Many companies excel at customer service. One of the best I've seen lately is Canva, a startup that makes graphic design software and tends to reply to nearly every customer complaint or approval on social media. (They also track every mention.)

Yet, for every glaringly good example of customer service and support, there's a company that doesn't respond too well to issues. According to the call center company Genesys, only one out of three companies even respond to customer support issues on social media.

I have some personal experience with this from two different perspectives, one as a customer and one as a writer. In a recent visit to a local pizzeria, we experienced some of the worst customer service I've seen in years. We pre-ordered our pizzas but still had to wait 20 minutes, the server was extremely slow (even though there were only a handful of customers), the pizzas were terrible, and the manager didn't let us use a rewards card that was clearly active and new. Instead of making us Happy Repeat Customers we became Disloyal Disgruntled Former Customers. The worst part is that it was my son's birthday and added a sour note to the festivities. His last comment as we left was "why did we even come here?" which is not what you want to hear.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've experienced a few annoyed readers who have complained about an article or two. OK, maybe more than two. I usually try to determine if this is someone who has a legitimate reason to complain or disagree or if it's just a troll in a bad mood. For the former, I tend to reach out with an email, DM, or chat to answer any issues or explain myself. My motives are genuine: I'm not happy if someone reading an article isn't happy. In both cases, it's wise to think about a few key ingredients to pleasing customers and at least attempt to meet their needs.

1. Add up the total cost of mistakes

Before you react to a customer service issue, make sure you think through the total cost of the problem. With my pizzeria example, it was obvious the manager wasn't thinking about the 30-40 times we were not going to visit in a lifetime after that experience. She questioned whether it was really my son's birthday instead of celebrating it with us.

2. Be careful with no

It's a well-established norm: the customer is always right. Of course, that isn't always true, but it's a good model. I like how Microsoft Store employees view this axiom. During one visit, I told a rep I had lost the charger to a Dell laptop. She happily found a replacement in the back and said she didn't need to charge me. She easily could have said no. That "yes" will lead to many more happy visits to the store with an expectation of success. When the manager said "no" (twice) she was creating disloyalty. People do run scams (let's call it hacking the food industry) and pretend to have birthdays; we were not.

3. Be thorough

Not to keep bringing up my pizza fiasco, but it really made an impression on me. The manager didn't bother to verify anything-she could have checked my son's driver's license to see it was really his birthday (it was). She could have called the corporate office and verified that we had a valid rewards card. Worst of all, it was over a fairly small charge. It's amazing how customers will overlook one issue (the poor quality pizza) if the service is good. At another pizza place weeks before, a manager wandered by several times asking if we were enjoying ourselves. He was brief, friendly, and sincere. The pizzeria manager could learn a few of those tricks. I wouldn't be writing this article right now.

Published on: Jun 8, 2015