Selling Handmade: Customer Service

Selling Handmade- tips for people who want to sell the stuff they make from someone who sells stuff they make.

This has been coming up all around me and with my own recent order issues, I figured it was worth making a post about. One of the first things I learned about business in general is that if someone has a good experience, they’ll tell a couple of people. If someone has a bad experience, they’ll tell EVERYONE. This goes for customer service, too.

Providing good customer service may seem to go without saying, but the biggest complaint I have (and other people I’ve talked to have) is that customer service lately, at least locally, has been atrocious. The cashier is sullen or surly and barely acknowledges you when you greet them. The waitstaff is terse and dismissive. The manager at the mail delivery place just doesn’t care that their delivery person didn’t even bother to check if you were home before deciding that you weren’t.

As an online seller of handmade goods, chances are that the products you sell aren’t essential, and chances are very good that someone else provides the same thing (or something very similar). This makes it even more important that your customer service is excellent.

On a day-to-day basis, this means being polite and answering questions. Even if you think the questions are answered or spelled out somewhere, someone is going to ask. “What’s the size on this?” “Do you combine shipping?” “Is this made-to-order?” “Is this compatible with this other thing I have?” “What are your ingredients?” It can get a little frustrating for us as sellers, particularly if there are multiple questions that are spelled out somewhere. But. This has the potential to become either, “And I had, like, a million questions and they were so patient with me!” or, “All I was doing was asking a simple question, and they were SO RUDE!”

You do have to set limits, though. What happens if they ask the same question over and over? What happens if they bought a pattern and didn’t realize that they were buying a pattern and not a completed item? (It happens A LOT.) What happens if the questions turn from product-specific ones into, “Where do you get your materials? How did you make these?” Only you can determine what’s reasonable for you and what isn’t. If you decide that it’s not reasonable, you then have to come up with a way to say no. I’m going to make a post on saying no, but briefly- be polite but firm. Do not directly apologize unless you’ve committed an error or done something wrong. You can be apologetic without saying, “I’m sorry.”

The other big thing is, order issues. Everyone has issues come up. Everyone does. Things like drastic personal problems interfering with your business. Or you’re late sending out a package for whatever reason. Or you send out a wrong or incomplete order. Or, shipping issues. Shipping issues are absolutely your responsibility (even though some people will say they’re not). The business transaction isn’t complete until your customer gets their goods or services. You could choose to fly all over the country and hand-deliver your packages personally, but that’s a little impractical and a lot expensive. So you choose to hire another company, whether it’s the postal service or an independent delivery service (UPS, FedEx, etc). You’ve hired them, they are working for you, and you are absolutely responsible for following up to make sure they’re doing their job properly- AND fixing it if they don’t.

The key things are to: Take ownership of the situation/your mistake. Apologize for your mistake. Offer a reasonable solution.

One of the most important things is communication. “I’m sorry, something personal came up and I won’t be able to get this out on time. Do you still want it, let me adjust the shipping fee for you, etc.” Your customers should not have to chase you down to find out what’s going on. Most of the time if you explain that something personal came up and offer a reasonable timeframe for the delay, your customer will say, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Or if you’re going to be a few days late sending something, again. As long as they know what’s going on, they’re more likely to be understanding.

“I’m sorry, I sent you a wrong/incomplete thing. Let me send you the right one at no additional charge.” Your customer should not have to pay for your mistake. This has come up a few times in discussions, especially on the forum of a certain online marketplace. Your transaction is like a contract. You will give them a certain thing for a specific amount of money. If you send them a purple bunny instead of an orange bunny, your side of the contract is not fulfilled and theirs is. They didn’t ask you to send them that purple bunny, it’s not their fault you made a mistake and sent that purple bunny, and it would be a breach of your contract to ask them to pay additional money (send the purple bunny back at their cost) to get their orange bunny.

Shipping issues. Tracking and insurance are for the benefit of the seller and NOT the buyer. This is also something that comes up a lot on a certain online marketplace. If you can’t prove you sent something out (via tracking or delivery confirmation) and there’s a dispute, it will come back on the side of the buyer. You are responsible for getting their package to them. If something breaks in transit or simply disappears, again that’s your responsibility. I look at insurance this way. Would I rather be out $2-something for insurance, or would I rather be out the $200-something for product and shipping when I have to resend or reimburse my customer for something that wasn’t their fault?

This past week, someone ordered a made-to-order item from me and asked if I could personalize it. I said yes, absolutely. I sent it out without personalizing it. I didn’t hear anything from them about it, and I realized a couple of days after it showed as delivered that I’d completely dropped the ball on it. I sent them a message to apologize and ask if they wanted me to send another one, personalized correctly this time, and that’s what I ended up doing. If I’d done it correctly the first time, I wouldn’t be in the position of needing to send another one.

Communicate proactively, be polite and reasonable, and remember that you don’t have to let people walk all over you.

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2 responses to “Selling Handmade: Customer Service

  1. I cannot believe the sellers who list in their policies that it is “not their fault” if an item gets lost in the mail. If I order an item, and I do not get it, I better get a refund or have a replacement sent to me.

    I’ve had a couple of packages get lost in the mail. It happens sometimes. I always respond promptly and offer a refund or a replacement. That just makes good business sense! More often than not, these individuals became repeat customers, so my initial customer service was rewarded, whereas if I had refused, i probably would have gotten some negative feedback and possibly have been reported. It is not worth the risk for a single sale!

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