How To (Honestly) Love Your Customers

How to love your customers

We’re bringing back some old favorites by request. If there’s anything you’d like to see us run again, please get in touch. This one is for Jenny.

Originally published December 7, 2009 as Crushed Hopes and Spicy Chicken.

I’m not a big cook. I’m not a cook at all, really. I didn’t cook before I started IttyBiz and I sure as hell don’t cook now. My husband and I eat out a lot, and if we’re not actually eating in a restaurant, somebody’s going for takeout.

One day, we were having one of those not-really-an-argument arguments, the kind you’ll often see in couples who are very aware they would be completely and totally screwed if they didn’t have each other. They’re mad, but not mad enough to risk saying anything stupid, especially in front of the kids. Since I don’t care how mad I am, I’m still not cooking, we went out to the Mandarin, an Americanized Chinese buffet.

His favourite dish at the Mandarin is called Spicy Chicken. Sometimes they have it, sometimes they don’t. It’s weird, because everything there is so static normally. But Spicy Chicken is a sometimes treat.

The way we handle the Mandarin is pretty routine now. He sits down with Jack while I go up and fill two plates – a dinner plate for me and a side plate for Jack. I come back with our food, and we switch off. Jack’s food requires preparation and organization and coercion, so I’m usually busy enough sorting him out that I don’t really start eating until all three of us are seated.

This night, he sits back down, pretty silently. (Having not-really-an-argument arguments is particularly easy when you have children who are more than happy to chatter enough for all three of you.) I go to eat and he says, really quietly and without really looking at me, “They had my Spicy Chicken today.”

Where we segue into the modern human condition

Have you ever seen those people in restaurants who don’t speak to each other? They’re not fighting or anything, they’re just generally grumpy? Same with movies. You’re in line to see a show and there’s fifty teenagers who look like they have made boredom their life’s work. Sometimes you and I are like that too. Bored. Anhedonic. Numb. Cynical.

But deep down, every person in that restaurant, everyone waiting in line, is us.  At one time or another it was our first trip out to dinner, our first time at the movies. Our excitement was enough to shatter glass. Our hope was palpable. We had not yet decided that hope was for losers.

Beneath layer after layer of disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal, confusion, rage, fear and Keeping A Stiff Upper Lip is a profound and fundamental human hope that maybe something nice will happen today.

For a moment, a flash really, I saw my husband as a fellow human being, a nice man who was looking forward with cautious hope to his favourite dinner. Probably not, but maybe.

I saw the 16-year-old who knows that his parents don’t have any money for a birthday present this year, but maybe they’ve been saving money for years and he might actually get a Mustang. Probably not, but maybe.

I saw Jack, who can’t eat birthday cake like other kids, saying, “maybe there might be Rice Krispie cakes at this party?” with that little lilt at the end that asks a question and trusts I’ll know the answer and deliver it with mercy. Probably not, but maybe.

Your customers are these people too.

I sell internet marketing products, and my industry has a bad reputation. It is generally assumed, because of my profession, that I am out to screw everyone and anyone. Not even for the money, necessarily. Just for the sheer joy of screwing someone over.

Somehow, despite this, I am blessed with a lot of very nice people who buy my products repeatedly. Considering the habits of some of my peers, it’s a miracle I sell anything at all.

In internet marketing, and I imagine the weight loss industry is like this as well, while people consciously know there is no magic wand, they continue to hope you’ll sell them one for $47. When you don’t, most of them realize that their hope was misplaced, but some become really, really angry. Then they send you emails.

I sold thirty-five thousand dollars worth of products in the last two weeks. We got a lot of email.

I am very lucky to have a lower than 1% return rate in an industry where 20% is standard and 50% is still in the realm of normal. I received a lot of beautiful letters from people who were grateful for the sale we ran and more so for the payment plan. But, numbers being what they are, we still got some returns.

If you sell how-to products for a living and you’re not in the habit of lying about what your products will do for people, your returns will generally fall into two major categories. One, your product was too advanced. Two, your product was too basic. (The guy who returned SEO School for too much swearing and the other guy who returned Online Business School for not enough swearing are, naturally, the exceptions to this rule.)

But every now and again you get a return from somebody who’s just out for blood. Maybe they want to make good and sure you’re going to refund their money. Maybe they’re pissed at you. Maybe they’re pissed at everybody. But they’ll write a treatise on exactly how much you suck and why.

We got a return from somebody who told me OBS should have been renamed Online Business 001: Business Lessons for Total Imbeciles. They told me they felt totally betrayed. They told me they were crushed.

My first desire, me being human and all, was to publish their letter in its entirety here. To rant and scream and make fun. To say that “crushed” is a term better reserved for miscarriages, philandering spouses, and lifelong pets found dead on Christmas morning.

But then I thought about my husband and his Spicy Chicken and I stopped.

This person entered into a situation full of hope. They held their breath for a moment before clicking “Buy Now” and thought, “Maybe this time it’s for real.” For whatever reason, that for which they hoped did not materialize. They are disappointed and sad, and I’m sorry for that. Who the hell am I to say what should or shouldn’t crush a person?

Inside every customer…

Inside every customer is a little child in the supermarket, hoping beyond hope that their father will buy Cocoa Pebbles instead of oatmeal, just this one time.

Inside every customer is the awkward teenager thinking that maybe, just maybe, this new pair of jeans will make the popular boy think she’s beautiful.

Inside every customer is a tired housewife who hasn’t been given anything more romantic than a tea towel for three decades, but still dares to believe that maybe that envelope under the tree has cruise tickets tucked inside.

Don’t be angry. They’re just human. Try to love them anyway.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.