Are You Giving Your Readers Good Customer Service?

A CVS I once shopped at every week closed the other day. Its disappearance made me think about customer service and how that relates to the business of being an author and publisher.

An Unsurprising Store Closing

The CVS that closed was once directly on the way to my office, which is how I started shopping there. When I switched my place of business, I detoured a few blocks out of the way because the pharmacist was helpful and cheerful, and I was in the habit of picking up things like toothpaste and Advil there.

Gradually, though, going a few blocks out of my way became less and less appealing.

It started when CVS put in self-checkout machines.

No matter how long the lines were, how many employees were stocking shelves, or how many machines errorred out and stopped working (I found them very unreliable in the beginning), the employees rarely opened up a regular cash register to ring people up.

Also, working or not, I find the machines cumbersome and awkward to use.

There's no room to put anything down, as the machines are jammed against one another.

The only shelf is for bagged items you've already rung up, as the mechanical voice sternly advised me when I momentarily set my purse there to keep from dropping it.

All of that means that when it's twenty degrees and sleeting outside I have to juggle my umbrella, hat, mittens, shoulder bag full of files, wallet, credit card, and items to check out with only two hands. While sweating under my winter coat.

Other times the specific item I need is out of stock.

Or it's been recategorized and shelved elsewhere. (I don't have kids, so it doesn't occur to me that I might only find cotton swabs, for instance, in the infant aisle.)

While I occasionally buy a few things at CVS, these days I usually order online. And that's despite that because I now work in my home office I'm looking for reasons to take walks and interact with other people.

CVS simply makes it far too hard for me to spend money there.

What Good Service Looks Like

My first order with Amazon might easily have been my last.

Early on when Amazon sold only books I ordered five on the origins of monotheism and on goddess cultures. I wanted them for research for what eventually became my Awakening supernatural thriller series.

Local bookstores didn't carry the books.

Amazon offered free shipping. But weeks after I ordered I'd gotten nothing. Happily, I pretty easily found a link on Amazon to report the missing books.

A few days later a box of books came. No questions asked. Two weeks later the original set of books also appeared at my door. But Amazon had already told me to just keep them if they ever showed up.

I was thrilled. One set stayed at home for close study. I kept the other at work to read in those rare times when I had a break.

I also became a customer for life. Especially later when one-click ordering made it even easier to buy.

Putting It Together

What I learned from these experiences about retail business:

  • Make it easy, not hard, for your customers to give you money
  • Make your products easy to find
  • If you make a mistake, fix it quickly and add some value

These seem like obvious points. Yet I go into stores all the time that don't follow them.

Authors And Customer Service

What does all of this have to do with your author business?

Easy Spend

Most of us sell through other companies like Kobo or Amazon, so we we have limited control over how easy it is for a reader to buy.

But one thing we can do is make our books available in as many places and in as many formats as possible.

Audiobooks, for example, took off very slowly for me. But the other day I sold my 1,200th audiobook, not counting The Worried Man, which is published by a separate company. And the great thing is that I either did a royalty-share deal or paid the narrators up front. So all royalties to me are pure income at this point.

Similarly, at first I issued only ebook editions. But as I met more people who only bought paperbacks I decided I ought to make those available too.

Now about one-third of my sales are paperback editions.

Findability

Having books in multiple formats and on multiple platforms also makes them easier to find. Having your own website that lists all the editions also makes it simpler for a reader who hears your name to track you down.

In addition, covers and book descriptions that accurately convey your genre will help readers determine quickly if your books might interest them.

Fixability

If you learn that there's a typo in your book, or if you discover your book description is giving people the wrong impression, if you're a self-published author you can fairly quickly make changes and updates.

And, as an author, sometimes fixing an issue means responding to a reader who emails you. If the reader didn't like the ending, you can say thank you for the feedback, empathize, and let the reader know that with the next book you'll keep those thoughts in mind.

It doesn't mean you need to change your writing style. But if you're thoughtful and appreciative in your response, the reader may give your next book a try. And you may learn something.

That's all for today.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

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