Thursday, January 13, 2011

Customer Service and Lulu - A Lesson for Self-Publishing Authors

Michael Marcus, self-publishing author and the host of the Book Making blog, recently published an eBook titled 199 Valuable Self-Publishing Tips for a Penny Apiece. It is for sale on the Lulu website for $1.99. I don't know if Michael has made it available in any other formats yet. I have not finished the book but I will tell you Michael gives you your money's worth. The total number of tips is more like 400, not the 199 tips the title promises.

Today's blog post is not meant to be a review of Michael's book, though I will tell you it was worth the $1.99 I paid. Rather I want to praise Mr. Marcus for prompt customer service and rip Lulu for its  lousy customer service. 

Lulu is in the business of providing authors who self-publish with the means to print, distribute and sell books. Since Lulu has its own web site where books, in this case ebooks, are sold, this means Lulu needs to provide customer service not only to its authors, but to the customers who visit Lulu's site to purchase books.

I paid my $1.99 and promptly downloaded my book. When some free time became available, I opened the file to read my newly acquired book. To my horror and irritation, the file was gibberish. No problem.  Lulu should rectify the problem by sending me a functional replacement copy. I am still waiting for my replacement copy.

To the Michael's credit, he sent me a complimentary replacement copy, which is fully functional, as soon as he read the e-mail I sent to him, not to complain to him, but rather to warn him about the problem. Not only did he apologize and send a replacement, he let me know he had attempted to rectify the problem on the Lulu website. 

That is customer service. I got the product I paid for, was thanked for communicating the issue with him and informed of the steps he, the author, had taken to correct the problem. I will be purchasing one or two of his books on self-publishing in the future because I am interested in his ideas on marketing his books - and because of Micheal's professional and courteous customer service.

Mr. Marcus set the standard in my mind for how self-publishing authors MUST react to their readers when a problem arises. Instead of being an irritated customer who not only did not get the book I purchased, I plan to purchase more books in the future, in part because I was treated like a valuable customer.

Lulu on the other hand, lost all future sales from this customer. I attempted to contact Lulu before I contacted Michael. After about 10 minutes of bouncing around the web site I found the mechanism for having a problem being rectified. I noted in my communication what the problem was in specific detail. I have yet to hear back from Lulu, but I have read about 40 pages of the copy of the book sent as a replacement by Mr. Marcus. At this point, I doubt I will ever hear from Lulu.

Lulu presented two poor examples of customer service. The mechanism to communicate problems with a product was hard, for me at least, to find. There has yet to be a response to my complaint and request for a replacement copy.

Non-fiction books are meant to share information. Often information and time are interconnected and the relationship is important to the customer. Failure for a book distributor/vendor to deliver the information in time will result in the loss of future sales for the author and the distributor/vendor. It makes you wonder how serious Lulu is about its business.

It is obvious to me Mr. Marcus is serious about me purchasing additional books from him as evidenced by his excellent customer service. I can live with problems and mistakes - we are after all human. I cannot abide failure to rectify problems and mistakes in a timely manner.

Most self-publishing authors rely on Amazon and Barnes & Noble to help us sell our books. For those of us who engage in direct sales from our own web stores, this example is an important lesson. Our responsibility to our readers and customers does not end when we make the book available for sale.

Kudos to Mr. Marcus! Shame on Lulu!