Friday, August 21, 2015

Customer Service: Providing Service before, during, and after a Purchase

What is Customer Service? Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. 

 When you run an Etsy shop, every dealing you have with a customer reflects back on your business. Having a bad day? You might be tempted to snap off a reply to a customer, but what will that do? In the short term, you'll lose a return or future customer. In the long run, you can wind up with poor shop reviews, and a loss of future income.

In the field of customer service, your words reflect on you, your business, and your products. The way you respond sets the tone for your shop- both good, and bad. In the long run, you want people to think about the quality of the product you sell when they see your shop. You don't want them to recall the hassle it was to get you to reply, or the problems they had when shipping was delayed, or the rude reply you sent when they asked how long it would take to be made.

Your customers are your life line. They pay the bills to keep your shop up and running, and even when they are may not be polite, they do deserve to be treated respectfully. Below are some examples of good ways to reply to situations you may encounter as an Etsy store owner.

A good salesperson can sell anyone something one time. Your customer service will determine if that customer comes back, and if they bring friends.

Example 1:  The I want a Discount Customer

"Hi, I was just looking through your store, and I was wondering if you had any discount codes available right now? Thanks!"

Bad reply:

"no, I don't, and it's rude to even ask me. If you can't afford it, shop elsewhere."

Good reply:

"Hi- I am glad you like my shop! At this time, I currently do not have a coupon code available for my shop. I do plan to offer one in the next few weeks, though. Would you like me to contact you when it becomes available?"

Alternate Good Reply:

"Hi- I am glad you like my shop! I am currently running a sale, and all of my prices are already discounted XX%. I am not able to offer further discounts at this time. The sale ends on X date, at which time, my prices will return to full price. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask! Thank you!"

There are countless ways to reply, but your replies should always be made while keeping your business in mind. Customers ask for a discount for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they simply can not afford your prices. Sometimes, they just want to make sure they didn't over look a published coupon code. Sometimes they just want to see if you will go lower.

My thoughts on coupon codes are this. If you have put time and thought into your product pricing, then you should account for: Supplies, Time, and Fees. That means your price should 100% cover the time it took to make (you ARE paying yourself an hourly wage, right???), the amount it cost to purchase the supplies, and the fees that Etsy, Direct Pay, and Paypal take out of the sale. If you are covering all of that, and have the appropriate mark up in place on top of that, then you WILL make a profit even with a 10% discount.

However, if 10% means you won't even break even on the supply costs, then you are not priced appropriately anyway, and should sit down and figure out how to price your items, so that you are making money.

Example 2: The Why Isn't It Done Yet Customer

"I ordered this last week, and it hasn't even shipped yet? I need it this weekend, when is it going to ship?"

Bad Reply:

"My production time was listed in the listing. Didn't you read it? It won't be there by this weekend, I haven't even started it yet."

Good reply:

"Hi- this item is in line for completion, but I still have X orders ahead of your item. I am sorry, but at this time, I am unable to complete and mail it to arrive before this weekend. My current production time is listed in my shipping time, and this particular order is on track to ship out next Tuesday. However, I see that you need it sooner. I can try to work with you on that. I do offer a rush production option on my main page- the link can be found here. In addition, I can do a custom listing to upgrade your shipping to priority over night for $X, or 2 day shipping for X to ensure that the item arrives on time. If neither of these options work for you, I can offer a full refund. Please let me know what you would prefer as quickly as possible, so I can get started on your purchase as needed. Thank you!"

When a customer orders from Etsy, unless they are a crafter, or an Etsy shop owner themselves, they are stuck in the "Amazon" mentality.  They often presume that we have our items already made, set aside, and just waiting to be shipped the moment an order comes in- even on customized items made just for them. 

The way you respond will be the difference in a refund, or keeping the order, and the difference between a bad review, and a good one.

Example 3: The Where is My Purchase customer

"Where is my purchase?!?!? I ordered it, it says it shipped over a week ago, but no item arrived! I ordered this for a special event, and now I don't even need it! I want a refund, this is dumb!!"

Bad reply:

"I shipped it. It's out of my hands. Check your post office." Or, another bad reply; "Sorry, you didn't tell me when it was due. I don't accept returns at all. The post office has it right now, I can't do anything about that." Or worse- escalating the issue. "It's not my fault! I shipped it. You yelling at me is what's "dumb". Stop contacting me, or I'll report you for harassment!" (By the way, I have seen people actually post that they have either SENT or RECEIVED each of those replies. BAD Business move!)

Good reply:

"I apologize that the item has not arrived yet. I did send it out on X day, with X type of mailing. The current tracking shows that your item is out for delivery today, and should arrive by the end of the business day. If it does not, please let me know, and I can contact the post office to see why there is a delay.

For future orders, if you have a deadline, it is helpful to contact me, so I can ensure that the proper postage us purchased for faster delivery. Unfortunately, the post office has been sluggish lately, and it is effecting how quickly items arrive. Here is a 5/10% coupon good on a future purchase. If you have any more concerns, please let me know, and I will try to help to the best of my ability.

If, after it arrives, you are still interested in a refund, please let me know. My policy is to allow refunds within X days of receiving the product. I do request that the item be shipped back to me in the shape it arrives. Once I have it in hand, I am happy to refund the full purchase amount."

Crabby customers are not any fun to deal with. However, your reply can help manage the situation, and even defuse the situation. When someone spends hard earned money on an item, and it doesn't arrive as quickly as they want, they can get upset about it. You never want to escalate an issue by stooping to the level of an angry internet typer, because it reflects on you, your business, and your product.

Example 4: The Refund Demanding customer

"I ordered this in X color, and it looks nothing like it did in the photo! This doesn't match what I need at all. I need a refund!"

Bad Reply:

"I don't accept returns. Sorry!"

Good Reply:

"Hi- thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, due to screen settings, colors may occasionally differ from what you see on screen. In my listing, I do have it noted, but I will try to make sure it's more prominent in the future.

With the type of item this is, I normally do not allow returns. However, if you can get it mailed back to me quickly, I can offer either an exchange for another color/style, or I can offer store credit. If this won't work, we can work out something on a refund.

Please let me know your choice as quickly as possible.

Thanks you!"

The old adage is "The customer is always right." Except they are not always right in what they think, say, or demand. That said, what this quote means, is the customer is easier to deal with if you give into what they want.

Offering options before the refund gives them an alternative, while allowing you to keep the sale. It won't always work- some people are going to be difficult no matter what you offer. In those instances, there are lines you can draw, while still remaining polite.

Example 5: The never pleased, very angry customer

"I don't care why it hasn't arrived, this is unacceptable! I feel like you've ripped me off! I'm going to talk to Etsy, this is unacceptable!! If I don't get a refund immediately, I will RUIN you!"

Bad Reply:

"I'm done dealing with you! Don't like it? Tough! It's my shop, what I say goes!!"

Good Reply:

"I am sorry you feel that I am unable to help you with this matter. As I have said, your product is en route. I am unable to ensure that it arrives any faster at this point. If you still feel that a refund is in order after the product arrives, I will be happy to discuss it with you at that time. My shop policies are in place to protect my business. I simply am unable to refund the product without it being returned to me first. At this point, I have said all I can to help, and have done what I could to locate the package. I am unable to help any further until the package arrives. If you continue to act abusive towards me, I will have no choice but to let Etsy step in and help.

If you would prefer to begin an Etsy case against me, that is your prerogative, but at this point, I will not be replying to any more abusive messages, and will be forwarding them on to Etsy. I am sorry we were unable to work this problem out.

Thank you for your time"

No one, and I mean NO ONE, likes to deal with the never pleased, very angry customer. However, it happens all the time.  When a customer is angry, they tend to drift into the realm of abusive in their replies. This could be calling you names (I avoided vulgarity, but it happens often with customers like this!), it could be threats, it could be blackmail. Once a customer crosses that line, my best advice is to reply politely (gritting your teeth the entire time if you must!), and let them know your options once more, and follow it up letting them know that you have helped to the best of your ability, and that any future abusive replies will be left for Etsy to sort out.

At that point, if they continue to reply, or send messages, keep them, but don't reply. You can contact Etsy to step in as needed, but it may take them several days to reply to you. However, if an angry customer does open a case against you, the messages are proof towards how that customer acted, and why they are demanding a refund. It will also help to remove a negative review if they leave one.

Please note, the "Never pleased, always angry" customer will not leave a positive review at this point. If they have reached the point of being abusive, the most you can hope for, is that they do not leave any review. If they do leave a bad review, do not reply publicly to it. Just report it to Etsy, and give them as much information as you can about it, and hope that they remove it.

Final Tips on Customer Service.

While the above examples are some of the more popular types of issues you may run into, there are many more. Here's a list of quick tips to keep in mind when replying to a customer.

1. Reply to messages and emails promptly. No one expects to receive a reply within minutes, but you should make sure that you reply at your earliest convenience. No one likes to wait for days for a response, and that delay will lose you that customer.

2. Be honest and upfront. If a customer messages you asking if you can make X product and have it shipped and at their door by X date, be honest. If you can't do it, let them know. It will save you the headache of dealing with an upset customer later one, when you have not delivered on the promise. If you feel you can deliver on it, but at some point fall behind (kids are sick, work called me in for extra shifts, I fell and broke my arm!), make sure to message them immediately, prepared to offer a full refund. If a customer needs an item by X date, they need it by X date, period.

3. Listen to what they need. When customers message you, or add a note to an order, listen to it, and reply. If it's something you can do, let them know your options. If it's something you can't do, let them know. Your customer's needs will dictate the sale. If you are selling a yellow sundress, and they want it in hot pink chevron, but did not ask before purchasing, message them, let them know if you can not provide it, and be prepared to offer a refund. This goes hand in hand with number 2.

4. Reply to complaints. This is the biggest place where shops tend to fail. If someone messages you and has a complaint about the time frame, the shipping time, the cost, or even the product itself, take the time to reply (politely!), and address their concerns. Offer to fix what you can fix. Some things are out of our hands, such as shipping time. But if they have an issue with a button that fell off, offer to fix it. If the size is too small, offer to fix it. If it arrived past the date when they needed it, offer to fix it. Fixing it may mean losing the sale by offering a refund. It may mean exchanging the product for another. If you can fix it, offer to do so every time. Be honest (number 2!) about your ability to change the outcome- if they wanted a different shade of blue, and you don't offer that color, be honest. If they ordered a completely personalized item you will never be able to resell, let them know that you can't offer a refund on custom items. 

5. Offer your help. Not all messages are going to result in a customer, but if the person has an issue you can help with, offer to do so. If they have questions about your products, offer to help by answering those questions. If they are trying to locate something you don't sell, but you know someone who does, offer them the link. If they need something faster than your current wait time allows, offer options, such as expedited shipping, or a rush fee for putting the item ahead of the line.

6. Go the extra mile. If someone comes to you and says "I'm looking for this, can you do something similar?", let them know if you can, and if you can, let them know where to find it, and other similar items in your shop. If someone wants a blue hair bow, and you offer 3 different blue hair bows, give them each option. Additionally, you can let them know the price of the item, and how quickly it can be mailed out. When you send a package, adding a small item for free on high priced items is never a bad idea. If you sell hand beaded necklaces, adding a small wire wrapped ring to the order will cost you little in supplies, but will keep you memorable. You can add a business card sized "Thank you for your purchase! Please enjoy this gift from me to you!" with the purchase. Include your shop information on it, so they can easily reference it in the future.