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

5 December 2013 | 21 Comments

customer service“I actually monitor all backer homes and workplaces for any mention of our games. It’s not creepy; it’s customer service.” –Jamey Stegmaier

The above line is a joke–obviously I don’t have access to every closed-circuit camera and baby monitor in the world. It was in response to a backer’s comment today on Board Game Geek referencing how quickly I respond to questions about our games in public forums.

His comment (and my response) made me wonder: Does responsiveness = good customer service?

The answer, I’ve determined, is: Not by itself.

By itself, responsiveness is fine, but if it isn’t paired with a number of other elements of customer service, it doesn’t matter. If you e-mail me asking about a rules question, and I reply immediately to say, “Go read the rulebook, dummy,” then obviously that’s terrible customer service. The reverse is true: If you e-mail me with a rules question and I take a week to respond, no matter how good my answer is, that’s bad customer service.

Before I delve into the key elements to great customer service for a Kickstarter creator, let’s ask the obvious question:

Is customer service important?

This is something I wonder all the time for a number of companies. For example, a few years ago Netflix opened a huge call center in the Pacific Northwest. They promoted the heck out of it, saying that they knew wanted to be able to provide round-the-clock, premium customer service with native English speakers.

My reaction at the time was, “Is this really a selling point? Just send me my Breaking Bad DVDs and I’m happy.”

In reality, I’ve called Netflix several times over the last few years, and I’ve been delighted by their service. It wasn’t for anything earth-shattering; all I needed was a few minutes of competence. And I got it.

I’m sure there are some board game publishers out there who make amazing games but have terrible customer service. I’m sure some of them do quite well. But I bet all of them would do even better if they improved their customer service. A good game makes for a happy gamer; good customer service leads to lifelong loyalty.

The 10 Elements of Great Customer Service for a Kickstarter Creator

Responsive: Think about how you feel when you fill out an online customer service form. A part of me always feels a little helpless when I do that as a customer–I almost assume that I’m not going to get a response, at least not for a while. The peace of mind you can provide a customer by replying quickly is unparalleled.

Compassionate: When a backer tells me that they’re missing a piece to their game, I don’t just ask for their address. I apologize for the mistake. I show them that I understand their frustration. And then I make it right. The same goes for forums and comments on Kickstarter–just because you don’t agree or dislike what a backer is saying doesn’t mean you can’t show them compassion.

Attentive: A few months ago, a backer told me a story about a missing piece in a game he got from Plaid Hat Games. He got a response right away from the CEO of Plaid Hat, who personally packaged the piece and sent it out the next day. That was several years ago, and the backer has never forgotten that he got a replacement part from famous Colby Dauch. Now, as your company grows, it might not make sense for you to be the one to handle all replacement parts or customer service requests. But it’s a good place to start.

Fair: At the forefront of your customer service should be to do the right thing. This may sometimes conflict with profitability on that particular sale, but that’s okay. If you ever have confusion on what the “right” thing is (it’s certainly quite subjective), just think about how you would want to be treated if you were in the customer’s shoes. Especially if you sold them that pair of shoes and they don’t fit.

Proactive: Actively seek out customer conversations about your product. Have Google Alerts set up for your company name and your product’s name. Read forums (and subscribe when possible) about your product. Don’t wait for backers to go to you with questions–find where they’re asking the questions and answer them in public. Also, actively invite feedback from backers through polls and questions on Kickstarter updates.

Transparent: When something goes wrong, it’s our instinct not to say anything. The thing is, no news is way worse than bad news. Keep backers updated with the good and the bad and their trust for you will not waiver.

Tactful: There are going to be times when your instinct is to defend your product, your campaign, and your company. Someone might call you out publicly on something you did or even something you didn’t do. They might even make it personal. If they do, feel free to report them to Kickstarter, but don’t get sucked into an argument. Be tactful with your response, let other backers chime in to support you, and if needed, invite the backer to a private conversation over Kickstarter’s messaging system. I talk about that more here.

Human: A lot of small companies try to appear bigger than they are by being less personable, less human. That’s a big mistake. One of your greatest assets is that it’s just you and your husband or you and your friends or even just you. Show a little personality in the way you talk to customers, and they’ll have someone to root for.

Humble: Don’t sing your own praises. You’ll look silly. If you do want to point out something clever you did, make it a learning experience for others who are designing a product in the same category.

Culpable: Last, take responsibility. Take blame. This is just as much about your attitude as it is the public’s perception of you and your company. Once you start taking responsibility, you’ll start to realize how much control you have over…well, over everything, and that will lead to solutions that you hadn’t thought of in the past.

I learned almost everything I know today about customer service through three jobs/experiences:

  1. Waiting tables at a restaurant: This was my summer job in college, and I learned more there about customer service than anywhere else. Customer service is about serving people, and that’s what a server does. A server finds out what people want and he/she provides it for them. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that the customer isn’t always right, but they are always respected.
  2. Working as a project manager: My first job out of college was as a project manager at a book publishing company. Part of my job was to correspond with authors and incorporate their revisions into articles in journals and textbooks. There was these two authors who sent over thousands upon thousands of revisions, and they were far from nice about it–in fact, I think I can fairly say that they were verbally abusive. Not much gets under my skin, but one day they said something that really got to me, and I replied with a small piece of my mind. Needless to say, my boss wasn’t pleased, and I got to learn firsthand that no matter how much of an ass your customer is, you don’t get to be an ass back to them.
  3. Blogging: Do you want to learn how to talk to people who disagree with you in public? Write. A. Blog. And respond to some comments. Not necessarily all of them–let conversation happen organically–but show people that you’re there as a participant, not as a person on a pedestal.

We all have tales of great customer service, on Kickstarter and off. I’d love to hear one of your stories in the comments about a non-Stonemaier Games company that made you feel valued.

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

21 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #72: The 10 Elements of Great Customer Service for a Kickstarter Creator

  1. I really appreciate this Jeremy, and just wanted to say from the moment you responded to my misprint Viticulture card email, you earned a fan for life. I’m proud to call myself one of your ambassadors and our local Con is coming up here in Salt Lake.

    I just wanted to contrast that with the customer service I’m dealing with from another Kickstarter where they only shipped two thirds of my order and are claiming that the warehouse said they sent it all at once. They actually are acting like i should provide proof i didn’t receive my other parts.

    Thank you for being classy.

  2. Another great article! I’m finding more and more that revenue is a side effect of focusing on serving others well. A miserly and uncaring attitude doesn’t make for repeat customers.

  3. “A good game makes for a happy gamer; good customer service leads to lifelong loyalty.”

    I just wanted to quote that because it’s so absolutely true. I have many good games which I enjoy from many different companies, but there are a very select few where I’d feel inclined to pledge/pay for a product even if it’s not 100% what I want, because I just want to support that person/business.

    I hope the number grows over time (Within reasonable wallet-limits ^^) as it helps to expand my horizons as well as making me happy. Long live customer service =)

    1. I’d like to give a shout out to Greg Carslaw (404: Law Not Found), William Smith (Larceny), and John Wrot (King’s Armory) who I think all did an exemplary job of following your example of delivering excellent customer service to their backers. Regular updates, clear communication, and quick responses to questions and problems are all some of the principles they put into practice and their campaigns were wildly successful as a result.

      1. Aw, thanks :) Made my day to read that.

        I worked with William Smith on the cross promotion puzzle thing and he’s one of the good guys!

        Speaking of communication, this update (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/820113175/404-law-not-found/posts/683214) was pretty much a direct result of something I’d read in one of Jamie’s earlier posts. I worried about writing it rather than giving a proper update and considered just not posting for a day or two, but I think it helped so that was good advice too :)

    2. There is one project where I was struggling for money at the time but really wanted to support it. I sat at $1 and participated in discussion/comments for the project and at one point the creator asked me to send a message directly. I did so, and he was kind enough to knock the shipping cost off for my pledge which made it so I could just about justify it. I’m very appreciative and can’t wait for it to arrive (Not 100% if I should share which project that was, so I won’t).

      Shout outs from me go to Brotherwise Games, IOWorlds, John Wrot, Jasn Painter and MERCS Minaitures. I have not necessarily backed projects by all of them, but when I’ve sent them messages about the campaign or to find out related information when I’ve seen a finished project already they’ve all been very responsive and helpful. It’s hugely appreciated and I’ll watch future projects by them and hope to lend my support in thanks. (Greg Carslaw too, but I know him and feel biased ^^). Finally just a thanks to you Jamey, for consistently being great about everything with your backers, keep up the stellar work.

  4. Roger and Chris–Thanks for your comments. I think it’s good to share good customer service when we encounter it!

  5. Can honestly say this is usually my number one reason for dropping out of backing a project. Well multiple reasons around this really, both during a kickstarter and after closes up to delivery point.

    Have a few grips around that, but few of the ones that drove me most nuts where things like going on vacation during the active campaign for multiple weeks and having no one responding to anyone. Have seen 2 kickstarters that I started to back actually go live while they were on vacation. Think could put off the start of the kickstarter campaign till they got back. Similarly when a company is either starting up a new campaign or running multiple and they disappear for weeks during the active campaign. I have a company that is on my personal blacklist because they did that on more than one campaign I eventually dropped out of.

    One of the things I hate most in an active kickstarter which is fringe as a costumer service complaint is when backers take over a campaign. They start bashing other blockers and/or use the active campaign comment area as their own chat room with mostly no chat about the project itself. I understand why to a point they let people use it as a chat room, as kickstarter uses that as a metric for the hotlist, but makes it really hard to follow a campaign when people are talking about walking their dog or what they made for supper. IAs for the bashing of other backers, have actually seen one campaign manager praise his backers for chastising other backers. I know bashing on internet is so common now people are numb to it, but bashing people for asking questions or making statements that are legitimate concerns or feelings shouldn’t follow with 3 or 4 people bashing and ganging up on that person till they either drive them out of the project or get them to never speak again. There have been at least five campaigns where i tried to get the person running the campaign to just ask their backers to follow the supposed kickstarter rule of “Be respectful and considerate” by asking them to be nice or something. This is my number one reason for backing out of a campaign and have backed out of about 12 campaigns for this reason.

    One other customer service complaint have that don’t think was mentioned is communication after a campaign is over but before delivery. There is the not posting for months at a time that is common it seems after campaign closes. Lately there seems to be a growing trend of doing updates on a site other than kickstarter and not even posting a comment or an update in kickstarter to at least tell people there is a new comment there. If only have one or two projects backed that are waiting for delivery on its probably not that big of a deal, but when have over twenty to try and keep up on, it takes quite a bit of time just to check all the comment pages of all of them to see if there is any news (especially when have people discussing morning tea) without introducing more places to have to look if want to try and keep up with project.

    There are obviously some very well run campaigns out there and would like to 2nd Smoothsmith’s shout outs as had similar experiences with the projects he mentioned.

    1. Rob: Thanks for your comment. I’m bewildered that a project creator would launch a project while they’re on vacation. That’s a huge disservice to their backers.

      That’s a great point about the comments section. The creator should serve as a moderator for the comments. There was one time after Euphoria that a few backers were commenting on the Euphoria page about another project. At first it was a good conversation about Kickstarter, but then it turned into those backers bashing the project. It didn’t feel right, and I must admit I didn’t know what to do at first. It didn’t want to stifle conversation, but I really didn’t like that the were saying those types of things on the Euphoria page. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t take action until the other project creator mentioned something to me, but that was apparently the kick in the butt I needed to say something. The backers were gracious about my request, and we haven’t had an issue like that since.

      Good point about communication too. I learned exactly what you said back in September. I had been mixing e-mail updates with Kickstarter updates, but I should have aligned them more closely. Backers more often look at Kickstarter than their inbox (especially if they archived the e-mail).

      I will say that there have been about a dozen times where backers ask me a question that I literally just addressed in an update a few days ago. I’m always polite about it, but some of them are written in the tone, “Why haven’t you told me when the games are being made?!!” and I’m like, “Thanks for your message! Please look at Update #27, posted on Kickstarter two days ago.” :)

  6. I had read this post before, but missed the part about the Google alerts, I feel like that should be a more prominent mentions. I had been relying on traffic info on the KS page to show me where my project was being talked about until realizing a week in that I could use Google alerts to get more info.

  7. FYI John – Google Alerts has been getting more and more spotty. Most experts expect it to get the ax from Google soon. Talkwalker and Mention are good alternatives that provide the same or similar service with a much greater reliability.

  8. Thanks for the heads-up! I think I remember hearing that now that you mention it, but I haven’t used Google Alerts frequently enough for that info to stick in my mind.

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