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Solve your customers problems by understanding them first.

I’ve been doing a ton of customer service recently.  Pat, who does sales for us and handles a lot of customer service related calls, has been off at his son’s wedding.  So I’ve been picking up the phone, selling Calliflower subscriptions, and helping people to understand our offerings as well as the odd bit of tech support.  Frankly, it’s a good thing for everyone in an organization, and I enjoy it as well.

One of the most rewarding things about talking to customers is problem solving their real issues.  For example, the other day I was chatting with a customer and the conversation went something like this:

Customer:  “What are your per minute charges?”

Me: “We don’t have any.”

Customer: “Really?   No minute charges?”

Me: “Yup.  There’s enough margin in our monthly fees that we don’t have to charge extra for usage.  And, frankly, it keeps our expenses down as well since we’re not generating bills and all that kind of nonsense.  So it’s good for everybody.”

Customer: “Cool!  So what are your international rates?”

Me: “We don’t have any of those either.  It costs the same to use Calliflower for your conference call whether you’re calling in from Sydney Australia, New York, or London.  Heck you can have callers in every country and city we serve and we’re STILL going to charge you just $50/month.”

Customer: “You’re kidding me, right?  There’s a hidden charge somewhere.  What’s your boss going to think?”  I chuckled at that.

It went on like this for a little bit more before this person was convinced that I wasn’t kidding.

Then she asked “Do you have the ability to assign a unique code to calls?  Like a security code?” Calliflower doesn’t, it turns out, but then again she wasn’t really looking for a security code.  Some more conversation revealed that she was tracking security codes on her current system, so that she could know which clients to bill the call to.

Me: “Ah, you must be a law firm and you want to bill back your disbursements to your customers, right?”  BINGO!

Me: “So, given that the service is only $50 per month, do you think you’ll still want to do that?”

Customer: “I never thought of that, you know.  It’ll probably cost us more to figure out the billing than to just eat the $50!”

Moral of the story:  When you know your own margins, and how your own customers behave, you can often find creative ways to solve their problems. Sometimes it takes a bit of probing to figure out what the problem really is, though.

Last week while I was vacationing, I saw this in action first hand.  We did a whale watching tour off Vancouver Island, which is a pricey undertaking.   So I asked the tour company what kind of guarantees they would give me, hoping that they might offer a partial refund at least if we didn’t see any whales.

“We can’t offer a guarantee that you’ll see whales, sir.”  “Oh, that’s too bad.”  “But if you don’t see any, we’ll take your group out again, and again, until you do.”

Made me feel good, and I suspect, given the number of whales we saw, that it’s a pretty rare occurrence for them not to see whales.  And here’s a few pictures of how magnificent they were!  Check out the big guy doing the back flip.  He surfaced no more than 10 yards from our boat, did two of those, and then dove underneath, where he surfaced on the other side and breached four more times.  What a show off!

Spyhopping Orca, Vancouver IslandContainer Ship, Vancouver IslandTail Slap, Orca, Vancouver IslandOrca Back Flip, Vancouver IslandSpray, Orca, Vancouver IslandOrca showing off, Vancouver IslandOrca showing off, Vancouver IslandOrca showing off, Vancouver IslandOrca showing off, Vancouver Island

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • MGU August 18, 2010, 11:47 pm

    Marvellous photos!

    I thought calliflower was free!

  • Alec August 19, 2010, 3:42 am

    There's a free version, with some restrictions, and a paid version. You can find out more at http://www.calliflower.com/flat-rate-pricing/

  • Bruce Stewart August 19, 2010, 7:38 pm

    Awesome photos! Must have been a great trip.

    I read an article recently (can't find the link or recall the company, sorry) about a company that cycled everyone through regular tech support shifts, including the top executives. They felt it helped everyone stay closer in touch with their customers and how their products were actually being used, and it's easy to see how that would be true.

  • Andrew Moizer August 23, 2010, 5:59 am

    Alec,
    great example (and pics BTW). I always figured that one of the key morals of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is that answers are easy (42) and (the right) questions are hard.

    Also interesting that the "Death of Distance" (futuristic phrase from a Nortel GIS in late 80's) is certainly true for many things, and that it's now leading to the "Death of Disbursements" (amoung other things).

    cheers, Andrew

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