In early November I had a great customer service experience that almost made me fall out of my chair. I had been in the market for a new laptop backpack for some time. I finally found a rocking leather backpack from Tumi who are well-known for luxury travel accessories and luggage. The downside was the purchase price: $590/US. Lucky for me I had about $500/US in gifts cards for Zappos ( Zappos is more well-known as an online shoe seller, but for some reason they had the laptop bag I wanted. I placed my order, selected overnight as my shipping method and used up all my gift cards. Overall, the laptop bag cost me $115 including the $25 overnight shipping charge.

After I placed the order I wondered when the bag would actually ship. I went to the Zappos website and read the terms of shipping. “All orders placed by 1:00pm Pacific time will ship that day.” Dang… I placed my order at 4:30pm Central (2:30 Pacific) so it looked like my order wouldn't get out on time (I wanted the bag for my trip two days later). I decided to contact Zappos customer service to ask them when the order would ship. So I opened a chat window from their site and asked them a question: “I just placed my order #12345789 and was wondering if there is a chance of it shipping today?” In what seemed like an instant I received my answer: “Generally, orders placed after 1:00pm will ship the next day. We have refunded your $25 in shipping costs.”

Now take a second and remember that I didn't ask for a refund. I just asked if my order would ship. The person on the other end of the chat window took the initiative and simply refunded my shipping, no questions asked. I replied back to them “Wow! I have never seen anything like this. Thank you so much!” So what did this company really do here? They made a customer for life. And I told this story no less than 10+ times to my friends and family. And now I've repeated my story to 35,000+ people reading this editorial. And do you want to know the funny thing? THE BAG SHIPPED THAT NIGHT!!!!!

Software Development Is a Service

As software developers or managers we are all in the service industry. It doesn't matter if you are an independent software developer, a developer working on features for a large software product firm or simply a developer in the IT department of a small or large company. You are in the service industry and treating your job as such will benefit you in the long run.

How do you talk to and treat your customers? Do you treat customers with respect or do you treat them with contempt? I did a project with a company where the software development department treated their customers with contempt. Can you guess how the other departments felt about the software development department? They didn't like working with them. The other departments would take any chance to outsource work away from the software development department. This company did annual surveys and the software development department was consistently in the bottom of the ratings. The next time you have an interaction with one of your customers, think to yourself: “If I was paying for this, is this how I would like to be treated?”

Another thing to consider is how customers talk about you and/or your company. We live in an infinitely small world these days and that rings true especially in the software development world. If you are familiar with the concept of “six degrees of separation” you know you are only 1-6 e-mail messages away from a good or bad referral. It is important to always provide great service for your customers as you never know where your next job is coming from.

Do you see customer service as being an integral part of your work? Do you treat your customers fairly? What do your customers say about you? Does your development team provide customer service with a WOW factor? Do your customers tell other potential customers about your services?

As a follow-up exercise, I recommend whole heartedly that you read the book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hseih. By coincidence, Mr. Hseih is the CEO of and I saw for myself that his employees understand the value of good customers. This book will change your world view on how important customer service is.