We are all human.
I have been running Vintage Twee now for over 8 and half years. And like a lot of my creative colleagues, I do it pretty much single handedly. I think I manage quite well most of time. Of course we’re all prone to the occasional meltdown on a Monday morning – that’s to be expected when you’re juggling a million different aspects of running your business. Creating products, marketing, tax and finances, stock and stationery supplies, enquiries, packaging, shipping…the list is endless. As a result, I sometimes forget to order stock, post updates on social media or write a blog. Sometimes I have to take a day or two off due to sheer exhaustion. I’m human.
But one thing I do always pride myself on is my high level of customer service. However, as the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. And, as probably the only person steering your small business ship, you’re going to also be the one who has to deal with the icebergs.
The customer is always right…or are they?
I decided to write this blog article primarily to share my experiences of customer service with other small business owners in the creative industry. But I also wrote it to stand up for us Captains of our creative ships. To be proud of the customer service we offer and defend ourselves when we come under attack. Because all too often we question and doubt our business decisions when there’s actually no need to.
In a consumer led world where we are taught that the ‘customer is always right’, we are often afraid to exercise our own rights for fear of ruining our reputation. There’s nothing wrong with challenging something that you don’t agree with. You wouldn’t be running a business in the first place if you weren’t of this strong minded nature. For me, delivering high levels of customer service when the s**t hits the fan is all about the 4 P’s: Problem solving, Patience, Policies and Professionalism.
What’s the issue?
It could be anything, depending on the nature of your small business. For me, the most common customer service issue I have is orders not being received in time for an event. I work exceptionally hard on a quick turnaround time for my handmade items, typically 1-3 business days. But this issue is a particular problem with international customers who are not always aware that we are based in the UK. Perhaps your product may not as the customer expected or it may be faulty. Whatever the issue, there are ways to handle it so that you don’t lose your customer – or your rag.
Who’s to blame?
Of course it’s your fault. You mean you didn’t follow the postman to the final destination after you did your Drop and Go run at the post office? Shame on you! We can be greeted with some aggressive correspondence when someone is unhappy and this is the part you have to try and not take personal. They are upset but so are we. I know I am just as frustrated when something I have spent a long time creating doesn’t arrive in time. Try to work out whether the problem has resulted from miscommunication, a creative blip or simply an unreasonable request.
Can it be resolved?
How easy is the problem to fix? Can you replace a faulty product or re-send items lost in the post in time before they are needed? If you can and you feel that it’s a genuine case, my advice is to do what you can to rectify the situation. Not long ago I received an email to let me know one of my products was faulty. The customer was understandably upset as it was for a hen party which had been and gone. However, I sent a gift wrapped replacement as a keepsake for the bride to be and extended my sincere apologies as this was a fault on my part. The feedback I received was fantastic and my customer service level was described as ‘second to none’. Respond to issues quickly, offer solutions and be prepared to admit fault if this the case.
It’s a virtue apparently. And as a business owner, it can get pushed to the limit on occasion. Here’s my tips to exercise that patience – and your customer service skills:
– Stay calm. If you receive an email that makes your stomach flip, often wait a short while before you reply. Our heart can rule our head at times and you don’t want to type an emotional reply that may compromise your business reputation. Instead, take a deep breath, step away from the computer and go and put the kettle on.
– Try to see their point of view. It always helps if you can let your customer know first that you understand how they must be feeling and that you share their frustration. Apologise for any inconvenience caused by the issue. You can then go on to handle the problem in more detail.
– Don’t be afraid to support yourself. It may be that the customer simply didn’t read the shipping guidelines and therefore their order took way longer than they expected to be delivered. Direct them to any terms and conditions you have on your website which states your policies clearly. Don’t be afraid to highlight facts and explain some things are the customer’s responsibility to check before purchasing. But also remember that you don’t want to appear condescending so stick to the facts and keep it simple.
In any business, it’s important to have your own set of rules, standards and expectations that you work to. High levels of customer service often starts with being clear on what they can expect when they purchase from you. I have separate sections at the bottom of my website which contain information on:
– Ordering and Delivery – turnaround time, payment methods and shipping.
– Terms and Conditions – contains important information for customers to read before they place their order.
Having clear policies on your website will ensure that customer’s expectations are met and that customer service levels are kept high.
This is probably the most challenging P of all. Like I said at the beginning, we are all human. It can be hard for an upset customer to understand that you are just one person sat behind your desk dealing with EVERYTHING. Plus you have a sore throat, nothing in your fridge and a pile of ironing taller than you. But, as the business owner, you do have a certain degree of responsibility to uphold your professionalism within a reasonable limit – it’s just what we have to do.
That being said – under no circumstances do you need to tolerate any kind of verbal abuse such as bad language or insults. Luckily in 8 and a half years of business, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything too scary. I’ve had a few unreasonable comments but you win some and you lose some. As long as you win considerably more than you lose, then you’re doing something right!
Try to handle any difficult customer service issues via email to ensure a written account of your correspondence is on record.
You are not the Titanic.
Remember, don’t feel guilty if you make a mistake. My driving instructor used to say to me: ‘it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, it’s how you correct them that counts’. And I passed my driving test first time. The truth is, we are not a multi-million pound company with a team of professionals behind us to handle every aspect of our day to day business. Some of us literally just have ourselves – and possibly a couple of dedicated family members who help us out because they love us.
So when it comes to customer service, do the very best you can to make someone feel valued and understood. Leave them with a positive impression of your business, even if something did go wrong. Have faith in the fact that you keep your ship afloat every single day, despite the icebergs. And turn to the ones who will throw you a life jacket when it’s needed, they are worth their weight in gold.
For my partner Dave, dad Tony and sister Emma – my life jackets when I’m going under!! xxx