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Customer Service and the Writer

One day last week, I got around to addressing several customer service issues that had been floating around since the first of the year. They weren’t BIG things. They were simple issues, really, but things I had been putting off. (The kind of things you put off when the writing process is humming along, but suddenly “need to take care of” when writer’s block begins to creep in.)

The first issue was with our inflatable kayak, the Sea Eagle 370. It’s a great boat, and we’ve used it a lot. It fits in with our Florida lifestyle, and has been worth every penny we spent on it. Unfortunately, the little, clear plastic inflation level checker that helps you know when each of the chambers is properly inflated has been used and abused and was in bad shape. It had a tear and was bent and it complicated the otherwise-easy set up of the boat. So, I emailed the fine Sea Eagle folks last week, hoping I could spend a couple bucks and get another gauge sent our way. “No problem,” the Sea Eagle rep replied. “I’ll stick that in the mail to you today.” Two days later, I had two replacement gauges in hand, compliments of Sea Eagle.

Also the same day, I sent an email to Barclay’s Wine, about an issue I had, when opening a bottle of wine. Here, let me show you:

The bottle from Barclay's Wine broke during opening.

Most of the broken bottle was clinging to the cork...

There was also a sliver of glass, which was a bigger concern...

As you can see, this isn’t the ideal thing to have happen when you open a bottle. I wasn’t terribly upset or anything (though I had to filter the wine before serving it to our guest, which isn’t the ideal way to serve wine), but I did email the distributor and let them know what had happened. It was almost a week before the rep from Barclay’s Wine emailed me. They were sorry, they said, and to compensate us, they would add a five-dollar credit to our next order.

Any guesses if that credit will ever be used? $5 on a $15 (plus tax, plus shipping) item?? So a bottle breaking and shards of glass falling into the beverage is only a $5 event to the folks at Barclay’s. They either thought $5 was enough incentive to keep me as a customer, or they just didn’t care.

I’ll buy another Sea Eagle boat some day. I won’t be re-ordering from Barclay’s.

What does this have to do with writing? Plenty.

In this era of writing and publishing, writers have to be good at public relations. My experience with Sea Eagle and Barclay’s serves as a reminder to treat readers and other writers the way you would want to be treated. When the opportunity arises to interact with someone who has a concern or complaint, we should do what we can to make things right. Usually, things can be made right for little or no cost. Sea Eagle probably “lost” two or three bucks, including shipping. But they mad a happy, vocal customer even happier.

If Barclay’s had emailed back and said, “So sorry. Let us send you a replacement!” I would have had much more respect for the company than I do at this moment. As it stands, their response struck me as an insult. The whole-sale price and shipping cost of a replacement bottle would have been a minor expense, if I had placed another order with them.

What can we do, as writers, to make our readers “happy readers”? Respond to them, when we can. Answer their questions. Offer something more (an additional story or resources or insight) to those who have purchased our work. The list goes on.

The bottom line is this: Treating people how we would want to be treated, if we were in their shoes, is the bare minimum level of customer service and public relations. I bet if I asked the Barclay’s rep if she had opened a bottle of wine, had the glass break, found a shard in the bottle, and been unable (or unwilling) to serve the wine to her waiting guest, would she find a $5 credit a valid response, I’m guessing she would answer, honestly, “no.”

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