KARINE KONG, RETAILER
By the time you will read this, I will be in New Zealand, spending time with my family, learning how to surf and making a baby...well at least trying for one! If I'm lucky, I’ll look like a whale again in 2012.
In my last post, I mentioned that we went through a very tough time (bailiffs knocked on our door in 2008) but, despite our troubles, we always made sure that we provided the best customer service we could.
While a lack of financial and human resources doesn't make it easy for small businesses to achieve top notch customer service, it's not impossible. For me, providing an amazing, friendly service to our customers was – and still is – very high on the top of my priorities list. When you get the kind of generous, heartfelt feedback we get on a daily basis it makes it all worthwhile.
Christmas is a time when everybody should be embracing a cheery festive spirit, but, in terms of customer service, this is the most challenging month. It's the end of the year. Most people are tired, moody and impatient. Customers won't care that you've been working long hours, seven days a week for two months because you can't afford more overheads. They don’t know that you haven't spent any quality time with your kids and you forgot your husband's birthday because all you can think about is how many customers you need to contact about the status of their orders.
All customers want is their orders, quickly and in time for Christmas.
So, when the Christmas madness is over, start to think ahead for Christmas 2012. Use the first 10 months to make changes and provide a better customer service while achieving a better balance in your personal life, too.
Here are my top tips:
Manage your customers' expectations:
- Put as much useful information on your product pages to help shoppers make a decision that is right for them.
- Display deliveries and returns information clearly on your website.
- Set up automated emails so that customers know when their order is being approved, when it’s in preparation and when it’s been dispatched.
- Set up an auto-responder on your customer service email with useful information so customers know within a few minutes when they can expect to hear back from you or what procedure to follow if their order arrived damaged or if they want to return something.
- Put the customer’s mind at rest.
- Help them.
- Be true to your word: If you say that you are going to call a customer back later on in the day, do it or don't commit in the first place.
- Use the services of an independent merchant review company such as Feefo to gather feedback from genuine customers to build brand awareness, increase sales and improve Search Engine Optimisation.
Improve things constantly:
- Take customer comments on board and fine tune your services and information. Perhaps some extra detail needs to be added onto a product page or maybe you need to introduce an option for customers to receive an email when the item they want is back in stock?
- Customers feedback is the most insightful. They are the ones using your website so your site has to work for them.
- If a product fails to meet several customers’ expectations, consider removing it from your range.
- Communicate regularly with your suppliers, secure delivery times (especially around Christmas). Make them accountable too. Work together.
- Make sure you work with suppliers who care about customer service as much as you do. If a customer receives a faulty product, sending a replacement to them should be straight-forward. If a supplier makes life more difficult when it comes to breakage on stock delivered or faulty products, have a conversation with them. If nothing changes, stop working with them. There are plenty of good suppliers out there and you won’t have time to deal with suppliers who just make your life more complicated.
- Get everything into place by the Summer. Once the Christmas rush starts, you won’t have time to get anything done.
How to diffuse an angry email:
- Apologise. Don't take it personally.
- Apologise. Put their mind at rest.
- Apologise. Reply with positive words.
- A customer who takes the time to write an angry email is a frustrated, disappointed customer. Understand this, show empathy and try to come up with a solution that would make things better for them.
- If you get worked up by the content of an email and take things very personally (and you should to a point because it is your business), leave it for a day and respond to the email when you have cooled down. If you have set-up an auto-responder, the customer will already know that they will be hearing from you within 48 hours.
I'm French (not Parisian or arrogant - all French aren't from Paris and all French aren't the same!) and passionate so, while I encourage you not to take things personally, I do take things personally to an extent when we receive an angry email because it's my business. It's my reputation on the line, and I care about it.
To be perfectly honest, once or twice in the past, I have shown signs of impatience to customers who, whatever we tried to do to help them, just kept complaining. That didn't go down well - hence my advice to respond to an email when you've cooled down or pass on the difficult customer to someone in your team who will handle them better.
No matter how hard you work to achieve the best customer service, you will always get some people who complain about everything. That's just life. All you can do is apologise for not meeting a customer's expectations – even if their expectations were unrealistic – and focus on pleasing the ones who appreciate your work and effort.
Have a fantastic Christmas with your family and friends.
PS: You can join me on Facebook, Twitter and read about my creative projects and things that inspire me on the BODIE and FOU Blog. Until next time!