The 10 Elements of Great Customer Service

customer serviceThis entry was originally posted on the Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Lesson blog.

“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.

Active: 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.

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.