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7 simple rules for great customer service

I recently had an experience with an online mattress company that got me thinking about customer service. Of course, we often hear the details of great customer service stories. is the first company that comes to mind when I think of great customer service. And truthfully, I've never ordered anything from them. This is just the reputation they have created. From a personal perspective, I don't think customer service gets any better than L.L. Bean. As far as I'm concerned, the Maine-based catalog and online retailer, is the gold standard in customer service.


Great customer service is not rocket science. I've found that great customer service (online or off) is more a matter of empathy. That is, can the customer service representative empathize with the customer? This is crucial. Customer service reps who look at each customer problem from the customer's point of view will be in a better position to provide outstanding service. 

So let's go over 7 simple rules to keep your customers happy:

  1. Make it clear that an item has been purchased.

    I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but when I purchased my new mattress, the "confirmation page" was unclear, after entering my contact info and credit card information, that I had actually purchased the item. In fact, the confirmation page was so full of other ads etc. that I could hardly find my confirmation number. In addition, despite calling several times afterward to confirm the purchase, I never received a confirmation email. I know this is an e-commerce basic, but ALWAYS send a clear and simple confirmation email.

  2. Follow up with the customer.

    If the delivery date is for Tuesday, make sure to send a follow up email on Wednesday to make sure everything is OK with the purchase. This is something that was not done by this mattress company, nor is it done with many other companies that I know of (even L.L. Bean). But a quick follow up email (or better yet, a follow up phone call), would be a welcome surprise. In my case, it would have alerted the company that our mattress, did not, in fact, get delivered as promised. By the way, have the follow-up contact done by someone at the company who can actually affect change if there is a problem.

  3. Never pass the buck.

    After not receiving my mattress on the specified delivery date, I called the online mattress company. They explained to me that they used a third party to deliver the mattresses, and I should call them to see about the delivery delay.

    As the customer, I should never be handed over to another person, never mind an entirely different company. I should be able to get my problem resolved by talking to a single point of contact. I'm sure we've all had the experience of being bounced around from department to department as people pass the buck in their attempt to "solve" the problem. This never works and only ends up making the situation worse (especially if the problem is still not solved after all that bouncing).

  4. Ask before putting people on hold.

    Being on hold is one of the worst experiences a customer can have. The awful music aside (and yes, you should have something playing in the background because with no sound, a customer may think they have been disconnected), customers may not have 10 minutes to wait. Always ask if it is OK to put the customer on hold. If not, then offer to call them back once you have found out what the problem is, or better yet, once you have resolved the problem.

  5. Listen and don't offer excuses.

    The biggest problem I had with my mattress order was that the customer service people failed to listen to my problem. As soon as they heard that my mattress was not yet delivered, they would put me on hold and try to find out what was going on. Searching for clarification is not a bad thing. However, they were so quick to put me (and my problem) on hold that they failed to hear what I was truly calling about (which after the first call was more about the bad service than anything else).

    Of course, when I was able to talk to a customer service representative, all they offered me were excuses. It wasn't their fault because they delivered the mattress to the local delivery agent. It wasn't their fault because they have no control over the third-party delivery system. It wasn't their fault because that is just their policy and this rep had no way of changing the policy. It wasn't their fault because . . .

    I never want to hear excuses. As far as I was concerned this third-party delivery company WAS the mattress company. I did not make the distinction between the two. 

    This is the equivalent of an owner of a restaurant saying that it is not his fault that the food is bad. After all, he hired someone to cook it. So if I get food poisoning, I should take it up directly with the chef who prepared my meal.

  6. Just take care of the customer.

    After several attempts to find some sort of satisfaction for a mattress that was already paid for and already two weeks overdue, I called the customer service department one more time. Once again, I got the excuses and was told to call the delivery company. I said no.

    I reminded the customer service rep that I had, in good faith, purchased a mattress from them, not the delivery company. As such, I fully expected this mattress company to resolve the problem and get back to me with an answer.

    For any business, customers are its most important asset. In fact, acquiring a new customer can cost 6 to 7 times more than retaining an existing customer. So make sure you take care of them.

  7. Make sure you have an active social media presence.

    The final point to be made about great customer service has to do with social media. In today's world, great customer service usually also means having a presence on Twitter or Facebook, or both. From me, it is one of the first places I reach out to when I have a problem with a company.

    And ensure someone is monitoring those social media channels. The only thing worse than not having a social media contact point, is having one that is not manned. 

The bottom line is this: treat every customer like you would treat your grandmother. Again, great customer service is not rocket science. It comes from a great respect for your customers. The old cliché "the customer is always right" is true. It means that a customer's perception is always correct, regardless of fault and circumstance. If your customer feels underappreciated or ignored, chances are they will not be your customer for long.

My mom always told me that you can never be overdressed for an event. And when it comes to customer service, you can never be overly accommodating.

Needles to say, I eventually received my mattress after many calls and threats to cancel my order. But I am hardly a satisfied customer. And you can believe I will never order anything from this company again.


Kevin Duffy is the Creative Director for The Duffy Agency's Boston office.


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Reader Comments (1)

Some nice tips here , Thanks ;)I have to agree with no4. I hate being put on hold so much , the worst is when you keep getting passed between different departments.That makes my blood boil

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda Benn

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