Friday, March 16, 2012

Importance Of Awesome Customer Service

I get quite a bit of emails in my inbox from people similar to myself who want to start a small business. I have had trouble consistently writing back; so.. I'm hoping to cover some things on my blog! What better way to interact and share knowledge with a big group of people?

I will be covering... ideally 1 topic every week or two (sporadic-- sometimes more or fewer, depending on my work schedule). Because there are endless topics to cover, I think this will be a great opportunity for buyers and sellers alike to learn from each other, to see the other side of the story.

To begin, a little about me & my business.
He Qi Crystal Designs is a very small scale business operating outside of my home. I have one employee; me, and no plans of expansion anytime soon. I am a registered business, have a seller's permit, and I pay taxes on everything I sell. This is the correct, legal way to sell products. I work on He Qi outside of my day job (7:30 - 4:30/5 or later when needed). This is my one major interest/hobby, and having He Qi keeps me sane. This is not to say that my day job is not important to me, because it most definitely is! I have pride in what I do; whether that be in my office during the day, or at home during the night.

Today's top is: the importance of exemplary customer service.
All of what I write is based completely off of my own personal experience. I have never taken a business class. Just because this is what I have learned/observed does not make it the ultimate truth; is it one side of the story.

I believe shopping is an experience. It is not simply just buying merchandise. Or else there would not be rating sites and service/experience would not be a part of the criteria.

For me, shopping goes beyond buying a product; it includes the search for that product, comparing a variety of products, and then finally choosing to purchase a product that appeals the most to you as a consumer.

The creations I offer are geared towards a certain niche customer base of those who treasure handmade, one of a kind goods. I, myself, fit into that niche perfectly, so I am actually trying to attract people with similar likes to myself. When I make goods and interact with customers, I always try to keep in mind that I only must treat others as I wish to be treated myself (pretty basic law of life, I believe). This means, every interaction must be conducted with respect, honestly, genuine concern for a customer's well being. Sure, it is business, but this does not mean everything is strictly about profits, because when it comes down to it, for me, it is definitely not about the money.

Rule #1
Treat everyone with respect. 
It doesn't matter you who're talking to; a fellow artisan, a customer, always have respectful exchanges. It can be a firm and serious matter, but please, be respectful. Regardless of what seemingly "rude" comment a buyer has made about you/your products, it is your responsibility as a seller to NEVER lash at your customer. Chances are, there are reasons for the buyer being unhappy. Find out why, work to resolve the issue in a professional, objective manner.

Rule #2
Communicate professionally.
I can not tell you how many times I have seen this. You can send casual notes/emails, but still remain professional during communications. NEVER EVER EVER TYPE IN ALL CAPS WHEN CORRESPONDING WITH CUSTOMERS. Seems like you're screaming at them, even if you're not. It's fine to use capitals in certain cases where you're obviously trying to emphasize a few words. Don't swear. Choose your words with some level of awareness, don't spurt the first things that come to your mind, because those are often "emotionally charged" words. I have seen all things before, and try my best to avoid doing them because really, your customers don't deserve attitude from you. You, as a seller, owe all of your success to your clients.

Rule #3
You promise something, you deliver.
Do not say your item is "high quality" if it costs $10 and breaks within 2 wears. I don't know about you, but when I think high quality, I think... durable, long lasting, well made. Sure, it seems like a great bargain and the price will draw a certain crowd in, but think twice before making claims about a product that is not true. It is perhaps even more dangerous when false claims are made about materials.. Metal allergies can be dangerous. I am personally allergic to pretty much everything except for sterling silver/gold/niobium. I had a ring which contained nickel, and ... the worst part was the seller did not disclose this, even though nickel is a HUGE concern in the industry for allergic reaction. And the whole time, the ring was sterling silver, top quality, and .. did I mention also $110? Not "cheap", and you can definitely buy sterling silver for less, but alas, I thought I was getting something I was not. When questioned about it, the seller did not take any responsibility, no apologies. I came out of this situation with a lasting rash on my now blue/green finger--- lasted weeks and was itchy, irritating. Yep. I try my best to offer accurate descriptions of my products. I always disclose if there are any potential substances of concern in a product... but easier yet, I avoid questionable materials altogether in my creations.

Rule #4
If your buyer is unhappy, do everything in your power to remedy the situation.
And it shouldn't matter if you lose money because of it. Eat your own policy if you have to. Did you buyer not receive his/her package? Do your terms say you are not responsible? I know that a seller has absolutely ZERO control over what the post office does, but that's not really the point here. The point is that you make an effort to work with your customer to resolve an issue. Make sure that when a buyer communicates an issue to you, you address it right away. It is top priority. Work out an agreement between the two of you where both of you lose/gain something. The buyer pays only material costs for a replacement, or sellers sends full replacement but buyer pays shipping, something like that. Buyers are always willing to work with us, we just have to make sure we make the situation comfortable, open, and honest.

Rule #5
Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Suppose you are successful; you are getting tons of customers wanting your products. You are 1 person. It is not realistic for you to work non stop to get your high volume of orders done. This hasn't happened much to me as I don't have high volume, BUT there are times when the Holidays roll around, and things can get a little hectic. If you promise a 2 day processing time, you do it in two days. Otherwise, promptly communicate the issue with your customers, and discuss possible extension or whatnot. In most cases, customers are VERY understanding; for artists who meticulously hand craft all their wares, it takes time, and rushing it really doesn't do any good. Either close your shop temporarily for a while, with a notice of reason, or communicate your overwhelm to your customers.

All of the components above help provide great customer service for your buyer. With a positive shopping experience, a buyer is more likely to return/spread the word. This post did not include ALL the things I think are helpful, but it is a good starting point. And I am the first to admit: I am not perfect, but with each transaction I am involved in, I work harder to be better. We're all human and we will have really awful days where everything rubs us the wrong way; the best way to remedy the situation is to be honest about whatever is happening, apologize and move on.

Hope you've enjoyed this post! I am curious: what was your WORST and BEST customer service experience? Please leave your comments below! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Please excuse any typos I may have made-- appreciate it!

1 comment:

KatChi said...

Hi Lisa,

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your willingness to share with others your experience and what you know and have learned about starting/having a small business. I also love to make jewelry and have always wanted to start a small business on the side doing what I love. I've contacted others before asking for their advice or simply just to see what it takes to start a small business, but some seemed unwilling to help or share any advice. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you again, and I wish you the best with your business!