Jeff Neal has dead crickets to blame for a number of less-than-pleasant phone calls from customers.
That's right, dead crickets.
Neal heads up Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based The Critter Depot, an e-commerce business that ships and sells live crickets and other creepy-crawly-creatures to pet owners all over the country. Upon founding the company back in 2015, he knew it would be somewhat difficult to pull off the shipping of live crickets, but mastered it quickly after learning the perfect conditions necessary. What he didn't count on was the frustration he'd hear from customers receiving less-than-perfect products (Neal guarantees live crickets).
“Customers get very angry when crickets show up dead," he says, adding that weather can impact mortality as well as how carriers handle boxes, as well as other factors (one being that crickets are inherently cannibals). “I understand their frustrations, and to help our customers, our policy is to ship out another order, free of charge, right away."
In New York City, Slisha Kankariya has also found herself in the world of high-stress customer service. She is co-founder of With Clarity, a direct-to-consumer company that designs and sells engagement rings, allowing clients to try them on before purchasing. Her team will send 3D-printed rings to try on and then mail the real thing in time for a proposal.
Issues—although they are rare, she says—come up when diamonds get caught in the mail and her team realizes a ring may not show up in time for a magic moment. Add to that the fact that, for her primary customer base, engagement rings are a client's largest financial investment so far (maybe after a car), and it equals a recipe for tense customer interactions.
“I remember we had a situation where a client was planning to propose on a Saturday, and the diamond was held up in customs," she says. “To make that person's deadline, we decided to ship the ring same day with a security escort. We didn't have to do it, but we realize that proposals are such an important part of a person's life, and, especially in the jewelry space, we work off recommendations, so we wanted to make it right for our customer."
Are you a business owner wading through tough customer interactions? If so, take note of the following tips from those who've been there.
1. Reach out immediately.
Even better: Reach out before the issue arises.
Kankariya lives by this concept with her clients and tries to alert them to shipping delays first. She tells them of the situation, and explains that she and her team are closely monitoring the situation.
2. Validate their concerns.
Alice Donoghue, a Toronto-based marketing specialist who spent time working in the restaurant industry, says it's important to start every customer interaction by acknowledging and validating the person's problem.
I think empathy underscores everything in customer service
—Alice Donoghue, marketing specialist
“Letting the angry person on the other end of the line know that you understand their problem fully will make them feel heard, and stop them from repeating their situation over and over," she says. “People will often go from 100 to 0 just by knowing their concerns have been registered."
3. Show your humanity.
Today's customers can spot canned responses a mile away, often getting even more agitated. Instead, show your humanity and empower your employees to show their humanity, too. Donoghue recommends practicing authenticity when talking with customers—angry or not—and to interject empathy in every interaction.
“I think empathy underscores everything in customer service," she says. “I've found that the people who complain the loudest often have something else going on. And when you are nice to them, their walls come down right away—like night and day. From there, they will often be your customer for life."
4. Offer more than an apology.
Apologizing is always a good first step, but Kankariya explains that companies are smart to offer something more when a customer is upset.
“This could be an upgrade, a discount, free shipping or even a gift," she says. “If you don't have the money to spend, try offering a referral bonus, or a simple handwritten note of gratitude signed by the entire team. That gesture is often appreciated, and it shows that there are real people behind the company."
If you find customers frequently complaining about the same things, try to put yourself in their shoes and come up with creative solutions. For Neal, this meant the creation of cricket-caretaking videos.
“I want the crickets I send to customers to last longer, so I created a YouTube channel with videos how breed, raise and unbox live crickets," he says. “The videos aren't free to produce, but they are designed to benefit my customers, and I've found have been really appreciated by my clients."
Photo: Getty Images