In my last blog post, I discussed several ways you can provide outstanding customer service to your online buyers/customers. Some of the comments and suggestions I made in the post apply specifically to eBay, but others can be applied in a number of additional areas as well.
This week, I'm going to focus on feedback and what an important role it plays in providing excellent customer service to buyers. And again, although this relates directly to eBay's feedback system, the same principles can be applied across the board, no matter where you're selling.
An extremely important aspect of customer service I didn't address in my previous post is feedback, specifically eBay's feedback system. Feedback is one of the most high-profile as well as crucial areas in which sellers can and should demonstrate their focus on providing high-quality customer service. And to explain in part why feedback is so crucial, I'm going to give you a little history lesson.
When eBay first instituted its feedback system shortly after the site was launched, its main purpose was to inspire trust in its users based on the comments and ratings of other users who had done business with them on eBay before. In its purest form, feedback was meant to provide an open, honest review of how effectively the other user completed the transaction. Unfortunately, though, human nature took over, and certain unscrupulous eBay users began abusing the feedback system in just about every conceivable way it could be abused.
One of the most insidious abuses of the feedback system was retaliatory negative feedback. When one party left negative or neutral feedback for the other, the other would then leave negative or neutral feedback for the first user in retaliation, regardless of how well the first user had completed his/her end of the transaction.
eBay sellers were the primary offenders in this situation, leaving negative or neutral feedback for buyers who had left it for them, just to get revenge on them. This horribly unprofessional practice yielded a number of extremely negative results, both for eBay as well as its users. First of all, most buyers were open and honest about their experiences when they resorted to leaving negative or neutral feedback for sellers. In most cases, the seller had in fact failed to live up to his/her end of the transaction by promptly providing an item that was as described for a reasonable shipping cost.
So naturally, the buyers were understandably already unhappy with the transaction, but to add insult to injury, most sellers on the receiving end of this negative or neutral feedback, even when it was deserved, immediately retaliated against the buyers by leaving them similar negative or neutral feedback, just to "get back" at them.
As a result, the following things happened:
1. Buyers were extremely unhappy with their experiences on eBay
2. They didn't trust eBay nor its sellers to promptly send them quality items as described in their listings, for reasonable shipping costs
3. They were afraid to leave open, honest feedback regarding their experiences, for fear they would receive retaliatory negative or neutral feedback.
4. They were afraid to report non-receipt of items or items that weren't as described, again for fear of receiving retaliatory negative or neutral feedback.
5. They began leaving eBay in droves.
Around 2005-06, eBay's phenomenal growth began to plateau, and eBay began closely examining why. They began researching this issue in depth, and discovered to their horror that over half of all eBay buyers were leaving eBay permanently within a year of registering. And even more disturbing was the fact that the main reason they were leaving was due to negative experiences with sellers, primarily related to the issues listed above.
As a result of this discovery, eBay came to the realization that significant changes needed to be made to bring buyers back, and one of the most monumental of these was that sellers would no longer be permitted to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers.
Wow -- well, you can imagine the reaction of eBay sellers to this news. Never before had there been such an uproar of negativity from sellers towards eBay. You see, retaliatory negative feedback had become par for the course among most eBay sellers, and indeed, most eBay sellers used the threat of retaliatory feedback as a weapon of sorts, to strong-arm or otherwise manipulate buyers into accepting low-quality products that weren't as described, failing to report non-receipt of items or other instances of seller fraud, etc.
When eBay announced it was taking this "weapon" away from sellers, they were outraged. Many eBay sellers left the site, afraid that they would no longer have any "leverage" against buyers. Sure, they raised some valid points, such as the fact that non-paying bidders could leave negative feedback for them with no recourse (a concern which has largely been resolved for the most part by now), but that was mostly an excuse, a smokescreen for the fact that sellers had gotten accustomed to being able to get their way with buyers using the threat of retaliatory negative feedback.
When eBay surveyed large numbers of its buyers and sellers, they discovered that 42% of their sellers were leaving retaliatory negative feedback on a regular basis, while only 6% of buyers were doing so. Wow.
But as disturbing as retaliatory negative feedback was, it was an indicator of an even larger problem, that of many sellers' overwhelming disregard for their buyers. eBay sellers had become accustomed to operating in an adversarial manner on the site, with fear and the desire for power and control dictating their atrocious behavior towards their buyers. In a sense, quality customer service had almost ceased to exist among many sellers.
Take for example what happened when eBay announced sellers could no longer leave negative feedback. Most decent, customer service-oriented sellers were not upset by this announcement, because most of them had never considered leaving retaliatory feedback in the past anyway, nor doing anything else to exemplify substandard customer service. It was primarily the sellers who were already creating bad buying experiences that were upset that they could no longer use feedback to perpetuate their misbehavior.
Whereas the eBay selling community should have used this announcement as a wake-up call and as a driving factor in improving their customer service, many of them missed the entire point completely.
As an eBay employee during that time, I fielded hundreds of calls from angry sellers who wanted things to continue as they were. I came up with an analogy that I used to demonstrate to many of them how foolish they had been:
Imagine what it would be like if you walked into a department store or into a store like Walmart, and you walked up to the Customer Service desk wanting to return an item. What if the second you told the Walmart employee you wanted to return the item, he/she jumped up on the desk with a megaphone and announced angrily to the entire store that you were an awful person, that you had a lot of nerve trying to return an item to them?
Obviously, that would probably never happen, and any employee who would do such a thing would be terminated immediately. Yet in effect, that's what eBay sellers were doing over and over again, on a daily basis, when they left retaliatory negative or neutral feedback for buyers.
So as it turned out, eBay's decision to remove sellers' ability to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers was inspired. Not only did it inspire trust and confidence in many buyers again, but just as importantly, it also heralded an upheaval and huge shift in the way most eBay sellers approached their businesses and the way they treated their buyers.
To be clear, I'm not saying that all eBay buyers are perfect angels, and that buyers never try to manipulate, threaten or defraud sellers on eBay. But statistically, there are very few buyers who do this, and the fact that buyers are required to pay for items before receiving them provides the greatest protection for sellers.
And as long as sellers use good judgment and follow eBay's guidelines for protecting themselves, instances of them receiving unfair negative feedback should be few and far between. And indeed, in all the years I worked at eBay, although I personally spoke to dozens of sellers on a regular basis who had left huge amounts of negative or neutral feedback for buyers before, the instances of buyers leaving undeserved negative feedback for sellers (with sellers having no recourse or ability to successfully resolve the situations) were very few in comparison.
I've found that sellers who continue to operate defensively on eBay are the ones who usually run into trouble. But the sellers who continually strive to provide outstanding customer service almost never suffer any negative effects of buyer misbehavior.
In the next installment, I'm going to go into detail regarding some additional, specific ways you can demonstrate and provide outstanding customer service and therefore insulate yourself almost completely against being taken advantage of by the occasional bad buyer.
eBay User ID: the auctionguru
eBay PowerSeller and Top-Rated Seller
Former eBay Top Seller Account Manager