Small Business vs. Big Customer Problems

The internet has brought with it many gifts, but one of the most noticeable is the rise is handmade items. No longer are crafting hobbies relegated to the corner of the home, never to be discussed – now anyone with a flair for crafting can make money by selling their creations.

It may be the handwash that you have perfected, a lip balm that your friends and family can’t get enough of, or jewelry that you craft with more precision than the mass-production companies could ever manage. If you can make it, then chances are, there are people out there who want to buy it. From small trinkets to entire furniture sets, the options for the handy individual are endless.

It’s relatively risk-free, too. Various auction and selling sites exist, where you can write up a listing and have it appearing to potential customers in less than half an hour. There’s no huge start-up cost involved the way there would be with a conventional business, and you have the luxury of doing it from home in your spare time. If it doesn’t pan out, then at most you lose a few dollars in listing fees. If it does work out, then you could have a genuine thriving opportunity literally at your fingertips.

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If you’ve never done anything like this before, it can feel like a testing experience. While there are various technical know-hows that you need to master, there’s something a whole lot more subjective you need to control: your customers.

“The Customer Is Always Right”

No, they’re not. If you have ever worked in a service industry, then you probably don’t need to be told this. If not – and you have even cited this ridiculous phrase to someone in the past – then learn sharp. Customers are often, frequently, and potentially more often than not, totally incorrect.

handling customers

As an example, let’s say you make jewelry and you have the pleasure of a sale via an online auction. You mail off your carefully packaged item, confident the recipient will like it. When you see the buyer has left you feedback, you excitedly check it and see the following:

“Love the bracelet, but it was delivered very late and past the time I needed it for.”

You have the receipt to show you mailed it at the right time. The customer may have had issues with their post service or just had unreasonable expectations about how quickly it would get to them. The feedback has got nothing to do with something that is in your control, but it looks bad anyway.

You’ll see this over and over again online; reviews for things that are outside of the seller’s control. You’ll see people criticizing a novel they have bought, trashing the seller’s reputation when all the seller did was send them what they ordered. You’ll also see people making comments like “smaller than I expected”, even when the exact dimensions are in the listing. Customers can be lazy, they can blame the seller for their faults, and it’s you that takes the hit for it.

Is There Any Way To Control This?

To an extent, yes. For a start, if you receive feedback that you think is unfair, then escalate it with whatever site you’re using to sell. This might not always work, however. Some sites prefer to penalize sellers to offer higher protections to buyers. The reason behind this is simple in some ways – it’s to encourage buyers to feel confident using the site – but it hurts when you’re the one paying the price.

All you can do is ensure you have evidence for every stage of the process.

  • Don’t retouch photographs of anything you’re selling. It’s tempting to iron out photography problems or just make a ring you have made sparkle a little bit more, but it can increase the likelihood of unreasonable expectations.

customers

  • If you’re posting an item, make sure you can prove you have done so if requested. You can use a service like Red Stag Fulfillment or just ask for proof of postage when you mail things. Take a photo of every package and only send it when you have double and triple checked you have the right address.
  • Be reasonable about your delivery times. Don’t say you can send something immediately if you might not be able to do so. Give yourself a window of time to gather an item together and correctly despatch it.
  • Give as much information as possible in the listing. There’s no such thing as TMI in this situation. Even for small items, measure the size and – if possible – have a reference size guide in the photo, such as a ruler or a penny. This might not be enough to stop people complaining, but it covers you and makes them the unreasonable one in the dispute.

Dealing With Negative Feedback

Let’s say you lovingly make and sell many items per week, to the point your hobby is on the verge of becoming a business. Then, it all seems to screech to a halt: you see negative feedback. Worse still, it’s justified negative feedback.

If you have sold a cross-stitch that is coming undone or a necklace that has turned someone’s neck green, then your only option is to own it. It’s happened; if you try and run away from it and ignore it, then you’re only going to make the situation worse.

First, investigate what went wrong. Hopefully you have robust quality standards in place, and this is one that has slipped through the net. Don’t go into meltdown about that; even the biggest manufacturers in the world have the occasional dud product in a production line. If you identify problems that you might need to fix, then make sure you put the measures in place to do so. Write about it on your seller page or website, explaining how you identified the issue, and what you have now done to rectify it.

business and customrs

Secondly, try to make amends with the buyer. Some will offer the courtesy of contacting you prior to leaving feedback, which gives you a chance to fix the issue before it becomes known to the rest of your customer base.

In that scenario: do it. Whatever it takes. Offer to send a replacement, do them a custom order, a gift voucher – even if it’s going to cost you money to do so. Obviously you shouldn’t be generous to the point of financial instability, but you have to be fast and apologetic with what you do next.

In fact, this is the case with negative feedback. Even if it’s happened and there’s no removing it, still contact the buyer and ask to make amends. Most feedback sections will offer you a right of reply, so make sure you utilize this and explain what you have done to solve the situation. Most reasonable customers know that sellers make mistakes (especially in handmade items) – what they care about is how you fix it.

Keep Your Cool

customers vs business

If there is a single golden rule for dealing with customers in your small business, it’s to never, ever lose your temper. Even if the customer is wrong, being frustrating or demanding, you plaster a smile on your face and make yourself be as nice as pie to them.

It’s tempting to tell someone who is being difficult to go away and never darken your business door again – but it’s only a momentary feeling of vindication. For a small enjoyment of telling someone what a pain they are, you could do your business real harm if they tell others of their experience. So be the height of politeness to their face (or in your email reply); save the venting for a private space.

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