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How to Deal with Disgruntled Customers

If you fear receiving customer complaints and either ignore them or respond defensively, then you are missing a great opportunity. Ken Evoy explains why customer complaints should be regarded as a valuable gift.

Introduced by Paul Lang

One common theme that you’ll find running through many of the articles on this Web site is how real-world retail practices should be applied to online selling. This is particularly true when it comes to keeping customers happy. The real world business maxims of how it is cheaper to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one, and how a dissatisfied customer will tell many more people about your service than a satisfied one, apply on the Web too.

Most Web merchants understand these points and go to great lengths to keep their customers content. However, no matter how good your customer service is you can never hope to keep everyone happy and you’re bound to receive the occasional complaint. How you deal with these complaints is a measure of how much you have mastered the skills of selling online.

If you fear receiving customer complaints and either ignore them or respond defensively, then you are missing a great opportunity. Customer complaints are really a gift because they can give you valuable insight in to where you might have problems with your selling process.

Ken Evoy has extensive experience of selling online. This week he received two customer complaints but accepted them for what they were — a chance to learn. In this article Ken shows us how he responded to these complaints and gives us his top tips for dealing with disgruntled customers.

Although this article is somewhat longer than I normally publish, I recommend that you find the time to read it — it contains some excellent advice that all Web merchants can benefit from.

First off, let’s look at the letters Ken received and how he replied to them:

=====LETTER #1=========>

I was interested in getting information on promoting my website but was entirely turned-off by the tone of your delivery. It’s dumb and assumes that the reader is one step evolved from primordial slime. If you’re going to deliver advice to people currently on the ‘Net, you can’t talk to them like the Shrewbury Grannies Society.

Phil pxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

=====RESPONSE #1=========>

Hi Phil,

Thank you for your e-mail. Your comment is hard and unfair. I know I won’t sell you, but please let me explain something…

It is impossible to write to please everyone. I write to please the *core of my target market* (or in mathematical terms, the 95% who fit into the two standard deviations on either side of the mean on a bell curve). This is one of the most important lessons contained in Make Your Site SELL!.

You obviously are of above-average intelligence, an info-only-and-skip-the-hype type of person, and someone who *does not like a benefit- oriented, hard-sell presentation*. If I was to write the site for your personality type, I would succeed in convincing *you* that Make Your Site SELL! lives up to its title.

But I would lose the 95% who need to understand benefits…people who respond to a sales- oriented process. Everyone is in a hurry on the Web. Be too subtle or technical, and you simply won’t sell.

The proof is in the pudding. Our site’s conversion rate (sales divided by unique visitors) is over 5%. One Web marketing guru has already called our site, “by far, the most persuasive selling site on the Web.”

Yes, the site does take a strong *active sell* approach. This does not mean that MYSS! is a bad product. Actually, the feedback to MYSS! is more than strong — it’s far better than even I could have hoped. People will succeed on the Web because of MYSS!, and that’s a tremendous feeling.

Yes, it’s possible to use the same techniques to fool people into buying junk. We actually discuss that in the book, *and* why it’s a disaster to do so. But it’s also possible to use strong and effective sales techniques *to sell great products, too.*

Interestingly, yours is the first letter to complain about the site’s approach. And we have already had thousands of visitors, and hundreds of sales since our end-of-March launch (and this, despite the fact that we have not yet launched our affiliate program or rolled out the major steps of our marketing program).

I’ve got to believe that this kind of complaint/sales ratio justifies our approach. (But just in case, we’ll also be testing two other sites, each with its own domain and a completely different approach. This is another important point of Make Your Site SELL! — test, test, test.)

You obviously don’t like a sales pitch. Neither do I, actually. But I have learned that when I write “beyond my own personal comfort zone,” we multiply sales. And that’s a key point — I’m not writing to please myself — I write to sell.

For example…

We are currently designing a high-end Web site that is aimed at a very sophisticated, info- oriented target market — actually these people are the titans of the business and investing world. That site will be written in a completely different tone. Which leads me to repeat what I said at the beginning of this letter…

>***You must target *everything* about your site to your target >market core. Forget the rest.***

The idea is to sell, not please everyone. I remain convinced that our site accomplishes that in spades. Just in case, however, we’ll test other approaches.

I hope this letter helps you in your Web efforts — I wrote it only in that spirit. I sincerely hope you succeed on the Web! :-)

All the best,
Ken Evoy, M.D.

=====LETTER #2=========>

I am really frustrated with Ken Evoy. He has written an article on designing a successful Affiliate Program. Along with the article he has a banner inviting people to try out his book, so I clicked on it and started reading. He just kept going on and on and on…

It was so frustrating! He just wouldn’t stop talking! I was sold about half-way through the first page, but he had to keep talking. I was interested enough that I followed his chatter for (I believe) three or four pages, expecting a closing statement any time now…but it didn’t happen!

Finally, he stopped and proposed that we download his chapters. I was expecting some ordering procedures here, but he didn’t close here either! I could see that this man was trying to prevent me from buying his product so I persisted. I downloaded his (now being seen as “stupid” chapters). I expected that one of the files would be clearly marked so I could order his product, but again it was not there.

Unfortunately, after downloading the pdf files, I found that I could not open them up in my computer for some reason. I don’t know enough about computers to fix the problem, so it looks like I am stumped! Mr. Envoy has succeeded in preventing me from buying his book.

Congratulations Mr. Evoy! I have never seen someone so afraid of asking for the order. If you really believed in your product you wouldn’t be so afraid to close. For a good example on how to close, close, close, take a look at any of the weekly newsletters produced by “sellitontheweb”.

Please forward this message to Mr. Envoy if possible. He may know how to design web sites, but he certainly is not a good copywriter for ads.

Neeraj Vxxxxxx

=====RESPONSE #2=========>

Thank you for an excellent e-mail. It brings up some terrific issues. Let’s start with your initial comment…

–>I am really frustrated with Ken Evoy. He has written an article on designing a successful Affiliate Program. Along with the article he has a banner inviting people to try out his book, so I clicked on it and started reading. He just kept going on and on and on … It was so frustrating! He just wouldn’t stop talking! I was sold about half-way through the first page, but he had to keep talking. I was interested enough that I followed his chatter for (I believe) three or four pages, expecting a closing statement any time now…but it didn’t happen!<–

<– Mr. Vxxxxxx, I write to please most people who visit my site — it is impossible to write to please everyone. *Most people* require more than half a page to make a purchase decision. If I was to “ask for the order” after half a page, my conversion rate (sales divided by unique visitors) would plummet. However, I take some good *and* some bad from your comment… The site *does* seem to be doing a great job of *pulling you through* — Make Your Site SELL! (“MYSS!”) discusses exactly how to do pull customers irresistibly through a site. Your “talking” and “chatter” statements also show we’re doing something right. To sell most goods or services, a Web site must achieve that comfortable feeling of being “talked to.” MYSS! explains how to do this. But now for the worrisome part… It seems that you did *not* see the ORDER button. When we did usability testing, this never happened. We had considered a subtle animated glow on the ORDER button, but decided it was not necessary, because everyone saw it during testing. I need your help, Mr. Vxxxxxx. I would REALLY love to know — did you see the ORDER button, or were you in fact *not quite sold*? After all, you did see the FREE DOWNLOAD button, which is immediately to the left of the ORDER button. Please let me know — this is an important point. (To thank you for your time and to apologize for your frustration, I’d like to offer you a free download of the book. Please include your full name, physical address, and e-mail address where you would like to receive the download instructions for the full version of MYSS!.)

OK, on to your next comment…

–>Finally, he stopped and proposed that we download his chapters. I was expecting some ordering procedures here, but he didn’t close here either! I could see that this man was trying to prevent me from buying his product so I persisted. I down-loaded his (now being seen as “stupid” chapters). I expected that one of the files would be clearly marked so I could order his product, but again it was not there.<–

<– This is rather harsh. Too bad. Feedback is always useful, but it’s nicer to keep discussions on a high plane. Regarding your point about ordering from the trial download… No one would order from the ReadMeFirst.txt file — after all, they have just downloaded. They want to see what’s in those Adobe Acrobat PDF files first. That’s why the main “free chapter” PDF file *DOES* in fact end with… o an invitation to join the affiliate program by linking directly to the affiliate page from the Adobe Acrobat PDF file and o an invitation to order now by *linking directly to the order page* from the PDF file. It’s slick and it has been extremely effective. But unfortunately, it turns out that you could not open the Adobe Acrobat PDF files!

:-( Which brings us to your next comment… –>
Unfortunately, after downloading the pdf files, I found that I could not open them up in my computer for some reason. I don’t know enough about computers to fix the problem, so it looks like I am stumped! Mr. Envoy has succeeded in preventing me from buying his book.

<– This is a really important point. I’m sorry that the end result has frustrated you so much (evident again in your tone). On the free download page, there is a section that says that you need Adobe Acrobat Reader 3 (or higher) to read the free trial. I assume that you do not have this software. We knew this would often be the case, but the huge advantages of Acrobat outweighed offering the book in any other format. So we clearly mark in many places, wherever the customer is about to download or order, that they need Adobe Acrobat. We include a link directly to Adobe’s free download page. Hundreds of people have taken our free download. You are the first to verbalise this problem. But there must be others who have not written, so I take it seriously. As a result, we have already improved both the Mac and Windows download pages to reduce this occurrence closer to zero — the “Acrobat Notice” is much more prominent now.

Please return to the site and let me know what you think… >> http://helpmy.sitesell.com/

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and sorry for your frustrations. Again, to thank you for taking the time to help us out by replying to my questions back to you, and to apologize for your frustration, I’d like to offer you a free download of the book. Please include your full name, physical address, and e-mail address where you would like to receive the download instructions.

–>
Congratulations Mr. Evoy! I have never seen someone so afraid of asking for the order. If you really believed in your product you wouldn’t be so afraid to close. For a good example on how to close, close, close, take a look at any of the weekly newsletters produced by “sellitontheweb”.

Please forward this message to Mr. Envoy if possible. He may know how to design web sites, but he certainly is not a good copywriter for ads.

<– Ouch! This hurts. I do agree that Paul Lang is a great closer. But in our defense… Our site’s conversion rate (sales divided by unique visitors) is over 5%. One Web marketing guru has already called our site, “by far, the most persuasive selling site on the Web.” And the feedback to MYSS! has been more than strong — it’s far better than even I could have hoped. People will succeed on the Web because of MYSS!, and that’s a tremendous feeling. One final point. You could be right that the site is too long. Who knows? –>

Maybe we could achieve a conversion rate of 10% if it was shorter. That’s why we are currently developing two other sites, each with its own domain and a completely different approach. This is another important point of Make Your Site SELL! — test, test, test.

To summarize…

  1. I hope this letter helps you see that I am not doing everything I can to avoid the order! :-) I write a site to sell MOST people, and most people need more info before buying.
  2. You have pointed out a couple of important usability issues (ORDER button visibility and visibility of ADOBE ACROBAT warning). They have caused you some painful moments. They have also caused us to improve the site.

Thank you again.

All the best,
Ken Evoy, M.D.


My responses to these two letters illustrate why I believe that negative feedback is always at least 10 times more useful than positive feedback.

People love to give praise. It’s nice to get, and it shows you’re doing something right — but it rarely helps me improve. Not many people like to complain — the odds are that there are others with the same complaint. It ALWAYS causes me to reassess things, and OFTEN to improve something. For example…

If there’s a problem that requires tech support, a complaint always causes me to improve the system. Customers should simply not experience problems. Obviously, you can’t cover all the possible glitches. However, *as each instance occurs*, you must improve the process to prevent recurrences.

But if it’s a complaint about subjective judgments like “not enough graphics” or “too many words” or “too hard sell,” this requires a whole lot of thought. There’s no iron-clad “right or wrong.” You have to decide whether this customer might be reflecting a common thought. You can hurt yourself making changes to suit the tastes of a single respondent.

Here are the guidelines I used when dealing with these two complaints:

  1. First, these are only two complaints that we have had to date. Despite the fact that I know that the site is doing most stuff well, there is always room for improvement. That’s what I look for in letters like this.
  2. The second major goal is to turn a lemon into lemonade. My minimum goal is to prevent bad-mouthing. My maximum goal is to convert these people into raving fans. This has already happened several times on our first Web site. (I give one great example in MYSS! of how a very doubting skeptic turned into a raving fan. He subsequently was featured in an article in Canada’s national newspaper — his mention of our software brought us thousands of dollars of orders.)
  3. Despite the tones of these letters, I assume that they are decent people, and treat them with respect, never with anger or sarcasm. After all, they took the time to write and there is usually some gold in even the nastiest of letters. Mine the gold and reply respectfully. If they’re really bad people, they’ll be nasty when they reply to my response. Those people no longer deserve my time.
  4. Notice the ongoing sales efforts in both e-mail responses. I can’t resist trying to close even the hardest of customers! :-)
  5. Yes, these two letters were a lot of work to write. But on the other hand, if the person is reasonable, the goals (1 and 2 above) make it worthwhile. And, if there’s ever a next time, it’s simple to cut-and-paste my answer.
  6. Despite sitesell’s terrific conversion rate, the site suffers from a unique disadvantage. On our first site (before sitesell — this is the one that taught me everything that appears in MYSS!), visitors simply go through our sales process. They buy or they don’t. *They don’t think about the site.* And that’s true for most typical Web customers.  But the sitesell site is a site that sells a book about how to design a site that sells (phew!). So naturally, people judge the site instead of going through the process. Despite this, the site averages an excellent 5% conversion rate.  Of course, that means that 95% don’t buy — some, of course, just aren’t interested. But many people think that they are Web experts. So when they spot a point that they think is weak (i.e., not glitzy enough, or too many words, or too much hype), they make the mistake of thinking that everyone feels like them. And so they don’t buy the book — too bad, for both that visitor and us!
  7. Unlike subjective judgements of the site, usability problems are objective. So when Mr. Vxxxxxx does not see the Adobe Acrobat warning, we make an immediate change. If he replies that he never saw the ORDER button, I’ll have to make a judgement call. First, is this the truth? His story does not hang together very well, so I’m not sure. Second, if I believe him, should I “glow” the ORDER button so more people notice it, or will I lose others who think that we’re trying too hard. I’ll probably re-test with 20 brand new people, then decide.
  8. Since Mr. Vxxxxxx refers to me as Mr. Envoy (“Evoy” is actually the correct spelling), I keep that formality by using the “Mr.” title. Since the Net is generally friendlier, I stick with “Phil” for the first letter, since he used no title at all. Remember, talk the language that your customer uses. Which leads into the next point…
  9. The first writer, Phil, is obviously very bright and more tech-oriented. He is turned off by the hard sell. I have no fear talking about standard deviations and bell curves with him. It gets him on my side. I would never do this with Mr. Vxxxxxx.
  10. I offered Mr. Vxxxxxx a free download, but not Phil. I want Mr. Vxxxxxx’s help and he is obviously frustrated. Phil, though, just did not like our approach.

Ken Evoy is the author of Make Your Site SELL!. MYSS! is a free download and will show you how to sell online like no other book or program ever has before. Click here to learn how MYSS! can boost your online sales.

May 8th, 1999

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