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If You Want Answers, You Must Ask Questions

99designs is not a conventional company. Its innovative offering gives you...

99designs is not a conventional company. Its innovative offering gives you the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and inspiration of a huge community of artists and designers by starting a contest for the creation of a logo, website and not only. They source designs and expertise globally and deliver them locally. A great idea, one that has clearly appealed to companies and individuals all over the world. 

Opting out of a contest

Thirty minutes into a contest I started, as part of my new public speaking e-course, the first designs came in. An hour later a few more arrived. The designs were totally uninspiring and way out of line with our branding guidelines therefore I placed a phone call, at 9am (EET) to their UK line (one of three lines available to reach 99designs.com) which was directed to an answering machine. 

At 10:05am the same day I received a call from a lady named Sarah and I explained that I wanted a refund. Sarah did her best to help me see the potential in the process but I was not convinced.

99designs did 99% right.

Sarah was polite, knowledgeable and eager to help. She followed her company’s guidelines by the book and explained in detail how everything works and why I should opt to change my mind and keep my ‘faith’ in the process. At the end, I had already decided that the 99designs model, at least this time around, was not for me. Overall, I was happy with my interaction with Sarah. 

The customer service was great – even before our phone call came to an end I had a full refund in my account – but there was something missing.

The 1% to Customer Experience

Despite my initial disappointment with the quality of the initial designs submitted, I channeled all my passion for the art of customer experience to share that 1% that would have made the difference. 

It became obvious to me, just only a few seconds into our call, that Sarah was narrating her response from a script. When I pointed it out in disapproval, she was honest enough to admit it. 

“How do you propose I handle this?” she replied, followed by another awesome question, “…(and) what went wrong in your opinion?” I was impressed by her openness and eagerness to learn. 

Let me start with what I believe went wrong. The mere fact that certain designers submitted a logo within 60 minutes of the contest being launched raised a big red flag for me. By opting to respond in a prompt and fast manner – something which, in most other situations, I would be the first to endorse – they had fallen into the trap of appearing reckless and failing to do at least a minimum amount of research before submitting their work. So, in wanting to avoid the risk of losing my time (and money) I decided to end the process. My suggestion to Sarah, and in extend to the company, was to consider introducing a timeframe – let’s say a minimum of two hours from the time designers view the contest – during which they may not submit a proposal. A 2-hour window would give them enough time to read the potential client’s requirements carefully and research the brand. 

Put your script down. 

Sarah started the call with a well-rehearsed response, hurriedly telling me things like “You still have another two days to go!” and “I see a lot of potential in this contest!”  A real attempt for connection starts with a question not a script. A script assumes (‘ass-u-me-s’) and in other words, it is making an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’. A question, on the other hand, implores and at the same time explores.

The advice I gave Sarah is straight-forward and it is the same advice I would give to any company that wants to provide a great experience beyond mere customer service. 

Start with questions and aim to understand, empathize and connect. 

Sarah could have asked me, for example, “Mr. Virardi, what was it that made you want to end the contest before it’s due to expire?” and when she heard my reasoning, she could perhaps have suggested something along the lines of: “If I upgrade you to our silver package at no cost and give you access to our best designers, will that persuade you to keep your contest running? If you’re not pleased and I don’t hear from you, I will personally cancel your contest within 48 hours and refund your money. What do you say?’”

By putting down her script, even if only for a moment, Sarah would have been much engaging. And engagement, as we have all witnessed from time to time, plays a vital role when aiming to provide a great customer experience. As human beings we yearn for connection, and connection is rarely achieved by reading a script. 

A script can many times be necessary to help you follow rules and remember processes but it will probably tell you nothing about how a customer thinks and feels about your product or service. Scripts are based on assumptions and assumption cannot be applied across a wider customer spectrum. 

If your company wants to go beyond customer service and move into the lane of customer experience then what is required is a shift in mindset. Instead of being focused on achieving great outcomes (i.e. giving refunds) and blindly following procedures (i.e. reading out of scripts) focus on asking targeted questions, which of course vary from customer to customer, and then place all your emphasis in intently listening to the replies provided so that you are better equipped and able to ‘save the day’ for your company and ‘make the day’ for your customer. This experience is more valuable than the refund itself.