Insights on business, and practical
ways to improve your own.
Better Customer Service = Loyal Retailers
10 ways vendors can improve their relations
by Trish Hansen, MoonSong Design (January 16, 2006)
(Note: A recent issue of CLN included "How To
Drive a Retailer Crazy," in which a scrapbook retail told a
nightmarish tale caused by thoughtless, incompetent customer service
she received from a vendor. To ready the original article, click on
"Benny Da Buyer" and then the title in the right-hand
I worked for close to a decade for a papercraft manufacturer
whose first priority was always customer service. Orders were
shipped quickly and accurately, questions were answered (and if need
be, research was done to answer them correctly), telephone calls
were ALWAYS returned, and errors were corrected at our expense, even
if it cost us next-day-air shipping.
The company went through divorce, ownership changes, changes in
direction, and company moves, but there was never a time that we
allowed our primary focus to stray from the service we provided to
I assumed, of course, that this was standard; after all, there is
a great deal of competition out there and customers who are not
treated well can go elsewhere.
Holy Tamales! Was I in for a shock!
These days I'm an independent sales rep and I work part-time at
the local papercraft store. I must say, I am routinely stunned by
how carelessly many manufacturers treat their customers!
Prior to coming to the craft industry, I worked in travel and
transportation for several years and other industries prior to that.
You must trust me when I tell you that elsewhere, customers are
KINGS. Manufacturers and service providers bend over backwards to
keep their customers happy, because it's the difference between
keeping their customers and losing them.
I don't know how, when, or why it became acceptable in our
industry to behave as we do, but it's not ok and it's hurting
So, should anyone actually be interested in addressing the issue,
here are a few tips:
1. CALL PEOPLE BACK THE DAY THEY CALL YOU! Voice mail was not
meant to be a tool to help you avoid dealing with your customer's
issues! You could ignore the rest of these tips and still be ahead
if you paid attention to this one!
2. Train your staff. Your customer service people should know
how to use your product. Have classes for them, let them get
hands-on experience. Educate them as to what circumstances your
product will perform best in, and when it will perform poorly. (No
matter what product you make – paper? Teach them scrapbooking.)
3. "I don't know" is a good answer when it's
followed up by a search for the correct answer and a telephone call.
"I don't know" means your employee will learn, you will
learn, your customer will learn; it's a good thing!
4. Orders should be checked before they are packed. If there
is an error made, when the customer receives the order and calls you
– FIX IT RIGHT AWAY! Stop assuming that your customers are a) lying
and b) out to get what they can. Likewise, if a customer
calls and tells you there are ink spots on the paper she received,
or that the pads are falling off her stamp pads, there is a problem.
Don't lay the blame somewhere else; deal with it in a
straightforward and honorable way.
5. If it's going to take you six weeks to ship an order,
don't tell the customer two. For Pete's sake, be honest. You're not
going to lose orders, but storeowners need to know when to
anticipate receiving product.
6. This is the meaning of RESPECT – practice it.
"respect: CONSIDERATION. high or special regard. ESTEEM. the
quality or state of being esteemed; expressions of respect or
deference." Respect your company and the product you sell.
Respect your employees. Respect your customers.
When you have no respect for the difficulties your customers are
facing, you have no respect for yourself, the company, your
products, or your employees. You may manufacture the most amazing
widget ever created, but if your customers are not buying it, or are
buying it under stress, you have failed.
7. Your most important customer is the one who places one
minimum order with you once a year. You know, the one who is
demanding and complains the most? How you treat her is an indication
of how you treat everyone. There are wonderful, giving, funny,
understanding, creative, amazing people in this industry. Very few
customers are "problems." Learn to appreciate how amazing
your customers are and treat them accordingly.
8. Hire sufficient staff. I would guess that a large part of
the poor customer service issue is due to insufficient staffing in
an effort to save money. I promise you that you are spending more in
time, call tags, credit processing, and lost customers than it would
cost you to employ another person and train them.
More importantly, be reasonable about how many hats one person
can wear. Somehow small companies seem to have one person who's
responsibilities keep growing and growing and growing. Owners/senior
managers become so used to dumping everything on this person that
they are not aware exactly how much responsibility that person has
or is expected to deal with. Generally, this is the person who deals
with customers and reps. Guess what? Spread employees too thin and
they cannot be effective. Pay attention! I can almost guarantee that
if you've read this far, you have at least one person in your
organization whom you have overloaded to the point of breaking. No
one can do everything.
9. Owning and operating a small retail store is an enormous
undertaking in any venue. Only in our industry is a storeowner
required to educate and entertain her consumer in addition to
selling her product. Gift stores don't offer customer social nights
(crops); clothing boutiques don't schedule classes. Manufacturers in
the craft industry need to remember that our products don't waltz
off the shelves. Our products are meant to be used, and consumers
need to receive hands-on education in how to use them. Support your
retailer customers' effort! (Think it's too expensive? Use this rule
of thumb: Based on annual sales, 1% donation for prizes for
anniversaries and other events, 4% for classes and make-it/take-its
etc. That's only 5% of a customers' annual purchases and you get to
write it off..)
10. Retail is changing like the rest of the world, but
crafter's haven't. Since Wall Street discovered crafting, too many
of us have gained a "suit" attitude. That would be ok if
we were another industry – say, toiletries; But we aren't. Most
people have a desire to be creative. That aspect of the human
personality rejects the "suit" persona. No matter what a
person is in their professional life, in their creative life they
are earthy, sensitive, and hands on. They wear tennis shoes, jeans,
and sweats. They are the antithesis of the "suit" persona.
This is the person your customers are catering to. Take off your
ties, put on some jeans and t-shirts, and communicate with them!
(Look at Home Depot on any Saturday; those are YOUR customers
participating in those seminars.)
Michaels, Jo-Ann's, Hobby Lobby, Archivers – there are only so
many big retailers in our industry. It's a really great, exciting
thing when your product gets placement in one of them, but when it
happens, don't forget that your bread and butter is the little store
down the street – where classes are taught and the staff consists
of the owner and maybe one helper who know the product and how to
use it. Little stores where enthusiasm carries over to the consumer.
Your business is selling product. Your customers are the most
important and most fragile of all your assets. Take care of them!
(Note: Trish is president of MoonSong Design, 4538 E
Silver Leaf Trail, Cottonwood, AZ 86326. Call/fax 928-639-4454;
To read previous Kate's Collage articles, click on the titles in the