“You can’t just give away a course away! That cost us $99.” Those were the words that a customer service rep yelled at me one afternoon. It was soon followed up with a lengthy email on which he copied the CEO of the company (don’t ever do that, by the way – See Rule #5 on How Not to Suck at Email). What exactly had caused that outburst and childish email?

Customer Service Gone Too Far
Great customer service breaks the “rules.” (Tweet That)

Ultimately it came down to his answer to the question in the title of this post, can you go too far in customer service?

I believe the answer is generally “no.” Most of us in business are not wired to just give away the farm. In fact, we’re generally stingy. So for most of us, the answer is an emphatic “no.” This customer service rep felt otherwise.

Going beyond the “rules”

On that particular day I was fielding incoming live chats for our web site. It’s not something I normally did, but during the busy times, I would often get on for an hour or two each week to help out and let someone take a break. I was also running the marketing department and it provided an opportunity for me to spy on…I mean engage with…our customers (actually I did both). It allowed me to interact with them and discover what questions they were asking, what was confusing them about the order process, etc.

A current customer got on and asked me if there was a discounted price on the upgraded version of a course he had just purchased. There was, but the order page for that product wasn’t working properly, so I told him to send me the old version and I would send him the new one for free.

For free!

That is what set this rep off. I had just broken the “rules.”

The rules stated that if the site was having problems, we take their information and email them when it is working again. Instead, I gave away a $99 upgrade. (To be transparent, I wasn’t always this nice in customer service. In fact, I was a customer service punk for most of my life)

The result

Ten minutes after I closed the live chat, I got a notice from Twitter that we had been mentioned in a Tweet. It was from that man I had chatted with saying how incredible our customer service is and how awesome our courses are.

He had 35,000+ followers.

Over the next two hours, eight orders from Twitter rolled in. A normal week might see five from Twitter, so I attributed all of them to this one Tweet. Soon after, I Retweeted it and it went as viral as anything we had done to date. It had a reach of more than 300,000 people in the end and was responsible for more than $6200 in sales.

I did the math on it that first afternoon when there were still only the eight sales. Eight sales were worth $1200. We spent $99 (free course). That meant our CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) was $12.12.

Considering that our average CPA was more than $75 and the orders were still coming in, I’d say that one free course was a resounding success.

And let’s just say the “rules” were loosened a bit for me after that!

So, can you go too far in customer service? Maybe, but it’d be awfully hard. Great service always comes back around. Maybe not as quickly as it did in my case, but eventually it pays big time.

Come back Wednesday to learn what happens when leaders ditch the “rules” and “processes” and let their teams serve with excellence. Subscribe to my RSS feed or get posts via email (and get my free book as a bonus) so you don’t miss the next two posts in this series.

When have you ever given or received customer service that went above and beyond?

8 thoughts on “Can You Ever Go Too Far In Customer Service?

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    It’s a tricky balancing act for sure. I think what sometimes annoys customer service reps is when someone above them gives away something to please a customer that they are not empowered to do. It’s about creating a great service culture that permeates the the entire organization… and empowering folks at every level to create such “wow” moments… and to teach how to do that most of the time without giving all the profits away.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Good point. That just looks like the “manager” is taking the easy way out while forcing their team to do the hard work.

  2. Joe Lalonde says:

    This is a fine line and there are many people on each side. I fall on the side that we can go too far in customer service.

    I know of a store that’s taken back BBQ grills and other items that they’ve never carried. To me, that can be too far on the customer service side.

    Sometimes we’ve got to say “No, sorry. We don’t do that. Or we can’t return this item.”

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      But you know of the store…just sayin’. They’ve probably “spent” less than 1% of their profits to propagate a message of amazing service. It very well could be worth it.

      1. Joe Lalonde says:

        Yeah, but I only know of the story because my mom used to work there.

  3. Bill Benoist /Leadership Heart says:

    In one form or another, I’ve been leading customer service departments for 30 years. There is a dose of common sense that needs to come into play – and I do believe we need to say “No” at times. With that said, I also believe organizations need to empower their representatives more than they do. Give the representative the power to say “Yes” and watch out. Miraculous things will happen.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That’s what it ultimately comes down to…empowering your team to say yes or no based on their gut. They’ll be wrong occasionally, but it’s worth the risk,

  4. I think you have to have a manager with good judgement to make to call when to say no or when to fire a client. Usually when they get abusive.

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