educational

Customer Service Strategies

Chad Atherton
Dealing with irate, grumpy and abusive customers is a fact of life for any business owner, but adult webmasters tend to get more than their fair share of them.

"While the customer may be king, in this business, more than most, the average customer can be a royal pain in the ass," Jane Duvall of JanesGuide.com says.

Too true, but even royal pains pay money that keep adult websites alive. However, for webmasters who run these sites, the challenge is to keep these tough customers happy without selling their own souls or sanity in the process.

To find out how the pros do this, XBIZ talked to mega sites like Danni.com right down to solo girl sites like ElliNude.com for tips on the best ways to deal with difficult customers.

Know the Common Problems
Websites are imperfect, and so are the customers who pay to use them. As a result, many customer complaints are related to front door problems such as login failures and forgotten passwords.

Layne Thrasher of Danni.com says that in cases like this, the staff at Danni makes sure they can retrieve that information easily using a "My Account" self-help feature.

Jack Gilbert of Michelle7.com agrees. "Access problems are really the only complaint we ever get," he says. "And typically they occur whenever we have a technical error on our end, like with the server, our credit card processor, etc. So the customer is fully justified in being upset."

In many cases, successfully entering a site doesn't guarantee customer happiness. "Since we have so much content on our network, some people have trouble finding a particular girl or scene,"

BuggyG of JoinRightNow.com says. "We made our members area as simple as possible, but some surfers still need help, and we are glad to help them. Some members also have trouble seeing some of the plugins, and sometimes we need to walk them through the process, like telling them to turn off their firewall, enable cookies and so on."

Answer Emails Quickly
Since email is the accepted form of customer-to-webmaster communication, the key to keeping tough customers happy is to answer their electronic complaints quickly and efficiently.

"Our policy is simple: Answer the customer's email immediately and either get working on the problem or tell them when we will be able to correct the situation," Gilbert of Michelle7.com says. "We think a quick response is crucial, even if we do not have the final answer just then."

Fast response also is a priority for Jim and Jenn Deans, who run the amateur site TheHiddenWife.com.

"I handle the complaints, while Jenn handles the compliments and interactive requests," Deans says. "In either case, we try to answer emails the same day we receive them. This makes dealing with members much easier then giving them several days to get worked up, because each email from a member on the same issue will usually get more hostile."

Give Away a Freebie
Not all tough customers are jerks; some are upset for legitimate reasons.

"If they are wanting a type of shoot that I have already done but that isn't currently on my site, I arrange to send it to them privately," Elli of ElliNude.com says. "If they are generally dissatisfied, I give them a free month of access."

Elli isn't the only webmaster to mollify tough customers with limited free access; Michelle7.com also employs this tool. "Generally, the only complaints we ever have are password access problems, so we like to extend their membership a month or two for their troubles," Gilbert says. "So far, this has received very positive feedback and has actually helped us in setting up a deeper dialogue with our customers, which we like to do."

There are times when nothing will make a tough customer happy. On those rare occasions, the best thing to do is provide a full refund and send the customer on his way, which according to Deans of TheHiddenWife.com, has only happened twice in four years of operation.

But how much time should a tough customer be given before demanding a refund? If they've downloaded your entire library, for instance, surely they don't have a right to demand their money back?

"We have an unconditional, industry-leading, three-month ‘no questions asked' refund policy," Thrasher of Danni.com says. Moreover, when refunds or cancellations do occur, Danni.com has a one-on-one Member Outreach coordinator who writes directly to canceled members to make sure there is nothing left unturned in the company's service and offerings, which Thrasher says also is an opportunity to cross-sell partner sites as well.

In cases where the customer is truly a royal pain, the first question to ask is, "Is he actually paying me money or not?" The reason to ask is because most of the grief webmasters suffer comes from non-paying surfers, according to Deans.

"Generally, our customers are great," he says.

This said, there also are "wackos" out there who pay their bills and still cause trouble.

"One member of my site sends me hate mail whenever I do a shoot with one of his favorite girls," Elli says. "He tells me I'll get AIDS and die and I'm the spawn of the devil, and he hopes I'll quit doing my site. But the funny thing is he has to sign up for my site for that month just to get the photos of the girl, because he has to have them all. It's pretty funny. Many other girls have had this experience with him."

As a result, Elli allows this tough customer to stay a member because he's paying his way.

Are Complaints Legit?
There are tough customers with legitimate beefs, and then there are those in the "royal pain in the ass" category described by Duvall of JanesGuide.com. To avoid bleeding money, webmasters must learn to discern between the two. Fortunately, there are ways to tell them apart.

"Most of the bogus complaints are members complaining about the content, saying it's crap, but then our stats show that the member has been on the site every day downloading pictures and clips like there's no tomorrow," BuggyG says. "He's basically trying to get something for free and squeeze anything he can out of his complaints."

In any business the time comes when a customer's money is not worth the time and hassle of coping with him. In the online adult sector, this point arrives when you find yourself dealing with the same person repeatedly, taking time away from other customers whose combined payments are worth more and are thus more worthy of your attention.

For BuggyG, the time to quit occurs after a few emails of trying to explain the same thing over and over. When this happens, "I usually credit their account and get back to serving other members," he says. "My time is best served helping loyal customers as opposed to arguing with someone who doesn't want to reason."

Elli agrees: "I only try to make someone as happy as they are willing to be, and if they just want to make life painful for you, it's a waste of time."

In many ways, he's right. By making noise, a tough customer actually can provide a website owner with a renewed sales opportunity.

However, there also are limits to what anyone should take, such as threats against yourself or your staff. In these cases, it is possible to block IP addresses to prevent a continued assault.

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