Saturday, January 16, 2010

10 guidelines for offering a great customer experience

Due to a long career in customer service, mainly in retail, there are a few rules I have come to recognize as cornerstones for good customer service. I would like to share those with you now and hear what you have to say as well. Be warned - This post is a little long, but I think very helpful.

1) Don't sell crap
Seriously! Make a product to be proud of. No matter how nice you are, if you don't make something good, no one will buy it.

2) Set clear policies
This is very important, especially for online shoppers. Vague policies can often make customers leery of buying from you since they won't know what to expect. Be as specific as possible regarding returns, refunds, exchanges, repairs, and shipping policies. Another good tactic is to put the links to your shop announcement and policies section at the bottom of each listing. Since many customers, especially people that are new to ETSY, won't think to look there. Doing this will save you and your customers a lot of headache later. Generally it will protect you should something go wrong or you get a strange request. Just make sure that none of your policies contradict ETSY's since theirs will trump yours should there ever be any question.

3) Listen and Communicate
First and foremost, listen to your customer. Do they need it in a specific size? Do they need a certain color? Do they need priority shipping? Can you gift wrap that for them? There could be any number of things that your customer may need from you. Make sure that you are listening to their needs to make sure that you offer them the best experience possible. Most requests will be reasonable and they will be grateful for anything that you can do to help them out.

Second, communicate! Do this quickly and politely. If your customers didn't want to hear from you, they wouldn't purchase from you. No, this does not mean that you can bombard them with SPAM, unwanted offers, and solicit for feedback. But it does mean that you can let them know that you have received their order, it has been shipped, they can expect it such and such a date, and here's the tracking number. If you use paypal shipping this happens automatically when you print a label and you can enter a personal message. You can also contact them to say that you see they have received their order and to thank them for their business.
Always treat conversations as if they were sales. If someone contacts you with questions, answer them. You never know why they might be contacting you or how much they will spend. They may not spend any, but they could be contacting you for information in order to feature you somewhere or recommend you to someone else. But it is guaranteed that if you don't answer, and answer promptly, that you will loose sales.
Also, include thank you notes. It doesn't have to be anything long and drawn out. Even a colorful post-it note with a "Thank you!" and a smiley face on it will do. Personal communication never fails to go a long way.

The way you communicate says a lot about who you are as a seller. If you don't communicate quickly and pleasantly, and listen to what you customer has to say, then what does that say about how prompt you are with shipping? Will the order come in as asked? How will you react if something goes wrong with the order? Over the internet you don't have much change to make a good impression. So a first is all you may get. People are very guarded buying from individuals because they never really know who their dealing with. It isn't like a giant corporation with headquarters to contact and reputation to uphold. Yes, ETSY has admin to contact and a reputation, but they leave much up to the individual seller, so there is a lot that can go wrong. Communicating with your customer eagerly and amicably will help gain you a lot of trust and earn you repeat sales.

4) Exceed expectations
Imagine this, you place an order for a gift for a friend of yours. You contact the seller to let them know that you need it by X date. You receive the product two days earlier than expected, it is already gift wrapped with a pretty tag on it, there is a thank you note inside, and there is a little thank you gift for you in there as well. How do you feel?
It never hurts to go the extra mile, ever! Your customer will be blown away if you just provide the teeniest bit extra than they expected. Maybe that means gift wrapping something. Or, getting a custom order done a shipped a day early. It could also mean refunding shipping cost that you didn't use, or offering them a little extra gift. The power of going out of your way to get an extra smile out of purchase should never be underestimated. Your customers will appreciate all the extra work you put into their purchase and will be sure to come back in the future.

5) Admit when your wrong
We are human and mistakes happen. You know this, and your customer knows this. That being said, if you are honest about you mistakes and offer to go above and beyond to fix the problem, 99.9% of the time your customers will be accommodating and understanding. Case in point, I had a customer purchase something and upon trying to package up their order, I realized it had been misplaced. I contacted them IMMEDIATELY letting them know that their was a problem. I needed to know if the item was a gift, would they mind waiting a couple days to see if I could locate the item, and if not, I would PROMPTLY offer them a refund or a chance to exchange the item. The person was very accomodating. In the end I wasn't able to locate the item they had asked for, but offered them two other items for the price that they paid originally and they were very happy to accept the compromise.
Life happens. If is inevitable. The point is that if you don't communicate with your customer about problems, then you will end up with more headaches then you would have had you taken care of the problem in the beginning. There have been plenty of horror stories about sellers not getting back to people. and the anger and frustration that it creates. And this not only hurts your business, but everyone's. Because now that person is always going to wonder when they are going to get screwed next.
Now, if mistakes happen often, then you should take a hard look at whether or not owning a business and offering a product or service is really for you. It is not for everyone, and if you just don't have the time or patience to honor your responsibilities then maybe this isn't for you. And that's ok. It may be disappointing, but it is also an opportunity to try something else.
And a last note on this, never deprive your customer the opportunity to leave feedback. If you made the mistake, then you deserve whatever feedback you get. There is always this Kiss and Make Up feature. But when you own your own business, unhappy customers is a risk that you take.

6) If it's broke, fix it
9 times out of 10 you should follow this rule. Make it clear in your shop policies what you will do for repairs. If you make fragile products, either make insurance in your shipping mandatory, or state clearly that this product is buy at your own risk. If you don't sell something fragile, that is still breakable, if it breaks fix it. My policies state clearly that if something breaks within 6 months, I will fix it. And even if something breaks after that, I will probably still fix it, because that's good business practice. There are exceptions to every rule and that's up to you to decide what the exceptions for your business might be, but generally your customers will be pleased when you fix something that has been broken in either shipping, or during wear.

7) ALWAYS be respectful
Remember you are dealing with PEOPLE, not dollar signs. Behind every bill that goes into your Paypal account there is a person who worked for that dollar and spent it on you, or may spend it on you. Yes, there are rude people, and yes they will somehow invariably search you out and contact you will the sole purpose of being rude. But, what does that say about you as a seller and as a person if you are rude back? There are also people who just plain don't know about your product, the time you spend on it, and the quality that matches the price tag. Be polite all the time, NO MATTER WHAT.
Working in retail, I was constantly yelled at, complained to, and sometimes called names. But never ever was I rude back. Simply state what you policy is, what the product entails, and why it is the way it is. And politely tell them that if they are unhappy with your policy that there are plenty of other shops on ETSY that may be able to accommodate them and you wish them luck with their future purchase.
If it is someone who already purchased a kind attitude is even more important. Listen to them, respond to them, and no matter how unhappy with you they are, always be personable. If the person is completely out of line, report them to ETSY abuse. If you were the one that was polite then ETSY is more likely to side with your side and the issue more easily resolved.

8) Don't Whine
I am constantly in the forums reading what's going on. And nothing turns me off more than whiny sellers. And sellers aren't the only ones in the forums. Buyers are in there all the time as well. As a buyer and a seller, I would not buy from a seller that constantly complained about low views, no sales, blah blah blah.... You own a business, part of that is sometimes having a down time. If that's the case I would rather hear about what can be done to promote, what goals do you have, what kind of plans people are making to improve things. Not a bunch of crab-a^^ing about ETSY not putting you on the front page, or not being in the gift guides or blaming other people for your bad sales. Successful sellers will add more items. create a new line, reach out for help, create a blog, anything that will improve their customer base and get them seen by more people. They will WORK HARDER to move their shop forward, not spend valuable time complaining.

9) DON'T SPAM!!!!!
I hate buying from a company and as soon as my purchase goes through my inbox is full of "This on sale" or "You must buy this" or any other number of offers. If you would like to keep in touch with your customers, start a newsletter that they can subscribe to. You can include this option when you confirm an order and let that be the only time you offer it to them. If they don't accept then, they know how to contact you at a later time. I don't personally do this, but I know of many sellers that do and it works out pretty well for them.
WARNING - if you do SPAM and it is reported, ETSY can suspend your account.

10) Don't make promises you can't keep
If you can only make it to the post office to ship twice a week, don't say you offer next day shipping.
If you only offer something in one color, don't say the item can be modified.
If you promise that an item that requires customization will be ready in three days, make sure it's ready in three days.
Your customers will hate you if you continually break promises to them. Know yourself and your limits and work with-in them. If you offer honest service, even if it may take little longer and you communicate that, your customers will be happy because they will buy knowledgeably.

In the end, all of these come down to one golden rule - HONESTY. If you offer a good honest product at a good honest price with honest customer service, your customers will never be let down and your business will thrive. If you are a dishonest seller, your business will eventually tank faster than the Titanic.