When we are slammed, I mean absolutely slammed, have 300 orders pending, receiving 50+ emails a day and haven't slept in a week, the one thing that plagues me is that I can't provide the best customer service possible. I have nightmares about it. I can't answer emails fast enough, I can't respond to tweets or answer phone calls or make it to meetings. All I can do is work in the shop until my fingers ache, my nose is running from the wood and stone dust in the air and hopefully get to those emails when I am cross legged in bed with a sleeping partners next to me, a dog snoring at my feet and a kitten biting the tips of my hair, begging for attention I couldn't give him during the day. Or from my phone on the way to home depot or in line at the post office. Or while we're eating dinner. Because I can't stand someone waiting to hear back from me for more than a day, and I can't stand knowing that I haven't given them an estimated ship date, or changed their shipping address, or told them for the 2nd time that we have a 5-6 week turnaround. Mundane and redundant, but it still drives me batshit crazy knowing that I haven't responded.
Chris and Sammy will be here tomorrow and I am so excited to have a few extra capable hands around the workshop (plus having some really rad friends join our household.) I have hopes that we will get caught up and I will be able to get back to a normal pace, and back to providing the best customer service possible. So, saying that, I can't express enough how important customer service to to us. Not just on the giving side, but on the receiving side. I have been known to walk away from a sale due to lousy customer service.
Recently, I visited two separate Chattanooga small businesses. One, a coffee shop, the other a specialty shop. I don't want to include the names of these places because that isn't my point. I want to share the story. I was really excited to visit both places and now is when I get honest and write something I wish I didn't have to. The customer service at both of these separate places was horrendous. I felt like a burden when asking about a type of coffee, or made to feel dumb when inquiring about a product. More than being annoyed that we were treated so poorly, I took it toally and completely personally. As a small business owner, I have learned that having excellent customer service is the key to earning more than a sale, but earning a repeat customer. I can tell you, the coffee shop had my favorite coffee, but I would rather go to the Starbucks on the mountain than go back to this coffee house. And that saddens me, because I am all for supporting small businesses like us, but not when the employees (or owners) don't value good, old fashioned customer service.
The saddest part, I still left a tip. Flames to the unappreciative fire. I won't complain, but I tell you, I won't go back.
Recently, Doug and I have been planting a new seed - another business that is near and dear to our heart. This plan will take lots of time to grow and develop before we embrace it, but I can tell you that it will be 100% customer interaction. I have been working in customer service in various forms for a very long time. In the bakeries I have worked in, as a teacher even, and now, running our handmade business - I ooze communication. Even when I receive demanding and sometimes nasty emails, I attempt to maintain quality customer service. Of course, I still cry and that shit totally ruins my day, but lets keep that between you and me. I really am learning to take it less personally, but I suppose that will come with time. Maybe being ultra sensitive has made me better at communicating with customers. I try to always be fair and honest. I make an effort to answer questions and educate. I make mistakes, but even when one of our products has broken (gasp!) or defected (double gasp!) I think an honest apology along with that replacement goes a long way.
Do I have any tips for providing good customer service? Sure. I wrote about them here. And abide by all of them. I'm still a sucker for saying yes and getting overwhelmed, but customers seem to be understanding of that, more than a crappy attitude and the inability to say thank you. Now more than ever, as we all struggle to keep our heads above water, maintaining excellent customer service is key to the survival of your small business. I can't say it enough! We have had enough repeat customers to know that it works! Be kind. Here in the south, you hear quite often "I appreciate you" and it means more than thank you, it means you value your customer, and you don't take that one single sale for granted. I promise, that one single sale that you appreciate so much will multiply the more gracious you are.
So, small business owners, take heed. Customer service will make or break you, no matter how good your product is. Be the mirror in which you see your self as best customer and best owner. It may make all the difference.
I appreciate you.