What Do Gen Y Business Owners and Customer Service Have In Common?


In my own recent and very personal and expensive experience. Not a lot!

I signed up for a new website with a company owned by two under 30 year olds. They had a great idea - well done - the idea was to buy web templates from America, and using those templates to set up a business helping small to medium sized businesses build their business websites.

The company grew very fast and pretty soon had polished the system. They then took on more Gen Y's to cut and paste the templates for each customer; created beautiful glossy brochures and took over very swish premises.

They then perfected a way of selling their services.

 They ran showcases around the city telling their amazing success story and sharing the wonderful story of how they could help the audience - mostly people over 50 for whom technology is a challenge - to build a website beyond their wildest dreams. All around the room were sales people ready and waiting to sign people up. The sales people are even franchisees of the business, so they too have a stake in signing up new business.  

In my own experience I met with two of the sales people, we spent an exciting morning going over what I needed for my brand new site; they went away and came back with a price for doing all these wonderful things (I wanted an internet marketing site - which is not revolutionary). The original estimate was $24,000 - way beyond my budget - so I looked at what I needed urgently and we got the bill down to $14,000. Still a lot of money for my business - I am a sole trader. However, it was going to be the heart and soul of my online business, so I felt I had to bite the bullet.   The payment structure required me to sign a document saying that payments must be made over a 4 month period and they must go onto automatic payment. (I should have got some bad vibes at that point!!).

4 months and $12,000 later I had half a home page. It was when I expressed my concerns about a terrifying lack of progress that I discovered that customer service is not one of the values of this company. E.mails went unanswered, phone messages were not replied to, a meeting I asked for mysteriously didn't go ahead. I duly cancelled the contract and asked for a full refund. If this was an early indication of what was to come, then I absolutely didn't trust the life of my business to such a company.

I was told in no uncertain terms that they believed they had had kept their part of the deal (how?) and were happy to finish my website - if that wasn't acceptable to me then there would be NO refund!

And this is where Gen Y (and I realize not all Gen Y will be this insensitive, or is that stupid?) perhaps haven't realized a very simple credo that billions of businesses over many, many centuries have realized. Your customer IS your business.

And so I did what angry customers do - I TALKED. I contacted people I know who contacted people they know who contacted people they know. And within about 48 hours I was inundated with e.mails from people who had had similar experiences to mine or had heard of similar experiences to mine with this self-same company. I learned that this company is notorious for poor customer service.

To put this experience into a learning context - what could I have done differently?

1.    I could have asked around to find out what other people knew about this company (shame on me for not doing that)
2.    I could have asked that the contract be changed so that payments were linked to performance (shame on me again)

What could this company learn from the experience?

This is an extract of an e.mail I sent to the company.....

1.    You have to CARE about your customers. I get the distinct impression that your business model is sign-em-up - get the auto payments happening and we'll worry about minor details like building websites down-track.
2.    Regardless of the situation, if a customer is upset, SOMEONE needs to pick up a phone
3.    PAYMENTS NEED TO BE SET UP ON A PROGRESS BASIS - NO PROGRESS - NO PAYMENT. That seems only fair to me....it keeps both parties honest.
4.    The word SORRY wouldn't go amiss - sorry that XXX- your webdesigner never answers e.mails; sorry that the new key accounts person you were handed over to (XXX) doesn't answer e.mails and has an answerphone message that says - I'm not on this number any more!! with no new number so she can be contacted. Sorry that a meeting you had asked for before you went overseas, and which both your marketing person and yourself had  had in your diaries for a couple of weeks sort of kind of just didn't happen! Sorry that you have paid $12,000 over a three month period and all you have to show for your money is a half finished home page that bears little resemblance to anything you asked for. Sorry that XXX - the person you were assigned to originally takes no accountability or ownership of the mess that this situation has become and simply blames everything on your marketing person or you the customer.
5.    If a customer relationship goes pear shaped - and for all of us in business that can happen, then bite the bullet - TALK to the customer, let them vent, ask them what THEY want from the situation and then make sure they get it.

If this company had said to me - look we are really sorry that this didn't work out - we have a cheque here for a 100% refund, but before we hand that cheque over we need you to sign a confidentiality agreement - a promise that you won't bad-mouth us to anyone else. I would have signed - because I now needed that money to start again with someone else. The tragedy is that they didn't because you see, I am a professional speaker and published author - I HAVE ACCESS TO MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE - this article will be going out directly to over 7000 people in my regular newsletter; it will go on article sites around the globe. And every year I put out a book called NAME & SHAME....guess who will be in that book?

The tsunami has started.

One really amazing thing came out of the situation. Fortunately I was making the payments through my Gold Mastercard. When the third payment was sucked  out of my credit card during the, by now, very intense e.mails and phone messages I was leaving, I contacted my bank.  THEY HAVE WONDERFUL CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR CREDIT CARD HOLDERS...their philosophy is - no delivery of goods - no payment. So I discovered that they can actually suck all the money back out of this company and put it back into my credit card. How amazing is that?

So whether you are a Gen Y reading this e.mail or not, customer service IS your business.  If you are wrong - admit it - even if you are NOT wrong - look after your customer.....because if you don't THEY WILL GET YOU BACK!! You only have ONE reputation, and it is very hard to change the perceptions of people once word is out that you do not look after your customers.  

Love your customers to bits. They will repay you tenfold in referrals.


Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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