Tuesday, June 24, 2008

customer service

I've been trying to write a post about customer service for about a week now, and my writing is going all over the place. There is a lot to cover. People who know me well and know my snappy and smart alecky self are probably choking on their coffee as they read that WHITNEY is writing about customer service. She's kidding-- right? I'm a bit battle hardened from years of retail shows, and I love entertaining my friends with stories about the most annoying people on earth who wander into my booth, and the way I keep them in line.

But the truth is, I love my customers, and I love wooing potential customers. My customers are intelligent people with exquisite taste, and they are the ones who assist me in my quest to avoid working for the man. That's not to say they can't be a total pain in my ass sometimes, but I love them even as they cause me pain. I'm all Buddah-nature about it. I really believe in the handmade credo of connecting with the customer; that is what the customer is looking for when they buy something handmade from an artist, and I'm all about giving it to them.

I'm going to try and keep this post in line by simply outlining a few ways that I give excellent customer service, and how any artist can give their customer great service too:
  • Every customer gets a handwritten note from me, thanking them for their purchase. I love getting these notes from other artists, and very disappointed when I don't. If you don't value your customer enough to even thank them, they will never come back.
  • I always tell customers the truth, even when it would be more convenient to lie, and I never make excuses. I'm an adult, and the customer is not my mommy. No matter how I screw things up, I stay honest about it, and I take responsibility, even if it is someone else's fault.
  • I always try to figure out a way to say "yes" to a customer's request, even if I have to re-formulate their outrageous request into something I can actually say "yes" too.
  • A certain amount of loss is a part of doing business. If something is broken during shipping, I replace it immediately. I've also replaced items stolen during shipping, and I don't worry for a second that the customer is trying to rip me off.
  • I always assume that the customer has good intentions and will behave with honor. In my 12 years of business, I've never had a bounced check or a declined credit card not be made good on by a customer. For years, before I did business online, I would send out pieces to customers along with a bill, and they would send me a check. People thought I was crazy, but I always got paid.
  • I'm not a big stickler about policies. I think having a bunch of stubborn policies indicates an adversarial approach to the customer, which in turn attracts those troublesome customers who love to push the limit on policies.
  • I always speak -- or write-- to the customer respectfully, even if they are really pissing me off. No matter how important it seems to answer the customer immediately, if I'm upset, I sleep on it, 'cause I'm kind of a hothead. I can't tell you how many situations I've saved with this tactic.
And that's it!


  1. I'm printing this out! As a young potter, it is helpful to learn at the knees of successful potters who have been at it for a while! I always take checks, and have even sent pottery home with customers at sales (usually I know them, but I had a customer who was looking for an ATM and couldn't find one) home with a receipt and my address. I figure you've got to be really hard up to steal or write a bad check for pottery! Plus there's that karma thing. Thanks, Whitney!

  2. Your business posts are so informative - and also reassuring because I often practice your credos myself. Without customers we're doing this for ourselves and that's not going to get us very far. Though I've hit a few bumps in the road, I feel I've managed to smooth things out well enough. Every experience is a learning one. I'm thankful for every opportunity to put my people-skills to work!

  3. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Wise words..
    It never hurts to be reminded sometimes of what good customer service is.
    Haven't been to your blog for a while but am glad to be back :)


  4. As usual,you are the MASTER!

  5. Thanks for sharing this with us. The words "customer service" can be ones that we don't think apply to us because we are artists, but you are right when you say that without those customers, we would be working for the man!

  6. Great tips! I love hand written notes.

    michele d.

  7. Great tips and advice! I recently received a clay tool in the mail with along with an invoice though I hadn't yet paid. I was pretty flabbergasted that someone would trust me enough to send them the money. Of course I did almost immediately.

    For sales in person, do you collect all your customer's addresses? I normally send a handwritten note to people who buy work online or by check since I have their addresses, but not everyone wants to be on another mailing list.

  8. What great advice!!! I have never recieved a hand written note and in our electronic society, I think it means even more. I am going to start practicing this on more than just the online sales I already have done this for. Why not spread the karma, especially as the customer remembers a good transaction, I frequently have customers stop by to say hi at the next show. Even if they do not plan on buying more. Keep these great tips coming.