As the new assistant manager of a small hotel many moons ago, I was taught a lesson that has stuck with me. I can't remember the exact words the owner used but she told me that basically people will put up with all manner of blunders and inconvenience as long as you are honest and you communicate with them. Communication was at the core of their 14 bedroomed empire.
I still stand by that advice. For me, things can be pretty rubbish but if the person I am dealing with takes responsibility (I never want to hear the words 'It's not my fault'), is honest and polite and is going to rectify matters then I'll put up with most things. A stint in housing benefits consolidated this for me. Dealing with people who were about to become homeless due to government or council errors or cruel reforms is a real test of your skills. I would always take responsibility; say sorry and mean it. I clearly had not reformed housing law but I represented those who had. I would acknowledge that the situation was indeed awful and then I would set to work rectifying it as best I could. In the hotel and at Benefits the majority of concerns or complaints were resolved face to face. By far the most effective way of communicating with your fellow human.
But what of today? We are surrounded by communication; surely that makes communicating easier. You can ring me, text me, facebook me both publicly or by messenger, tweet me, dm me, contact me on LinkedIn, Instagram, kickstarter, board game geek mail, via my website or even - god forbid - write to me. On paper. With a pen.
Do we really expect someone to use all of these methods? No. That would be completely unrealistic. We know that... and yet... when someone chooses one or two of these methods and we don't see the message immediately, we are offended. They have communicated poorly or worse still chosen to prioritise other customers over me. As a consumer this can seem like a headache but for a small business, it's a nightmare.
Of course customers can and do use all of these methods to contact you - some of them publicly. Leaving you trawling through endless messages, sometimes duplicated - the facebook post that says 'I've emailed them twice and not had an answer...' then proceeds to voice the same concern there. Answering publicly is important - it may stem more emails and vitally it shows others that you do care, you respond, you value feedback. But what of the email they've sent you twice? You are busy responding publicly leaving that customer irritated. Like I said, nightmare!
In The Box Games - a small business- launched Sub Terra on kickstarter. It was a phenomenal success with 6626 backers providing £368,256 of funding. They hit stretch goal after stretch goal meaning that even the basic game at the lower pledge was incredible quality with lovely components. Due to the stretch goals we have access to a free soundtrack and app. The email updates were regular and well crafted, which made them fun to read. They created an amazing buzz around Sub Terra and all the backers were excited to get their hands on the game. We eagerly devoured the news that the game would be out early and for some, it was.
At this point, it is worth bearing a few things in mind.
This is kickstarter: you are promising to fund a product that doesn't yet exist. You are not pre-ordering a game. You are not shopping at Argos or Amazon or even your friendly local games store. Kickstarter is a place to support enterprise, encourage daring and bring dreams to fruition. Things can and will go wrong. Secondly, as we said before, we need to think realistically. Are all of the games going to be dispatched at the same time? Really? No. No they are not.
The creation of the facebook page was a key factor in increasing buzz around the product. I duly clicked like and looked forward to updates from other gamers. I didn't particularly expect In The Box to respond to all the comments as they send emails through kickstarter.
And how did people react? Well let's take a look at the kinds of things people posted:
where's my game? Crying face emoji. Eleventy billion of these comments
my box is too big (update: this backer managed to re-arrange his shelves and it fitted on. Phew)
the box lid doesn't have printing on the inside (this was a stretch goal)
a board game cafe is selling copies and I don't have mine yet
this free card dispenser you gave me doesn't fit back in the box unless I fold it down
I just don't like the (free) tile holder
these three tokens that you upgraded don't have stickers on them
ITB have gone to Essen - how dare they? They should be here answering facebook messages!
they shouldn't be trying to sell more games (for this I read make a living) when I haven't got my game yet
I'm upset that another game I ordered from a different company has arrived first
I have a tile missing plus an extra tile of a different type
my box is damaged
Some of these are legitimate issues, but what is the best way to ensure the issue is resolved for you? The company had chosen email to communicate with me in the past so I was intending to email them. Public shaming has to be a last ditch solution to a communication issue. In the end I did not email. I chose to wait. And what happened? Just as they had been doing at every stage of the kickstarter campaign, they emailed me. They emailed all of us. They have painstakingly read all of the comments on facebook and kickstarter and responded with a comprehensive list of solutions they have put in place.
Thankfully the facebook page is now swamped in positivity as people have received the game and everyone is enjoying playing it. Short memoried as we are, no-one has apologised for all the pathetic bitching that took place, although some good souls have posted support for the company and distanced themselves from the negativity. And, as it should do, the quality and ingenuousness of the game now dominates the feed.
As a small business myself, what lesson can I take from this? I think there are two things
1. You can't please all of the people all of the time. This is just not possible. As an anxiety ridden people-pleaser it is one I struggle with regularly and am working on daily.
2. Perhaps limiting communication methods is a good thing. You can't be active on every forum in the world. Focus instead on communicating in a limited and manageable number of methods.
And finally, patience, it turns out, is all that is required. In this age of instant communication it seems that patience is deserting even the best of us.