Think of Yourself as a Customer

Like all entrepreneurs, we make mistakes, but we try not to make the same one twice. Our loyal readers will know that customer service is very important to us, and our long-term customers keep on coming back because they like our service. We'd like to keep it that way. However, earlier this year, Judy failed to see an important customer service issue. Luckily, Dagmar stepped in and resolved the issue. Basically, as service providers, we need to think: if I were the customer, what would I want?

A potential client from South America contacted Judy in the spring. They were looking for a two-day escort interpreter at a tradeshow. Judy promptly submitted a bid (copied Dagmar on the message), and, because she was unable to find any detailed client information online (even their website was down), she asked for a 50% deposit, to which the potential client readily agreed. That's where things got interesting.

Potential client: We'd be happy to pay the deposit. My boss would like to pay via PayPal. Can you give me your account information so I can process the payment today?

Judy (early in the morning in Vegas): Thank you so much for your message. Unfortunately, we do not accept PayPal, but I will gladly give you account information for both our American and European accounts so you can go ahead and make the deposit.

No answer from the client.

Dagmar (working evening shift in Vienna) to Judy via instant message: Good morning, business partner! Quick question: did the customer service portion of your brain not yet get up? :)

Judy (yawning): Hi my dear twin! What do you mean? I am confused. I just woke up.

Dagmar: I can tell. I am referring to your e-mail to the potential customer in South America. You told her we don't take PayPal. What's wrong with you? ;)

Judy: Well, hm, we don't take PayPal last time I checked. Too many fees.

Dagmar: That's true, but remember that we own this company. We can make exceptions when needed! Think about it: we made a reasonable business request by asking for a deposit and the client was kind enough to agree. And now they make a reasonable request, and you tell them that won't work. That's not very good customer service there, girl! It's not like they want to pay us in seal fur or something like that -- PayPal is a reasonable business request.

Judy: Hm, OK, I feel silly now. I think I blew that. I am sure I have managed to annoy the customer.

Dagmar: Yep, if I were the customer, I wouldn't want to work with us. They are offering us payment and you tell them "no, we don't want your money?" Even if we have to pay some fees with PayPal, it's so worth it.  Let's make this transaction easy for our potential customer. E-mail them right now and tell them you are sorry, etc.

Judy to customer: Please accept my apologies for my temporary confusion regarding PayPal. We will certainly process your deposit (thank you!) via this trusty international payment method. My account information is XYZ. Again, I am sorry for any inconvenience my previous e-mail may have caused. We'd love to work with you and hope you will still entrust us with your project.

Client to Judy (5 minutes later): Great! I was indeed a bit confused, but I figured you'd find a way to take our money. :) Payment is on the way; see you in a few months.

The lesson: find a way to make your customer happy, even if it might not be the ideal solution for you, as the provider, on all fronts. In this case, if the transaction costs us $20, so what? It's a business expense, and if $20 is the price you have to pay for two days' worth of work, that seems reasonable. If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it promptly.

Update: the project went very well, the customers were charming, and everyone was happy. The client has just contacted Judy again for the same escort interpretation service during the same tradeshow that is coming up in early 2011. No deposit is necessary this time!


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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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