Handling Customer Service Is The #1 Priority For Any Membership Site. Customers Won’t Cut You Any Slack Just Because You’re An Overburdened Solopreneur.
There is an opinion amongst many expert marketers that customers seldom like leaving brands, products, or companies that they have purchased from. It is pathetic customer service that forces them out.
If a customer’s natural tendency therefore is loyalty, that applies to your membership site also. Getting new members is six times costlier than retaining existing ones, so you need to be very careful that your customer service is up to the mark.
As a solopreneur, life is tough when you are trying to run a membership site, because there are so many moving parts to this business. You have to create your content. You have to do marketing to get new members. You have to do customer-nurturing to retain existing members.
At Solohacks Academy, we know your solopreneur life is tough, and membership sites are no joke to manage. But remember, your members don’t care how burdened you are, nor can you make that an excuse for poor customer management. Willy-nilly, you have to do whatever it takes to keep customers happy.
1. A membership site is not for “passive earning”, so don’t close yourself off to members
Unlinke selling courses and ebooks as part of your Knowledge Commerce business, running and managing a membership site is not, by any means, a “passive income earning idea”. In fact, if anything, it is a form of business that needs the owner to be extremely hands-on all the time.
When people sign up to your membership site they don’t do it just for the content you offer. Who is offering that content, is the question uppermost in customer minds. They buy into your membership because they believe and trust they will get your expertise, authority, and thought-leadership, via your content on your site. Their access to you is paramount to them.
That is the reason why you can never insulate yourself from your site, and believe that it will become a happy self-service hub. Don’t ever close yourself off, and turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to your members’ needs, problems, or queries. Don’t ever leave members to find their own fulfillment on your site. Depending on what knowledge level different members are at, they will need different kinds of help from you.
Some members may need handholding, some others may need encouragement, and yet some others may need signposting to the solutions to their business problems, or roadmaps to achieve of goals they’ve set for themselves. Customer service in all these situations can never be a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It has to be customized, and it has to be empathetic and understanding of the real needs of customers, even when real needs are not stated but implied.
All this calls for you, the entrepreneur, to listen to members a lot and respond to their requirements a lot. If customer service is not your forte, or it’s not something you can apply yourself to wholeheartedly, a membership site is not the business for you. Are you ready for what it takes? That is a question you have to answer within yourself well before you think of what all you can do to make your customer service 100% satisfying to members.
2. Think why people may want to be in touch with you, and manage their expectations
Instead of looking at customer service as a large chaotic area where any marketer can flounder, it helps to see exactly the areas where customer expectations lie. There are five broad areas in which customers expect extra care:
- One, customers may have areas of doubt, query, or assistance needed in going through your content. Their expectations may be that you will offer help when they find the content needs more explanation, or help them with adapting the content to their own life or business.
- Two, customers may have problems or queries on the usage of your membership site – they may need help with navigation, finding what they are looking for in the forum, knowing what order or sequence to follow to achieve their goals, or information about your events, or site features and functionalities.
- Three, they may have problems with the ecommerce functions of your site – issues like upgrading or downgrading memberships, managing their subscription payments, getting their receipts and acknowledgments, using their discount codes, or wanting to cancel or re-activate their accounts.
- Four, they may have problems with the technical aspects of your site – this could mean bugs that need fixing, buttons that are not working, pages or posts that won’t open, forms that are misbehaving, help with resetting their passwords, or even knowing how to go through certain processes that involve knowledge of some technology.
- Five, they may want to discuss with you certain aspects about your expertise niche that aren’t covered by your membership site. Perhaps there are new emerging trends or technologies that your site hasn’t covered yet, but members who have heard about these may want to know what the excitement is about and how it may impact them. They are looking, maybe, for your expert opinion beyond what your site currently offers.
Can you think of other categories where people would require contact with you? If you realize that most customer care cases fall into one or other of such categories, the large canvas called “customer service” would feel less daunting and easier to handle – because you know which category every query belongs to, and therefore what exactly you need to do about it to satisfy the member.
3. Give people a variety of ways to get in touch with you – it’s easier on you too
You should put on your membership site a number of ways people can contact you. This creates a sense of accessibility and a readiness to respond from your side. Among the various ways you can create contact options are these:
- A contact form and a live chat option
- A support page with a ticketing system
- Phone and email visible on the top or bottom of every page
- A community forum with a way for direct messaging
Some membership site owners balk at offering too many contact methods in case they get swamped by member messages and requests. But that seldom happens. If you have a forum on your membership site, chances are that most people will use that to contact you if they need help. Forums allow people to get some replies fast, if not from you, then at least from other forum members.
The idea behind offering several ways to contact you is more for reassurance to members that you are available to them – and, in any urgency, if one method doesn’t work, another will.
From your side, don’t fear that you will have too many inboxes to go through for all these types of contact. If you have one phone number and one email id you can route all contact messages to your email id, whichever method they comes from, and you won’t miss seeing any of the messages.
There are also phone-to-email-inbox services like eVoicemail, that works in 60 countries. How it works is simple. Upon signing-up, you will be assigned with a phone number from the city of your choice. When a caller calls your phone number, he or she is asked to leave you a recorded message. The eVoicemail routes the recorded message to your email inbox. It’s that simple. So every kind of text or audio message you get can arrive into just one email inbox.
4. Set up some clear customer service guidelines and let members know what these are
Most membership sites of good repute always have a clear set of guidelines for members on how their site can be used. You’ll usually find these on a page titled “Terms and Conditions”. Of cause, these pages are drafted by lawyers – so there does seem to be a lot of legal language incorporated. But it’s better to be absolutely clear and formal about your rules for members, than to be casual and too friendly, tempting people to break those rules.
If you want to see some great Terms and Conditions pages of successful membership sites, look up these examples:
- Membership Academy – Terms and Conditions
- Plan Academy – Membership Terms and Conditions
- Lady Boss – Terms and Conditions
There are also legal firms that put out standard terms and conditions frameworks that membership sites of different kinds can use – for example, NetLawman have a host of T&C page templates for many types of membership. Check out their site.
Apart from the legalese, there are some simple rules that don’t require lawyers to state them – you can put down some clear red lines on your site. For example, you can specify your working hours and days of the week clearly, and not expect to be available 24x7x365.
You can tell people when to expect your newsletters (e.g. 9am US-EST every Sunday morning).
You can also tell people when you are open for “Ask Me Anything” sessions – for example, you can say, “We have an ‘office hours’ every Saturday between 10am -11am US-EST when you can ‘Ask Me Anything’. So please save your queries on content for these times. Tech queries or site usage queries can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
People will follow rules, if you have taken care to anticipate issues and clarify rules them well before hand. Try to think like a member when you frame your rules. See what you have found lacking on other sites, and start with those rules. Then grow your rules as use-cases on your own site increase in different directions.
5. Tell customers what they cannot do, with respect to your communication channels
Just as it is important to let members know what they can do on your site, it’s important to let them know what they cannot do. Most sites tell members what’s OK, without saying what’s not OK clearly enough. This leads to a lot of rancor later.
Here are three areas where the maximum problems arise unless you tell people explicitly what’s not allowed:
- Forum etiquette rules must be spelled out. You have to tell people, in so many words, that abusive language or offensive pushing of themselves or their products to other members is not allowed. After three warnings, their membership will get canceled, etc.
- Your support ticketing system must explicitly say that complaints from members will be entertained only if members quote their member reference IDs and/or send you a screenshot or dump of their site usage error logs, without which you can’t help them (if these are needed by your tech team, for instance).
- If your system requires “email-only queries” on content issues, you have to say that your support phone line is only for emergency tech issues and not to be used for content-related queries.
You get the gist? It’s your duty to tell people what they cannot do, because the default would otherwise be to contact you somehow – and the result will be poor customer care. Tell people to help you serve them better by ensuring that they don’t knock on the wrong doors for the wrong things. Tell them to make your site a good experience for all users by not crossing the minimum etiquette needed for forums and group learning sessions.
Don’t assume that people will know what the basic etiquette online is. Spell it out as clearly as you would for people who are joining membership sites for the first time.
6. React speedily to douse immediate problems before you get to their underlying issues
Have you thought about why so many of us trust our doctors so much? They have a system of handling our problems that would be wise to follow to give great customer care. Here’s what a good doctor would do if you had some problem:
- He would first assume that the problem was important to you to solve, or you wouldn’t have taken the trip to seek him out. So he won’t belittle your problem.
- He will fully listen to you with rapt attention, or even take notes as you speak, so he’s got down everything you say. He will give you the feeling that is hearing you.
- He will then say “Let me examine you” and probe deeper into your issues by checking your health parameters, and asking you a few leading questions, so he gets from you not only the symptoms you stated but even the ones you left unstated.
- He will then size up the issue at two levels – one, you need some immediate help with the symptoms; and two, you then need some help with the underlying medical issue.
- For the immediate symptoms, he will apply the necessary “Band Aid” – he will give you what you need to feel relief as soon as possible from the symptoms of the malady.
- He will then address the underlying deeper medical problem, and perhaps put you through some diagnostic tests. Then he will give you some medicines to cure the deeper problem over a longer timeframe, so that the uncomfortable symptoms never repeat.
You wouldn’t respect the doctor if he didn’t do both things: you need him to solve the immediate symptoms with some quick emergency responses, and you also need him to solve the underlying disease with a longterm cure.
If he was merely worried about the deeper disease and not the immediate irritants, you’d writhe in pain till the longterm solution works. If he merely stemmed the superficial problem without solving the underlying malady, you’d be at his clinic every day with recurring symptoms. He has to react both immediately, and then solve things for the longterm, right?
This is exactly the way to handle customer service. Respect the member. Listen to his problem fully. Prod deeper into his problem. Give him some quick first-aid. Then do some diagnostics and give him a more permanent cure.
7. Create a great customer service FAQ database and grow it as an ongoing activity
Among the many ideas for customer care on your membership site, you’ll find an FAQ database incredibly useful. If created well, and categorized into neat sections, it will take at least 40% of your workload off you. But how do you build a great FAQ database as a ready-reckoner that can answer many common customer questions?
In the beginning, try to look up a whole lot of other membership sites to see the types of questions and answers they have included in their FAQ pages. Tweak these to suit your site, and word them well to help your customers if they should have the same problems. Give deep answers whenever needed, because a monosyllabic “Yes”, “No” or “Why not?” is not the best way to answer FAQs.
Next, do a brainstorm to see what other potential questions people may ask you. Anticipation is the key. Even if you have far-out questions that people may never ask, it’s okay. Include these. Go as far as your mind will stretch.
Now, after you have at least 50 good questions and answers in your FAQ section, all neatly separated by categories, make a daily habit to note down every query that comes by email, or phone, or via your contact form, or other contact methods on your site. Add these to your FAQ database under the appropriate category and answers these questions. By all means, send answers to those who queried you via contact methods, but do add all these queries to your FAQ database as well.
Over time, your FAQ database will become a living, growing space, organically fed by the real queries customers have asked. That resource is going to be invaluable to your customers and to you. Customers will find most of what they need if you point them to the database when they next send a query to you. If they have asked a query that’s already got a strong answer in the FAQ database, all you need is to send them a link to your FAQ database.
For you, the workload would be much easier than to answer every query from scratch. Additionally, your FAQ database will give you deeper and deeper insights into your members and their psychology. That’s how an FAQ database can become your goldmine as well.
8. When using chats or support tickets to solve issues, automate issue escalations
One of the most irritating experiences I ever had on a famous membership site was that support tickets never reached the owner. If they had, he could have solved my problem in a jiffy. The simple problem was that my credit card was not getting debited for my monthly subscriptions – and the honest member that I was, I pointed this out to the people behind the Ecommerce and Tech teams. My worry was that I shouldn’t be treated as someone who has canceled out.
I am sure the owner, if he had known, would have hastened to solve my problem, and thanked me for being honest. He’d have loved it that I wanted to pay my subscriptions and continue membership. But what do you know? The laggard Tech and Ecommrce teams kept bouncing my complaint ticket between themselves. Soon there began a turf war between Team Ecommerce and Team Tech – and I was reduced to a hapless spectator watching the ball go from to one team to the other, endlessly.
Nothing I said or did made Team Ecommerce and Team Tech want to escalate the matter to the owner, probably because they’d get the stick for the subscription feature not working properly. They simply didn’t seem to realize the damage they were doing to me, to the owner of the business, and the goodwill built between us. They became so caught up in their own intra-battles.
Eventually, though, I somehow got to the owner who straightened out the issue in seconds. He profusely said sorry, which was OK between us. But he did something else I’ll never forget. He automated his ticketing system such that after two to-and-fro emails, if the matter was unresolved, it would automatically escalate to him. I am sure this little bit of automation has saved him many a member leaving in frustration.
Make sure, on your membership site, there is always a way for you to know what your subordinate teams are doing (if you have them, or outsource to a complaint handling house). Make sure you can automatically intervene at a point in the matter when it’s not too late. Don’t count on your subordinate teams roping you in when they’ve thrown their hands up – or worse, ejected the member out of your site.
9. Have a 24×7 backend team to iron out technology glitches as soon as they manifest
Wherever there is a lot of technology at play, there are bound to be glitches. It’s par for the course. In membership sites, the chances of something going wrong can be a weekly – or even daily – occurrence.
The moral of the story is that even if you are a solopreneur, you need at least one or two tech guys in different time zones to attend to glitches that people want to be solved immediately. For example, if your entire site is down, or some pages won’t load, or some members cannot sign in when they need to, or some people are getting certain errors – you need a tech team to attend to the situation pronto.
The problems may not always be on your site. People may have problems with their Internet connections or their browsers or their devices. But if you don’t have tech guys who can say “Our end of things seems OK, could you please check your Internet connection.”, you’ll have members automatically assuming your site is working badly and there’s nothing wrong at their end.
There are three modes people normally prefer to use when there is a tech glitch. They prefer to phone in, or have a live chat online – or if these two modes of contact are not available, then they may email you.
The problem with technology downtimes is that members know they will happen – but for some reason, they hate it so much they look for someone to take their frustration out on. For example, I remember a site I was a member of, where someone had a temporary “downtime” that soon “came back to normal” on its own. All of us members faced the downtime, and some of us called the tech team, who fortunately had put up an alert on the site that they were facing issues but they would be up soon, as the matter was being taken care of on priority.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to see the next morning some of the members complain on the forum that the “whole site has holes”. This was blatantly unfair – but when you are in business, unfortunately, small tech glitches get blown up and your site is generally declared “useless”. Nobody really bothers about the details, they tend to tar your site and you with a broad brush.
Do the best you can when you get complaints of technology gone awry on your site – but beyond ensuring there is a back-end tech team to hand, there’s not much you can do. All of us working with technology in online businesses have many good customers who know that technology has both the good and bad side to it.
10. Don’t let a few bad experiences make you suspicious or wary of all your members
One of the bugbears of a membership business is that there will the “bad eggs” who join for a month, download everything that is downloadable, and then cancel and scoot. There is always a dilemma for the membership site owner on how to limit the content to members, based on how much they’ve paid so far.
The more you expose your total content to those on a monthly subscription, the more risk there is of some ill-intentioned people just waiting to go through everything, pinch it all, and then choose to leave with full arms.
I once had a slightly different version of this happening to me. Someone, who continued to be my member for months, was waiting for my every piece of content, and then running a Spanish membership site with all my content, exactly as is, by translating it all into Spanish!
While you cannot really do very much to stop the content thieves (for that’s what they are!), it does not mean you have to start looking at every member with suspicion lurking in the back of your mind. If you begin to think that every member you have is just waiting to take everything away from you, your trust in humanity and its goodness gets depleted. You will stop caring for your members’ welfare as you used to, because you have allowed a few bad experiences to corrupt your mind. Suddenly it changes from “you for them” into “you against them”.
The more cagey you get, your members will begin to sense that you are hesitating in giving them their money’s worth of content – and the negative mutual suspicion spiral sets in. This is a mightily unpleasant way to run a membership site business.
So, to save your mind and its equilibrium, and to see that you still have deep empathy for the majority of the good folks who are your members, you must never let a few rotten eggs spoil your attitude. Accept that there will be a few distasteful occurrences now and again, but the vast numbers of members are not out to do you in. Keep the faith. Without mutual faith and respect between you and your members, there can be no business. And faith and respect on both sides must not only stay as they are but grow over time. Let nothing come in the way of that.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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