Karen Jinks's picture

BUSINESS: Are You Being Served?

This week, we are delighted to introduce another of our new writers, who will no doubt be familiar to many of you already. This week, Jo Whitehead, aka Glassprimitif, takes a look at a very important aspect of the buying process - customer service.

Whether it’s buying from a supermarket, high street store, independent shop or on-line, how I am treated matters to me. We can all relate stories of horrible experiences where sellers have been rude, ignorant or frustrating, but probably fewer examples of good customer service. Yet the good experiences are the ones we should learn from and make use of with our own hand made businesses.

Why does it matter?
Designer/makers sell their work primarily through relationship-selling. Whether it’s via a gallery, on-line or direct to the customer we still need to speak to people. And we know that our customers buy from us because they want that relationship (or they could go to a high street store and buy a mass produced item instead). You may get that sale but, if you don’t make the effort, will you get a return sale? I recently wanted to buy a print in a gallery in Hebden Bridge but the owner made no effort to acknowledge my presence so I wrestled with myself (I want to buy it, but I don’t want to buy it from him) before I decided against the purchase. Fortunately, I found the artist and bought direct from her instead.

Buying handmade is all about relationships. Customers want to know about you, your work and how you make that work. They want you to tell them that your work is original, beautiful, worth buying and pleasurable. They want to relate to you. It’s not easy talking about your work to total strangers and, even more difficult to know when to speak and when to back off. But you won’t know until you try.

Here are a couple of exercises that you may want to try to find out more about good customer service.

How do you like to be treated?
Think about or visit your favourite supermarket, your favourite high street store, your favourite independent shop. What kind of service do you get from each? How does this service differ from each shop? What makes you keep coming back? What can you learn about their customer service that you can apply to your own business?

Do you know your customer?
Have you done a demographic profile of your typical customer? Do you know their age, gender, how they decorate their home, their lifestyle and shopping habits? If the answer to “who buys your work”? is “everyone” then you don’t know your customer. If you don’t know your customer then you a) cannot satisfy their needs and b) expand the demographic to find new markets.

On-line selling
Selling on-line is a tricky one because there is a fine line between keeping a customer database and sending potential customers spam. But there are a few strategies you can use for making that transaction a pleasure.

  • Always send your buyer a short message thanking them for their purchase and telling them when the item will be posted. They may not respond but they are reassured that you will deliver.
  • Consider sending a small gift with your item – I know, you can’t afford to be sending out promotional key rings, but how about an origami crane or a match book or a badge along with your business card? I once received a packet of poppy seeds and my garden looks a treat this year!
  • A “thank you” written on a piece of card and sent with the parcel is a nicer touch than just the invoice.
  • Pay attention to your packaging - it creates an impression of who you are as a seller and an artist.
  • Make your customer feel special with a discount voucher on their next purchase. Remember, your return customers are more important to you than your first time buyer.

Selling at fairs and markets

Selling directly at fairs and markets is a challenge if you are either shy or garrulous (I’m the latter). You can seem uncaring if you are too shy, or scary if you are too forceful. Even if they don’t respond, potential customers know you are happy to see them if you smile, make eye contact and say hello. Just as important is the “back-off” technique where you give potential customers space to browse without wading in with the hard sell. If you aren’t sure how to do this then tell your customer that you are here if they need to ask any questions.

Well, I could talk about this subject all day and tell you stories of the indifferent, ignorant or just down-right rude customer service I have experienced but, instead, I’ll leave you with this thought. When you receive bad customer service, don’t just vote with your feet – let the person or business who is delivering that service know how you feel and why you won’t shop there again. The British are famous for settling for poor service, poor food and poor attitudes and, as hand made artists, we refuse to subject OUR customers to the same treatment.