When I was 14, I had a Saturday job in a gift shop. There was this girl who worked there too and when she was in a bad mood, she brought it to work with her. She’d be grumpy with customers. Snap at them.
My inclination, on the other hand, was always to smile through a bad mood; to pretend I was fine. And often, I’d then feel better in myself. Perhaps it stemmed from my fear of getting in trouble with my manager.
I went on to work as a waitress, in bars, for catering companies, in telesales, carrying out market research with strangers. I’ve done a lot of jobs that involve people and having to be nice. At all times. Because being rude, or offish, could signal the end of that job.
And now, as my own boss, I have the same mentality. If I’m rude, or don’t help as much as I could, I lose customers. And that’s the same as losing a job. So instead, I treat my customers like the brilliant people that they are. I try to show gratitude. I jump up to help.
This has all, really, been instilled in me as I was raised by self-employed parents. My dad talked a lot about his customer-facing work, and the ‘customer is always right’ mentality. He shared the challenges he faced – when people complained, for instance – and taught us how to deal with similar situations.
We all get it wrong sometimes, but it’s important to try hard. To answer queries. Even if it’s to say you can’t help with that specific request. For instance, if someone asks for a discount but you don’t offer them – and that’s clearly stated in your T&Cs – have a conversation about it; decide if it might be worth being flexible and letting it go this time.
I had an interesting situation recently. Someone bought a short (cheap) course I put together last summer on talking to camera with confidence. She emailed saying the course wasn’t what she expected. And I sensed disappointment. So I said I would love to know what she was hoping for, and offered her a refund.
Now, I have a no refund policy. But I also very rarely have complaints. So I thought it would be more valuable for this woman to walk away happy than to stick stringently with this rule. I decided to just refund her, let her keep the course and to listen to her feedback.
She wrote a detailed email, it was really helpful. I took the course out of the shop, as I realised it needed updating. And in her last email, she said she was going to recommend this ‘How to sell courses’ course to her pal who runs an online course.
So there you go: from her not being impressed with my course to considering recommending a different one to her friend. It felt really good to turn a negative situation – receiving criticism never feels good – to a positive one.
Build a community
I would really recommend that you create an online community for the people who buy your online courses. A space where they can network together, and ask you questions too. Facebook groups work well for this. Then everyone else in the group can see your answers.
When I first started running online courses, it was all via email and my other website The Early Hour. A few of the women said they’d have liked to be able to liaise with others on the course, so I started the group and they were the first members.
As the group has grown, I’ve had lots of people coming back for new courses. Also, buying each other’s courses, doing design work and copywriting and coaching for each other. It feels so good to build a community full of creative, clever, generous people.
At first, on starting a group, you will need to put out a few posts to get people talking. But people soon see that there’s an opportunity for promoting their businesses, and start to contribute.
Once people are on your course and loving it, it’s great to collect testimonials that you can add to your sales page, and use on social media to lure new customers.
It’s good practice to ask permission before turning their lovely positive email into a testimonial. Some people don’t want it widely known they’re doing a course, for various reasons, so do check.
In terms of encouraging people to leave feedback – positive and/or constructive – you can set up a formal system where you mail out a questionnaire towards the end of the course, or once it’s finished, asking what they thought. Survey Monkey is good for creating surveys.
But I don’t do this. I find people are generally very keen to share both the positive and the constructive, so it happens organically. I always ask if it’s ok to share. And if someone tags me online and says something nice about a course, I will contact them and ask if I can use the quote.