Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing take on etiquette & ethics in virtual spaces
Although the Miss Metaverse Manners feature isn't one I do regularly anymore, every now and then an issue comes up that simply needs to be addressed. I received a comment on one of my older MMM posts and, like a superhero emerging from the shadows when a citizen is in danger, I knew it was time for Miss Metaverse Manners to reappear and save the day.
Hi Iris, I have a question and would like your opinion on what to do. Hope it's ok to ask here, didn't find a ask page. So I sell some items that I custom color match to people's outfits. When they buy the item it gives them a simple form that explains how to show me the color they want, either take a pic or a link to something online and how to find their transaction info showing when they bought my item. Also, my profile asks for notecards cuz IM's almost always cap. So far no one has ever had a problem and even thanked me for the special custom color service. But there's this one customer that just will not read directions! IM'ing me like crazy (even when I ask to please send notecards) and sending random IM's asking for customizing more than matching the color, claiming to have bought the item when it was refunded 2 times, when it finally worked then losing the form 2 times (how do you lose a notecard form??). I keep trying to answer politely and resending forms, but it's been 5 days now and this customer just won't read any directions and we're getting nowhere! I don't know how much longer I can be polite anymore. Obviously all my polite words are just not getting through! There are so many rude words that pop into my head whenever I see this person's IM's pop up when I log on, I just want to bang my head on the keyboard and yell at this person to read the darn directions already! Please some advice on what to do? Anyone? At wits end here.
Well first of all, I want to commend you for keeping your cool for as long as you have, and for even offering customization in the first place. It can be a whole kettle of fish that many designers won't or can't accommodate, so good for you for sticking with it. Hopefully this experience hasn't soured you on this kind of customer service.
Now, to the heart of the issue. The first thing you really need to determine is if this tricky customer actally speaks English fluently or not. That's a pretty significant obstacle for them to overcome, depending on how detailed your intructions are. You can usually get a pretty clear idea of this by talking to someone and checking out their profile rather than asking outright, which some people will take offense to. If you suspect that they might be struggling with the language side of things, the best thing to do is ask if you can help by arranging for a bilingual 3rd party to facilitate communication between you both. Google Translate can only do so much. There's still a risk this might offend them, and finding an intermediary isn't always easy, but it's a good way to resolve things.
If you're fairly sure that this is isn't a case of a language barrier blocking the dialogue, then you need to take a slightly different approach. You've been very patient with this person, so it's time to be a little more strict. Still polite, of course, but the goal is to make your instructions as clear as possible, and be firm when they stray from them. Prepare a notecard with very explicit and personalized instructions, first on how they should be contacting you for optimal service, and second on what they need to contact you with. I know this may seem like information you already have out there, but putting it all in one place and condensing it so it's as straightforward as possible is crucial. Break everything up into steps, with no step being longer than a couple lines. The more it feels like a checklist, the better, because it will be that much easier to follow compared to a wall of text that many people have difficulty digesting. You don't want to seem irritated or condescending either, so it might help to think of it like a recipe you're writing out for a friend or a grocery list for a roommate. Be clear, and be concise.
Send this notecard to them the next time they contact you, and if they fail to follow the steps, just point them back towards it. Make it clear that you do want to help them, but they also need to help you. Emphasize that following these instructions is important for your workflow, and that that needs to be respected for any collaboration (or progress) to occur.
This approach won't work for every stubborn case. At the end of the day, not every customer interaction can go smoothly. Sometimes there will be misunderstandings, even when you do everything in your power to clear them up. Beyond that, some people are just plain entitled, and that's well beyond your control. If all else fails, you might just have to accept an unhappy customer and move on.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.