Friday, June 14, 2013

Why Handmade: Customer Service, Part 1

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

Viewer checking out Boston Handmade member artwork at ArcWorks Gallery. Paper quilts by Jessica Burko and ceramics by Arthur Halvorsen.
I have a confession to make. I was not always a stay at home mom/jewelry designer. I used to have one of those stifling 9 to 5 sit in a horrible cubicle office jobs working for an HMO. In fact, I have worked for two of them. I worked in departments called Member Appeals and Grievances. If that sounds horrid, it is because it was. When you called your insurance company demanding that they reconsider authorizing upcoming cosmetic surgery, you spoke to me. When you called to complain because you had requested the Customer Service Department mail you an ID card ten times with no success, you screamed at me. When you called crying because you thought your doctor had insulted you, you cried to me. I did this type of work for fifteen years, when most lasted a year maybe two at the most.

Why am I telling you this? Certainly not to discuss your insurance coverage. You should call your insurance company for that. No. I am telling you that because it is the best way that I can show that perhaps customer service, and not jewelry design, is my expertise. At the end of the day our businesses as professional artists would flop if we did not provide good customer service. A good company knows that they are their customers. The customer service skills I learned can apply to most any customer situation.

These are my tips I have picked up over the last 20 years in which I have held one sort of customer service job or another. I have been called every bad name in the book and some inventive ones, so it takes quite the nasty customer to ruffle my feathers, so to speak. This week I will focus on the person providing the customer service, but next week I am going to turn the tables and discuss what makes a good customer.

The customer is not always right. Yup, I just said that. They can be dead wrong, in fact. However, that does not give us permission to make them feel stupid. Sometimes it is prudent to let them be right even though you are biting your tongue so hard you expect it will bleed. For example, if a customer is adamant that they know more about your product than you do, and have made the decision to walk away, let them. They are more likely to just quietly move on and say no more. Always assess the damage of correcting them. You do not want bad publicity. That said, sometimes correcting a customer’s misconception can be a fantastic educational opportunity if presented in a way that does not belittle their knowledge or lack thereof and may even bring in a sale.

Liz of Lush Beads in her shop; Photo Courtesy of Prunella's Workshop

Smile, it increases your face value. Even when speaking on the phone, it changes the tone to your voice sounding more open and friendly. Your smile will make you more approachable and more engaging to your potential customer. If you do not feel like smiling, smile anyway. It is amazing, but if you continue to smile long enough it will no longer be forced and you can actually put yourself in a better mood.
Be professional. Avoid slang and foul language. You are not your customer’s new best friend. You can be open and friendly without being overly personal. Respect your customer’s physical space. Even when I am assisting a customer trying on a necklace I am cognizant that they may not want me to be touching them unless it is unavoidable. It is not personal when they walk away without buying anything. It can be hard, but do not take it personally.

Dress professionally. This does not mean you need to wear a suit, unless your product suggests that you should wear one. It means your clothes should be clean and fit you appropriately. They should correspond with your product. You want your customer to take you and your business seriously. You cannot expect them to pay a high price for something if you showed up in your pajamas- unless of course you are selling pajamas!

Photo Courtesy of Prunella's Workshop

Be patient. Most likely you will not encounter many customers who are actually yelling at you at a craft fair, though anything is of course possible. However, in the world of online selling, there is an increased chance of miscommunication, especially due to lack of information. Keeping a customer in the loop can help a negative interaction, but ultimately they do from time to time happen. If a customer is yelling at you, the natural inclination is to allow your blood pressure to rise and you start yelling right back. This does not work. It is not easy, but take a deep breath and lower your voice into a calm soothing tone. The louder the other person yells the lower your voice should get. As you lower your voice your blood pressure will go down and you will be able to think reasonably. In the mean time one of two things will happen. Either your customer will feel ridiculous because they are the only one yelling, or they will realize they cannot hear you over all the racket they are making. Allow them time to regain their composure and offer no negative judgment to their behavior. They already are aware. Try not to take their rant personally. Some of my best long-term customers started off with them yelling at me for ten minutes straight. When they could not go on without catching their breath, I would acknowledge that they were mad and why, note that they must feel better to get that off their chest, and I would then ask them if they would allow me to help fix the matter. This simple acknowledgement can apply to any customer service situation.

It is easier to keep a customer than it is to obtain new customers. Why do you think companies call you and try to keep you as a customer when you cancel their service? No matter how unhappy you are, it is a hassle to find a new company who may be worse. Offered the right carrot and you may decide to stick it out. However, do not grovel to keep a dissatisfied customer. Always apologize, but never more than once. The first time you are being polite and acknowledging where they are coming from, but if you apologize constantly you begin to sound incompetent and weak. It is possible to apologize without taking blame. “I am sorry that you feel this has happened to you. I want to try to help you resolve this so you are satisfied.” Listen carefully- these words do not even acknowledge that something even happened, and you have left the ultimate resolution of the issue on their shoulders, while empathizing with them and offering help. You also have not guaranteed anything that you might not be able to do!

Cody's Creations; Photo Courtesy of Kerry Hawkins

Steer the conversation. We have all had that customer who just will not be quiet and go away. They are not going to buy anything. They just want to chit chat. Be careful. It is really easy to want to brush them off so they will go away so you can focus on real customers. They might not buy anything, but they may have a friend. They may see something while they are chatting, walk away and bring back that friend to meet that really nice artist they have been speaking with, and the friend may buy something. More times that will not happen, but we do not want to discourage that possibility. Still, we do need them to go away so we can be available for paying customers. It can be tricky. Redirect the conversation back to your product when ever possible. It can be a subtle reminder that you are here to work. It also keeps them focused and looking at your product. It could even result in reminding them they have a gift giving occasion coming up and they become a paying customer. We do not know what is going on in their heads as they are speaking to us.

These are only some tips that I felt were particularly pertinent to the professional artist. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, when I discuss being a good customer.

1 comment :

  1. Yeah, that is definitely a Folk Festival face - a great event that is full of customer service opportunities!


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