by Ashley Cottle,
Sister House Collective
Ashley Cottle is the founder and curator of Sister House Collective. Her intense passion for social justice inspired her to create a social impact brand that promotes fair trade practices and the local and global handmade market. She strives to create conversations about the importance of equality, opportunity and well being for all people. Find Sister House Collective on Instagram and Facebook!
Customer Service 101
Customer service is one of the most important aspects of running a successful small business. This cannot be stressed enough. Think about a time when you found a shop that really intrigued you, but when you asked for help the salesperson reacted as if they were being bothered. We’ve all been there at least once. When you’re the customer, there is nothing less inviting than the person who’s operating this totally rad store, but treating you in an unfriendly manner.
There’s also the opposite end of this customer service spectrum: the store clerk who eyes each customer, carefully watching every step, suggesting that every item within arm’s length is perfect for the shopper. I equate this with the online business that blows your email to pieces by hitting up prospects several times a day. Although this attack on your email is much more pleasant than a physical mailbox surplus, it still strikes as desperate and overbearing, like that sales clerk shadowing you through a store. So what’s the happy medium?
Keepin it real
A-U-T-H-E-N-T-I-C-I-T-Y. Be authentic. This is your online store, right? You created a place with a very specific look and feel, selling products that you are passionate about getting out into the world. This is the place where your customers were intrigued enough to click through and add items to their cart, pay for them and wait patiently for their goods to arrive. 74C H
It’s safe to say that these customers are already invested in what you’ve created. Not only have they invested with their purchase, but they’re also probably going to share their experience with at least one friend or potential customer. This is the online equivalent of walking into your store, purchasing an item or two and walking out. The experience after the purchase is when others ask that customer, “Where did you find that?” or “That’s incredible! Where can I get one?” You want them leaving with the feeling of being welcomed, the exchange being seamless and all of their questions having been addressed in a polite and timely fashion. Customer service is the key to keeping customers. It is the key to returned business. It is the key to growing your business.
Developing customer relationships should feel natural and uncontrived. This is especially important to the customer experience; as inauthentic relationships are usually quite apparent. So what does a natural relationship look like between a customer and the online store they support? Who is looking at your site and why? Where are they following you on social media; is it Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Consider taking the time to “investigate” these clients and figure out what it is about your brand that interests them. Consider commenting on these individuals’ pages or photos. Respond to a comment they posted on yours. Something that simple can initiate an authentic relationship. Developing these relationships in a genuine manner shows your customer that you not only appreciate their business, but are also truly thankful for what they offer to the prosperity and growth of your store. Your customers are your true support system; make sure that they have a positive, personal testimony as to why they will continue to back your brand.
Keeping things strong
Maintaining customer relationships is something that takes a little planning, but don’t be intimidated. They should already know that the time, interest in your store and the income that they bring to your business are absolutely valued. This is when you can get creative with how you will go that extra mile to make a larger, lasting impact. It can be the quarterly or monthly newsletter you send or a handwritten thank you. Keep in mind that it does not need to be lengthy or intensely wordy, just a simple “Thank you for your business!” will suffice.
If handwriting a thank you is not feasible, a quick, personal email saying thank you (signed by you, not the company as a whole) can work just as well. As customers receive this personal outreach from you as the owner, they not only experience the products but also develop a personal interaction with the creators behind them. And if income allows, sending a small gift or special discount code with a package is also a GREAT way to maintain customer relationships. These small gestures will really make an impression and strengthen your customers’ overall association with your company.
Your ecommerce brand is what initiates a service to your customers; your personal outreach involvement is what maintains it. Be authentic, be genuine and make sure each and every one of your shoppers knows their significance in cultivating your pursuit.
To sum it up:
Tread the middle ground. Some stores err on the side of being too aloof, while others practically throw themselves at shoppers (and the money in their pockets). Find a happy medium between icy and overbearing, and your customers will keep coming back.
When it comes to customer service, authenticity is key. You can tell when a company is being phony, and the same goes for your customers. Just be friendly, efficient and genuine, and you’re sure to see positive results (and returning shoppers).
Connect as much as you can. Surprise surprise: social media gets mentioned again in this book! That’s because it’s so important to develop a good rapport with your customers. Comment on their photos, like their posts and just show an overall interest in their lives (without being creepy, of course).
Maintain your relationships. Your customers already like you; now don’t let them forget it. Write a handwritten thank you note, or shoot off an email signed by you personally. Maybe even throw in a discount code or small gift. Just find a way to make your fans’ barometer dip into the “love” category.