focus for trying this was to reach out to inactive but consistent customers, just to let them know directly that I’m here for them if they have anything to say. Sometimes I’ve found I can learn some great things that way, and those customers might feel valued by the outreach.

  6. I’m not sure about giving the customer a multiple solutions and how that can work really (Empower the helpless). When there was a problem I used to offer a customer the best and fastest option. Can you give us one example please?

    1. Sure, the example I use in the post is the primary one that comes to mind. I have the backer send me a photo of their damaged box, and based on the damage, I offer them a few solutions: I can send them a partial refund, a free item, and sometimes I offer a replacement box.

      1. When you offer your customer a partial refund or a free item, do you include replacement of the damaged components? If I got it right, if something goes wrong you offer them a bonus to make them happy (so they can choose a bonus)?

        1. This is just specifically for game boxes, and they get only one of those options. Basically, I offer them the solutions that feel fair to me, and they select the one they like the most.

          1. I like this idea because this satisfies a lot of different needs that the player may have. Maybe they want to resell it, maybe they are a collector, maybe they are just excited by the prospect more game.

      2. Do you base what you offer on the amount of damage the item have or simply on the fact if they send you a picture or not?

  7. Regarding Inactive customers:

    1. On Kickstarter, people that never sent a message or made a comment in Comments section. I once wanted to reach a specific customer, but couldn’t remember the name, so I bubble-sorted backers clicking on “Message” tab (I knew we had several conversations). You could sort it from bottom to top and manually send your “hey, what’s up?” message.

    2. On Facebook, exactly 40′ ago I had a flash: go back to FB page, search EVERY post we made and invite all the people that liked once the post, but not the page. It’s faster than it sounds, and they may remember what they liked some time ago. You can also message directly that way.

    3. On Twitter… I am no user, so I cannot give a specific method, but I assume something of the above works! :)

    4. On your own site/blog: are the people that unsubscribe visible? I would very much like to ask one the reason they unsubscribe, like some programs I uninstall ask..

    1. Harry: Thanks for sharing these ideas for identifying inactive customers! As for this blog, I do now know who subscribes or unsubscribes. I can see it for our e-newsletter, though.

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