As a business owner, more specifically a shop owner, customer service is something that is always at the forefront of my business. I’ve been an Etsy shop owner since circa 2007, first selling handmade cards, then jewelry, and now graphic design, and I’ll be the first to say that I’ve had to handle customer services issues in each and everyone of those niches.
None were an exception to having to assess and handle the different issues that a customer may have with a product. Sometimes it was shipping, other times it may have been quality, and in my most recent shop its been something as simple as not knowing how to open a zip file. Whatever the situation or issue, I had to handle each one with grace and do my best to make the customer happy…even if it costs me time or money.
I can thankfully can that I have had few negative customer services issues, as I try to go above and beyond with each order, but they do happen. One negative experience is enough to send you into tears, make your blood boil, or shake your confidence. The thing is that even when I did experience customer service issues that made me feel this way, in the end I took them all as learning experiences. I’m a strong believer that we go through hard things in life to teach us lessons, some are harder than others, but we usually come out the other side stronger and better.
I’ve experienced the bulk of my customer service issues with my graphic and web design products, because there tends to be a steeper learning curve with people knowing how to work with them. I learned very quickly in selling these products that I would have to constantly place myself in the shoes of not only the customer, but in the shoes of a complete novice. Most of the people that have purchased graphic and web design products from my shop have little to no experience with them, which is most likely why they went the premade route to begin with, rather than custom. This is why you really have to know your customer, because in knowing them you understand their capabilities.
[Tweet “Place yourself in the shoes of not only the customer, but those of a complete novice. “]
When I sold premade themes I regularly ran into issues where people with absolutely no knowledge of web design, like they didn’t even had a basic blog yet, would purchase my themes and be completely lost with how to set them up, despite the very detailed instructions I provided. I spent several hours emailing back and forth troubleshooting things that I thought were self-explanatory or easy to set up. I had one customer in particular who purchased a simple blog theme and wanted it to be extremely robust to include ecommerce and widgetized homepage, which is wasn’t coded for. The thing is that at the time, I had a few themes that were pretty robust, that came ecommerce ready and had widgetized homepages, but the customer opted for a simple blog template theme, because my guess is that it was cheaper.
I sold my basic blog themes for $35 and the ecommerce or more robust themes for $50. For $15 more to begin with, they could have walked away with a theme that did everything for them from the jump. Instead, weeks went by with them constantly emailing me with customization requests (of which I did completely free of charge). After a while, I ended up having to break down to the customer that the theme was not going to serve them in the way they needed it to, and that they would most likely need to purchase a new theme. This became even more evident after they sent me screenshots of another premade theme developers work and wanted something similar.
In selling web design, this is the number one issue I run into and its frustrating, because customers don’t realize that they’re asking you to compromise your integrity by replicating someone else’s work. I had to let the customer know that I could not do that, but that I had other themes that might work better for them. I’ve had to do the same thing with my graphic design services, where someone will send me an image of a design and want me to recreate it. Every niche has these issues, but if you’re in web or graphic design I’m sure you can relate!
[Tweet “Every niche and industry has customer service issues. None are an exception!”]
In a situation like this, its usually safe to assume that the customer doesn’t even realize what they’re asking you to do, however other times they do. You may have cheaper prices than the individual who’s work they’re showing you, and they may be trying to get over. They could also be an agent for these other designers and developers (not to sound cynical or like its a conspiracy) and be trying to set you up to get in trouble. Unfortunately, there are some insecure creatives out there who believe that any and everyone who is their competition is trying to copy them and steal their business. Anyhow, as I digress, you don’t want to get yourself caught up in any of these scenarios. Customers need to value your work and your aesthetic, and sometimes as a customer service courtesy we have to remind them of this. As a business owner, we have to have thick enough skin to be able to stand up for our work and stand behind it with our customers. This also means that at times, we have to pass up the sale, offer a refund, and end the relationship.
Fortunately, I’ve yet to have to end a relationship on a negative note, but I have had to make it clear that I’ve done all I can and that I’m no longer available for addition work. If you treat the customer with respect and offer then other options to explore, you can usually avoid things ending on a bad note. Staying professional is key in these situations and when you do you can go wrong. There is a right way and wrong way to handle the various customer service issues that we may encounter as business owners, but we have to keep in mind that there is another real live, eating and breathing human being on the other side of that email.
[Tweet “Try to end client and customers relationships on a constructive and positive note.”]
When you’re handling customer service issues, here’s a few things to remember:
1. Be professional. – This one will always be numero uno and one that has to a first priority.
2. Stand firm in your values and integrity. – Don’t allow a customer to put you in a position where you’re having to compromise what you believe in.
3. Strive to make the customer happy without compromising the sale. – Listen to the customer’s needs and try to meet them, if they aren’t going to cost you excessive time and money. Sometimes, customers ask for extra, yet simple things. If you can provide them with whatever it is, you can both make them happy and keep the sale.
4. Be able to recognize when things are going down hill; be cognizant of the customers tone, language, voice inflection, etc. – As much as we want to continue to help customers with customer services issues, we reach the end of our rope at times. If you’ve exhausted all of the available options and resolutions, you must communicate this to the customer clearly (and professionally).
5. Be clear about what you will and will not do in regards to customizing, replicating, or being inspired by others’ works. – My recommendation: stay far away from all three and refer the customer back to that designer. You’re not loosing a sale in doing this, you’re upholding your dignity and the integrity of your brand and self.
6. When the relationship has hit a point where nothing else can be accomplished, know when to end it. – Offer them other options or suggest other individuals within your industry or niche to go to. Try your best not to leave them hanging in the wind with an unfinished product.
7. Don’t just check out on them. – Its rude to never respond back or ignore their requests. In addition, it shows immaturity on your part and can jeopardize your business’ reputation. Reputation is everything, even when you have a high quality product, so any slight bit of tarnish to it can be detrimental and hard to come back from.
[Tweet “Learn 7 tips handling customer service issues in your creative business.”]
So tell me, how do you handle customer service issues as a creative business owner? – How have you kept your customers happy in the midst of an issue?