Continued from Part 8 (or start at Part 1)…

At this point, you should be pretty much ready to start selling your item.  As you begin your business though, there is a very important question to keep in mind…

  • Customer service: Is the customer always right?

When you consider word-of-mouth advertising, customer service is quite important.  Customer service can make or break your business in a hurry.  When working with customers, you really aren’t allowed to have a “bad day,” particularly with newer customers.  You must strive to always be courteous, friendly, cheerful, and willing to answer their questions. 

Think about trying to find some assistance in a warehouse-type mega store, and then compare that with finding service at your local, small-town farm or hobby store.  (BTW, if you’ve never had the privilege of going to such a store, make it a priority.  You will discover the definition of GREAT customer service!).  What makes them so different?  It is the fact that, to those workers, it isn’t necessarily “just a job.”  They are knowledgable of the products they are selling, and they enjoy helping customers (or at least they act like it really well).  They aren’t focused on just “making the sale,” rather, they generally try to help the customer find the item that will best suit his needs.  In turn, they create happy, satisfied customers that become loyal, return customers.  Many people are willing to even pay a little more for an item just to receive and support that type of service.  Here are a few tips for good customer service…

  • No matter how busy you are, always acknowledge a customer when they walk up. 
  • If the phone rings while you are helping a customer, focus on the customer that has arrived to shop in person, and either let the voicemail answer the phone, or answer and take a number to call them back later (explaining that you are with a customer). 
  • If you have a voicemail or e-mail account, check it regularly, and respond to inquiries in a timely fashion.  Most experts will tell you to do so within 24 hours, but I have found greater success if I do so within the same business-day. Many customers will change their minds if you wait 24 hours.
  •  Don’t be afraid to tell a customer “I don’t know,” but be sure to follow it up with “I’ll find out for you.”  Then be sure you do follow-up in a timely manner.
  • Try to keep the customer happy.  If they are not satisfied, consider refunding their money, even if you suspect the product is fine (within reason).  If their purchase involves a wait, be sure to keep them posted.  Good customer service CAN BE hard work (though not always)! 
  • When making decisions regarding customer service, just put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want and expect from a seller.  Go from there.
  • Depending on your type of business, you may want to mail occasional reminders, Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc.  However, don’t go overboard.  I wound up on one small-business e-mail list, and I get at least one e-mail every week.  As a result, I generally delete them before ever reading them.  It’s just too much.  Those that are limited to once-a-month, or better yet, seasonal, I generally appreciate. 
  • If a customer refers a new customer, be sure to thank them somehow.  You can also consider giving them some sort of appreciation gift with their next purchase.  Such acknowledgement is greatly appreciated.

Inevetibly, you will eventually come across a disgruntled, impossible-to-please customer.  In such a case, you may ask yourself , “Is the customer ALWAYS right?”  As a general rule, the answer is yes, but technically, the answer is a resounding “NO!”  There does come a point when you have to consider the safety, effeciency, and profitability of your business.  As a seller, you have every right to refuse a customer.  Of course, if you do so, they are likely to spread some negative comments about you and your business, so it does come at a price.  You must make this decision carefully.  Let me give you a few examples.

  •  When I was training horses, one client I accepted had a wild, 5-year-old, Paso Fino Stallion that he had recently inherited.  The horse had been born in the field, and never been touched in it’s life.  No other trainer in the area would touch it.  I was willing to take it, but had a few requirements.  He had to arrange to have it gelded, and house it for several weeks prior to bringing him to my farm.  He agreed, and I soon found myself with a beautiful, proud animal to train.  I had given the owner an estimated time of 6 weeks of training to reach the goals he desired.  As agreed, the owner came every weekend to check progress and pay his weekly fee.  After 2 weeks, the horse was doing great, I was riding under saddle, and the horse was coming around.  After the third week, the owner saw how great the horse was doing in the pen, and decided he was done.  He wanted me to have only 1 more week to get him accustomed to the trail, and he wanted to take him home.  I discouraged it, knowing the horse wasn’t ready, but against my better judgement, I allowed him to pressure me.  That week, I pushed the horse too hard, taking him into unfamiliar territory before he was ready.  I wound up hurt and unable to train for 6 months as a result.  The owner, of course, felt he had no responsibility, didn’t pay the remainder he owed since he “didn’t get what he paid for,” and then, after getting the horse home, he attempted to toss a saddle on and just jump on.  With no mental or physical preparation, and no lessons from me (required after I’ve trained a horse), he suddenly tried to “cowboy” this horse around, resulting in himself getting bucked off and hurting his back.  As of a year later, the horse was never ridden again. 
  • When I had my scrapbooking business, I had a couple customers that only showed up for my discontinued clearance sales a couple times a year.  They never hosted events for me, never supported my business in any way, never referred any other customers, and often complained and wanted a refund on an opened, clearanced item if it didn’t wind up being what they’d expected.  These customers became far more of a hassle than they were worth.  So, I quit notifying them of the sales.  Interestingly enough, they never contacted me to ask about the sales. 
  • When I used to pick up raw milk as part of a co-op group we had, it was a HUGE investment of time and money on my part.  Most members paid me a little to do it for them, but every month, I spent almost 2 full days working on milk pick-up.  One season, a group of 4 new members from a neighboring town joined, referred by one of my better customers.  The 4 were friends, and had expressed great interest.  The first drop, they made a lot of mistakes in what they were supposed to do, and I wound up paying for some things out of pocket for them.  We got it worked out, and I chalked it up to them being new.  The next month, more mistakes were made and complaints were received.  The third and fourth month, I was getting fed up, but tried to hang in there since I’m a peace-maker by nature.  Then, the fifth month, they didn’t place an order.  I was surprised, and asked the loyal, referring customer about it.  She apologetically explained that on their last order, all 4 of them had gotten sick from something.  They each went to the hospital, were told they had listeria (if I recall correctly), and apparently told the doc they drank raw milk.  The doc automatically blamed the milk (no tests were done), so they decided not to purchase again.  At first, I was mortified and somewhat fearful they would somehow blame me.  Then, I found it maddening that they automatically assumed the problem was in the milk.  As a diabetic, I have an immune-disease, yet I had never gotten sick.  I had 2 pregnant customers who drank the milk, several with babies and toddlers who drank the milk, and my own young children drank the milk.  None of these people had gotten sick.  Also, I found it interesting that the 4 customers were from a different town, meaning it was highly possible their contamination came from another source, but they just automatically assumed it was from the milk I picked up.  This experience was a big wake up call to be careful who you accept as a customer.  If you are working your tail off to try to keep them happy, something is wrong.  It may not be worth it.  In a case like this one, they may well spread bad gossip about your business anyway, so why bother?

When it comes to customer service, I recommend using your gut first, then try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  If, however, at any point, you feel something may be wrong, don’t hesistate to break off that relationship–tactfully and politely of course.  Depending on your business, you may simply be able to stop sending newletters and order forms.  Sometimes, it may be more difficult than that.  Just remember to be polite, respectful, and courteous, and hopefully you can maintain a good reputation even if it means losing a customer or two. 

Now, go out there, have fun, and I wish you the very best in your business endeavors!

Now…back to our regularly scheduled posts……