What a Puppy Taught Me About Customer Service
Last year, I adopted a very cute Cheagle (Chihuahua-Beagle mix) named Buddy. Buddy was abandoned by his owner in North Carolina and rescued by an organization in New York. He was shy at first, and his anxiety quickly became evident: clawing at the door frantically when left alone, whimpering and shaking in the elevator, cowering on the sidewalk in congested streets.
At the age of nine months, Buddy needed some help acclimating to life in bustling Manhattan. I searched on Yelp for a dog trainer. There are numerous trainers in New York to choose from, and Yelp provided a helpful guide to identify someone well-rated and near me.
Yelp has a “Request a Quote” feature for some companies that allows inquisitive shoppers like me to describe my need and get an estimated cost within days or even hours. I wrote up a short summary of the situation and proceeded to copy-paste it into about a dozen potential dog trainers’ quote request boxes. After requesting many quotes, I began to receive a range of responses, from automated, generic messages to detailed, customized estimates.
While combing through the responses, conducting online research on the respondents, and speaking with many of them on the phone, I received a very powerful recommendation for a particular trainer.
The first training session with her taught me very quickly that I had a lot to learn about raising a puppy, and the trainer was exceptionally sensitive and effective with Buddy. I tossed all of the Request a Quote folks into my mental trash bin as I had found Buddy’s trainer.
Not surprisingly, despite informing other trainers that I was no longer in the market for their services, some persisted. Some who hadn’t responded after a few weeks began to respond with a quote. The steady stream of emails became a trickle and then stopped.
About a month later, I received an email from a dog trainer that looked like an automated message. I found it a bit odd that the message was not sent to my personal email account but rather to my company email account for Flyte Fitness (FlyteFitness.com), the exercise equipment and education company where I serve as CEO.
The note asked me to reach out to confirm my interest in dog training. I politely responded explaining that I was not interested. Within seconds, I received the exact same email, confirming it was an automated response. I considered it to be “junk mail,” deleted it, and forgot about it. Until a few days later when I received the same email… again. I ignored it.
A week went by. I got the same message again. I was annoyed. I wrote back a terse “unsubscribe” comment in the message body. I immediately received the same auto response. I figured I needed to make myself clearer. I replied with the subject line “PLEASE STOP EMAILING ME” and promptly received the auto response.
A few hours later, I received a reply from the persistent junk mail sender. This time, it was not the same email I had received over and over.
This is what the email said:
“Stop sending me e-mails and you will not get my autoresponder. I was nice enough to be a customer and order exercise equipment from you. I am a CUSTOMER. I don’t appreciate getting e-mails which say STOP E-MAILING ME in the subject line.”
Immediately, I went from annoyed prospect to defensive business owner. I take pride in offering exceptional customer service, and the idea that I had upset a customer bothered me immensely. I needed to address it immediately.
I quickly realized that the automated messages came from a new customer after she had ordered, and continued when we sent email updates to our customer base. That explained why the note went to my company email. This was not someone from Yelp. This was one of the thousands of our customers who just happened to be a dog trainer. Dog trainers work out too.
I paused to determine the best way to approach the situation and then composed an apologetic email. Here’s what I wrote:
My apologies for the poor communication. I actually adopted a puppy (a beagle-chihuahua mix) two months ago and requested estimates for dog training from many places. So, I assumed that your emails were related to those requests. I have since decided on a trainer so I’m no longer in the market. I assumed that the emails asking me about dog training were related to that!
I’m sorry for the trouble. Please accept my apology and a photo of Buddy, our rescue.
Madeline quickly responded, and we subsequently exchanged a series of friendly emails discussing Buddy and the “funny” coincidence.
Customer service nightmare averted.
This experience made me realize that to live the adage “the customer is always right,” I must presume best intentions on the part of everyone involved, whether or not they are my customers. I never know who will become my customer, my vendor, my client, or my friend. And, in this case, I was communicating with a customer and I didn’t know it… until I upset her.
On the positive side, an honest explanation of the mix-up was effective. I didn’t need a gimmick. I treated her like a human being. I treated her as if I were in her place. And she responded in kind.
This experience also reinforced the importance of each and every customer touchpoint. Our interactions with customers, by email, phone, text, social media, or carrier pigeon are precious. A good one can go a long way. A bad one must be resolved quickly. It’s always easier to upset a customer than to please them. Angry customers are much more likely to bad-mouth a company than happy ones are to share rave reviews.
This article was written by Avenue Group Founder Jeremy Greenberg