Why a big fat zero matters to your business


Published on March 26, 2014
in Business, Knowledge by


Back in my cushy consulting days, I was shielded from the people who were actually paying my wage.

I don’t mean the friendly payroll officer, I’m talking about customers.

The closest I came to actual customer interaction was on Friday. I would receive the weekly customer survey reports via email, methodically open the spreadsheet, set the autofilter and sort from the lowest to the highest rating.

A zero was a detractor, or a customer who had a terrible experience with the company and would be the ringleader of a picket line at the front of the office. Customers who rated between 1 – 9 coloured the spectrum from ‘I hate your service’ to ‘I really like your service’. Finally, a customer who rated their experience a 10 was ecstatic and would sing the company’s praises from the rooftops so their friends and family could hear.

As I reviewed comments from the zero column, two thoughts came to mind:

1) How much an experience would have to suck to rate it 0/10

2) How creative people are when using an f-bomb in the ‘customer comments’ field

Their comments fascinated me. They were jam-packed with rage and curse words. How could a successful business allow customers to have an experience like this?

I think I have the answer: They were out of touch with their customers.

Flash forward to today

I am the proud co-founder of WP Curve. We stand behind our claim of delivering the best WordPress support in the world. We provide small development fixes, support and maintenance for busy business owners who run WordPress websites from $69 per month.

Every single day, we deal with people and technology. Each can be difficult in their own right, but combine the two ingredients and you have a recipe for frustration.

I get it. I’ve spent 4 hours trying to update a WordPress header. The header looked worse after 4 hours of hacking than when I started. I will mention that I never touch a line of code on a client site — that’s for our team of full-time developers.

We really care about how our customers feel about us and what they say to their network too. We use a simple ‘rate your service’ feedback system (thanks, Hively) when we complete a task for a client. It sits in the footer of an email and the client simply chooses a sad face, a stern face or a smiley face. The sad face is our zero.

How does a zero happen?

If you’re like us, you want to amaze everyone all of the time, but sometimes – it’s out of your hands.

A client asks for a service that you can’t help them with. Instead of casting them off into the wilderness, try and provide a warm introduction to someone who can help them. This works in your favour as referral partners will send you new clients.

You misinterpret something. This is typically due to a communication breakdown and while it’s infrequent, you can avoid this by using a simple rule. Don’t start work for a client until you’re both 100% clear on what the client actually wants. If you’re not clear and you start work, it’s going to bite you.

A client has unrealistic expectations. Saying no is fine, but explaining why is much better. Instead of flat out saying “No, we can’t help you with that” and ending the conversation, provide context and explain the why. It helps.

You make a mistake. It’s OK – don’t beat yourself up. Admit it, get over it and work quickly to find a solution.

Most of these problems are because of communication breakdowns. Either your messaging is unclear or you didn’t ask enough questions in the first place. Don’t blame your clients, take responsibility and fix their problem.

How to prevent zeroes

Here are three simple ways to improve your level of client service.

Be empathetic. Do you truly understand your customer’s pain? I know how painful WordPress can be to deal with, which helps me remain objective when the sparks are flying. Try and understand your customer’s point of view.

Invest in what matters to clients. This could be using a support desk, sending a proactive weekly email or sharing a useful how to guide that makes their life easier. This will result in a higher lifetime value and great word of mouth for your business.

Talk to your clients. Duh! A survey is OK, a phone or Skype call is good but a face to face meeting is the best. If you can, take a client out for a cup of coffee. I traveled from San Francisco to New York for a Fox News interview last week. The interview was amazing, but the highlight of the trip was having coffee with a longstanding client. He told me what he liked and disliked about our service. He was honest, candid and his feedback was worth the price of the flight alone.

There are dozens of other ways you can stay in touch with your clients and avoid the dreaded zero.

How do you prevent zeroes in your business? Please share your feedback in the comments.