How do you politely say “teaching you CSS and PHP is outside the scope of theme support” without sounding rude/unhelpful?
— carrie dils (@cdils) August 4, 2014
I saw this tweet from Carrie some time last week, and the myriad of replies that followed. Everything from LMGTFY to simply explaining it’s outside the standard theme support. The question was more about tone than anything, but it got me thinking about the importance of clear, friendly communication in support, without jeopardizing your core customer support values and policies.
There’s a lot of gray area and it’s a very fine line between delivering in a big way, and giving away your business.
At WP Site Care we walk that tightrope every single day, and it’s a constant balancing act. Here are a few thoughts I came up with regarding when to say “no” to your customers, and why it’s important.
Your Time is Valuable, and so is your Client’s
At the end of the day, support is a service role. It’s really important to respect that and know that the people who are paying to have their problems solved, deserve a great attitude on the other end of their communications. We can leave snarky replies up to the internal IT departments, but we should stand out and hold ourselves to a different standard.
We try and go the extra mile in customer support. When possible, we “give ’em the pickle” and really try to remedy issues as quickly as possible.
But what happens when customers start telling us how to solve problems with their websites?
At a previous job I worked as a Systems Administrator for a health care company. Another big provider wanted us to build an interface to their software system, so that we could share information back and forth securely and quickly. When we agreed to take on the project, it was only a matter of time before the larger company started dictating what the software should and shouldn’t to, and exactly how it should work. The problem was that we were building an interface for our software, which was a custom in-house solution that we knew backwards and forwards. We knew the most efficient way to meet all of their criteria, and do it in a cost effective way.
After a few weeks of discussions and meetings (healthcare isn’t the fastest moving industry), the large health care provider was totally blown away that we had chosen not to listen to their feedback about building this solution. They even threatened to cut our company off completely, even though the solution would ultimately make their lives easier too.
Even still, we stood our ground.
We moved ahead building the software according to their specifications, but using our approach, and we came in 40% under budget and delivered the final interface 2 months early.
Of course, they were blown away and incredibly happy.
In the same way it’s TOTALLY OK for you, as the WordPress expert, or ninja, or person who has worked with WordPress a lot, to suggest a project direction. Listen carefully to what the client is looking for, and when you’re sure you understand it, make a recommendation and explain why you think it’s the best solution for them. Then stick to your guns.
The software project with my last company ended up being a great example of when telling our customer no ended up being better for everybody. When the project finished they appreciated our expertise and had a high level of trust for any recommendations we made moving ahead.
Saying Yes Is Selfish
It’s true. There are plenty of times when telling your customer yes is a huge disservice to them. Take the words of my friend Carla Birnberg in her post When Saying Yes is Selfish:
When we say YES with a less than joyous heart the act is no longer a service or gift.
Now I understand that business is business, and the bills have to get paid to keep the lights on, but if you take on work or projects begrudgingly, it’s going to be a regretful experience for both you and your client.
You’ll deliver a half-assed effort and your client will know it. And you’ll know it.
Instead of taking on something you know you’ll likely regret later, pass it on to someone looking for that type of work, and spend your time seeking out interesting projects and clients who you want to work with. In the end you’ll love your work more and your client satisfaction will go through the roof.
And don’t be afraid of losing clients by sending them away. Remember the Cole’s Santa Claus? The shoppers remembered that he found the best prices for them, and came back to to the store to buy “everything but toilet paper.” They’ll do the same for you if you’re genuinely looking out for their best interest.
What can you say instead of no?
It’s important to note that “No” isn’t a permanent answer. It just means “no, for now.”
So what are some alternatives to sending clients a snarky link to a google search?
Let’s take a look at this example from Naomi Dunford. They had a potential client email about a project they’d never want to take in a million years, but it wasn’t the emailers fault. They were really just inquiring. Here’s Naomi’s email response from How to Nicely Say Hell No:
Thank you so much for getting in touch regarding your launch! Unfortunately, as far as Naomi and Dave’s style goes, their approach is quite a bit different than Jeff Walker’s. We won’t bore you with a bunch of industry jargon – that would just be boring and mean – but if you’re interested in something that fits that formula, we’re probably not the best firm for what you’re looking for.
Again, thank you – we appreciate that you considered IttyBiz, and if there’s anything else we can do to assist, please let us know. That’s what we’re here for! 🙂
Wishing you the very best of luck with your launch,
It’s professional, it’s friendly, and is probably an email that would even make the client feel good about being told they didn’t find what they were looking for. The only thing I probably would have added is a few potential leads for someone they could contact to help them out.
So back to Carrie’s email. I’m guessing she’s probably replied to it by now (I hope 🙂 ), but here’s how I would have addressed the client who was asking for too much.
Hey Person (this would be their name),
We’d love to help you out with this, and we honestly wish we had enough hours in the day to give our clients this type of one-on-one training, but with our small support team, we just can’t provide that to all of our customers. And we like to make sure everyone’s getting the same access to our team.
If you’d like us to handle the customizations for you, we’re happy to do that for you for our hourly rate.
And if you’re into HGTV like I am, and want to take the DIY approach, I’d look into the great PHP and CSS training courses offered at Code School and Treehouse. They take an interactive approach to learning code that really makes it fun and user friendly.
Hopefully I’ve painted a pretty clear picture for why it’s important for you to say no to your customers. In the end it creates a winning environment for everyone, and your clients will be thanking you for not giving in.