Tuesday, April 28, 2009

3 Simple Customer Service Rules

Over the past decade in roles from retail to consulting in industries as varied as baking to web design, I’ve experienced a range of customer service. I’ve heard a lot about it too but mostly from executive types who loved charts and graphs. I’m sure there were nuggets of wisdom in their countless slides but the folks who deal with people every day will tell you they have a few simple rules to keep their customers happy.

  1. Keep your customers informed. Whether this is an e-mail letting them know you’ve received their order or a verbal acknowledgment to someone in your shop, “I’ll be with you right away,” you can stave off so many difficult situations if you just keep the lines of communication open.

    Why wait until something is a problem when you can get your customers involved early and work out a solution quickly? For example, I recently ordered a custom item from an online retailer. We e-mailed back and forth over all the details and I was assured it would be shipping out the next couple of days but after that initial flurry of information, nothing. I sent them a message to find out what had happened and got a quick, “sorry for the delay, I had some difficulties getting everything together.”

    How simple it would have been to send that message two weeks ago instead of inspiring me to write an article about good customer service. Even at the beginning of the relationship with your customer, make sure you have enough information about your products or services that they can get the basics before coming to you for help. How you frame that information i.e. marketing and promotions is part of it...

  2. Be consistent with your message. This includes your branding, your packaging, your pricing across shops – anything that is your product identity needs to face the same way. The next time you are at a cold beverage display, pay attention and if some of the bottles are facing with the label off-center; see if it makes you skip that bottle or give the impression the store is messy. It’s subtle but important.

    When I first created the look for Seedlings: Jewelry Because, I had so many people ask me if it was a brand I was reselling because everything was so coordinated. Everything from the little cards to hold earrings to the colors of the links on my blog were in essence facing forward in the display.

    In the latest A List Apart, Stephen Anderson has a great article about the importance of aesthetics in design, how it conveys confidence in your product. I feel this carries over into everything that is part of the message I’m trying to convey with my jewelry and they are easy things to do. Even if you aren’t a pro with graphics or printed materials, make some friends who are and do a trade!

    Beyond creating an experience for your customers, being consistent solves potential problems with your shipping policies or pricing between online shops. If you do market differently depending on the shop, see rule number one and state up front why there is a difference (i.e. these are my fashion earrings versus the ones made entirely from rubies and butterfly kisses.)

    As you reach out to your customers in various ways with consistency they will look forward to your updates, to your new creations, to weekly blog posts, to tutorials and contests. They will be ready to reach for a second bottle from your forward facing display and share it with others...

  3. Follow-up or “make new friends but keep the old.” If you are keeping everyone informed and being consistent with your message, you will have repeat customers. These folks appreciate you and your product and are now fans. How fantastic do you feel when someone remembers your name or sends you a note thanking you, puts a little something extra in your package or even just a coupon for a friend?

    From a communication view, a quick e-mail a month after a sale asking if they are still happy can be an opportunity to turn them into a permanent fan with recruits. One popular feature for my recent customers has been to get Spotted in their Seedlings. I ask people to take photos with their new jewelry so I can feature them on my website and Facebook fan page. Another easy follow-up would be to give your previous customers a special discount on new items.

Customer service can mean many things to many people. To me, it’s about consistent communication on all levels of your relationship with your customers. With handmade items, you really are putting yourself into everything you do – why not make the entire experience a true representation of the best of yourself?

I challenge you all to examine one aspect of your current customer service and find an area where you want to make some changes. Use the upcoming month to create a plan to move the business side of your creations forward. I’d love to hear about your ideas and if you feel the same way (or not) about customer service!

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1 comment:

Elephunk said...

Thanks so much for writing this up. There is a lot of food for thought here, and I will have to take some time to mull over your challenge.