Saturday, May 30, 2009

Customer Service Tips, Chapter Two

As promised, here is the next installment in my Customer Service Tips series. This week I'll talk about the importance of communication as it applies to selling online. Just for the record, I have no idea how many chapters will be in this series. I'm just making this up as I go along!

Compelling Telephone Operators at a Switchboard Cigarette Case by sweetheartsinner

Communication is imperative when selling online, since the customer cannot touch and hold your product to examine it themselves. An accurate description is important and gives the customer more confidence in your product.

Of course, it goes both ways. The customer has to READ the description!! I've had several experiences recently where customers overlooked important details in the description, such as the size of the book, and were surprised when they received a smaller book than expected.

The Communicator - sticker pack by bullfight
When scrutinizing what I could do to prevent this from happening again, I concluded the details got lost in the text. I used to write my descriptions in paragraphs but have now revamped my descriptions on my newer listings so they are a bulleted list, which I hope is easier to read. I've also tried to incorporate a ruler and my hand holding the book into my photos to give a visual gauge of the size.

Communication also encompasses email correspondence and Etsy's internal email called convos. I get a lot of convos regarding custom orders and inquiries about my books. If I don't respond to them within a reasonable amount of time, I risk losing the sale. Unless I am away for the day or out of town, I always respond to my convos within a few hours or less. My computer is in my studio so I hear the email chime go off when I'm working (unless I've got my music too loud!).

Communication. screenprinted radio transmitter tower necktie by toybreaker

On the other hand, a mistake I often make is responding too quickly to convos. Sometimes in my haste to be prompt in my reply, I don't fully think through what I'm saying. Just the other day I shot off a response to a potential customer without a formal greeting and my usual "thanks for your inquiry, yadda yadda" closing sentiment. I felt bad about it as I always try to be polite.

By far the biggest mistake I've made to date was not thinking through a custom request before I quoted a price. It was for an international order and trying to estimate the shipping cost for a product I've never made before freaked me out. Lucky for me the customer never followed through with the order, so I had a narrow escape!

Communication, Two Birds collage by afiori
Following through on my end with communication via email and convos builds the customer's confidence in my product and trust in my service.
Here are some of the ways I follow through with my customers:

-Responding to convos in a timely manner.

-Shipping promptly.

-I do what I say I'm going to do, within the time frame I've stated.

-If I run into an obstacle which prevents me from keeping my promise, I let my customer know as soon as possible.

-I try, when I have the time, to touch base with my customers to be sure they received their book and are happy with it. Most don't ever respond, but at least I've made the attempt.

I'm certainly no expert and have learned most of this by trial and error! I hope you found this helpful. This by no means is an exhaustive write up on the subject. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on communication as it applies to selling online!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Etsy Twitter Shop of the Week

This week's Etsy Twitter team featured shop is A Cagey Bee!
She says, "Spend a little time with art made to make you smile! My name is Kris G. Brownlee (otherwise known as *kgb*) and I'd love to help you add a dash of creative joy to your home. You can find out more about me (and my pug) on my website."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Secret Belgian Binding

Between custom orders, latest project has been to learn a new binding technique. Someone on my Etsy Bookbinding team (BEST) mentioned Secret Belgian Binding and it peaked my interest. I'd never heard of it before--maybe because it was so secret! Ha ha!

This is my first book using the new technique I learned from Annette's tutorial on Secret Belgian Binding. It's an interesting pattern of weaving thread to attach the front and back covers to the spine.

It was challenging because I misread the instructions, so I had to improvise when I got to the stitching. The "1/2" and "3/4" showed up as a blank box in my browser, which I just ignored for some bizarre reason. After things weren't lining up as they should I realized my mistake.

The inside isn't as pretty and clean as Coptic stitch, but it's still pretty cool looking. Very unusual and handmade looking! No one would mistake this for a store-bought book!

If I can find the time to perfect my technique, maybe you'll see some of these books in my Etsy shop. In the meantime, practice, practice, practice!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Baby Birds

It seems no matter where I live, each spring a cute little bird finds my property hospitable enough to build a nest and raise her young.

This year a little bird and her mate tried to build a nest in my front door wreath. That didn't work well for any of us. The first time I went out the door I nearly had a heart attack when she fluttered away. I'm sure she could have said the same. They gave up and tried the neighbor's wreath instead.

A few weeks later I was rummaging around in the shed looking for something and reached up on a high shelf for a pot. Something fairly large and fuzzy brushed against my hand in a frantic attempt to get away from me. I'm not squeamish, but it startled me and I gave a little squeal. My toddler laughed at me; he thought I was funny! "Momma say, EEK! Ha ha!" All I could think was, "Bats!"

Then I saw the nest. I hadn't noticed it before because I collect bird nests and it was one of mine I'd left out in the shed. Upon closer inspection, I saw it had been altered and had five eggs in it! Somebody hijacked my nest!

A few weeks later, three of the eggs hatched. Mama Bird could be seen flying to and from the shed with worms all day long. She always stopped on the roof of the shed to survey things before slipping in under the eaves. My toddler's job was to keep the bird feeder stocked with seed for Mama Bird.

We checked on the nest every few days. One of the babies didn't make it and we found his little body laying outside the nest. We had a little burial by a rose bush and my son put a dandelion on his grave.

Here are the last two house sparrow chicks. They weren't the least bit concerned about me bothering them. They looked at me, decided I didn't have any worms and then settled down for a nap!

A week later, the nest was empty and there was bird poop all over the shed, so I assume they learned to fly inside the shed! At least they were sheltered from preditors while they fluttered about. I checked inside pots and the bag of potting soil to be sure no one got stuck inside, but everything was empty. Since the shed doesn't stink (any worse than it did before!) I suppose they made it out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts on new products for the summer

One of this month's themes to blog about for the Etsy Bloggers Team is your new line of products for the summer. Frankly, I haven't gotten past spring yet! Summer? Geesh!!

Seriously, I have been thinking on a "new" product to introduce. If you took a look at my shop a year ago, you would have found that many of my journals incorporated polymer clay as an embellishment for the cover. I've since sold out of most of those journals and have gotten away from that style, but I think I may experiment with bringing it back on some of my guest books.

Sapphire Spice Journal

It's funny how an item can sit in my shop for months with little or no attention paid to it, and all of a sudden it becomes in great demand. That recently happened with my Sapphire Spice Journal. I originally made two of them in different color schemes. The companion sold months ago, but this one sat around in my shop and got renewed and renewed and renewed. I was about to give up on it and use it for myself when BAM! First it generated a custom guest book order for me, then it sold less than a week later to someone else.

Here's another that is currently on sale in my shop. It's a cute little journal and if no one buys it soon I'm going to start writing in it!

Paisley Flower Jeweled Journal

This journal was one of my favorites, I just loved the color combination of the greens and aquas. The little jewel on the front I made from glass and polymer clay. I think it gives the journal an ethereal look, kind of like the keyhole to the Secret Garden or something! When it sold, I had mixed feelings--I was glad to have made a sale, but sad to see it go.

Hopefully I'll have time to start experimenting with my new ideas! Summer is always a busy time for me in my personal life and I've had a lot of custom orders lately, so we'll see!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Featured Etsy Blogger May 2009

Introducing CreateAThought! She says, "Life is too short to have boring things in your life, welcome to my shop full of color and things for you to enjoy, and make your life bright!"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Buddy

Today is the second anniversary of the loss of my #1 son and buddy. He was our "kid" for 15 years and was as spoiled as they come, but very sweet and well behaved!

Except when it came to unattended food. There is one incident that is still talked about in our family which he will never live down...the time he climbed on the dining room table and ate my Dad's birthday cake! Fortunately the party was over and we'd all had a piece!

One of his favorite holidays besides Christmas was Halloween. Here he is dressed up as a bumble bee! He would wait at the front door for the trick or treaters to come. When we opened the door to pass out candy, he would stick his head in their bags to see what yummy things they had! He never stole anything, I think he got his jollies by sniffing all the candy.

Here he is tubing at the lake! He got such a kick out of it, but we only let him ride into the cove, not on the main part of the was just too choppy and dangerous. And yes, he's wearing a lifevest! He loved riding in the boat, swimming, and looking for fish in the water. A pleading look..."Mom, the puppy is chewing all my toys up! And he's on MY rug!" He used to pick on his "brother" and I tried to warn him that his brother would grow twice his size, but he didn't listen!
However, he was still the boss despite his size. He'd gobble his own dinner up and then stare at his brother until he successfully intimidated him out of his meal! We wondered why he was gaining so much weight, while the other one was losing it!

I miss him and probably always will, but am so thankful he was a part of my life. I have so many fond memories of his antics! He was a lot of fun!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ramblings on Customer Service, Chapter 1

After writing this, I think I have more material than one posting should be allowed to hold, so I think I will begin a series on this subject.

Chapter One:
I've been thinking a lot lately about customer service. Ok, well, obsessing would be more accurate! I've had a lot of custom orders recently which requires more purchasing to restock my supplies. So I'm seeing customer service from both ends.

On my end as a seller, I feel it is imperative to have high quality standards. I'm making a custom book right now with some paper I ordered (story to follow) and the paper is not passing my quality control standards. If the imperfections bother me, they will likely bother my customer who has to live with my product.

Regarding customer service from a buyer's standpoint, I recently had an experience with a paper vendor,, in which they were unwilling to resolve to my satisfaction and ultimately communicating they were willing to end the relationship.

I ordered some handmade paper from Paper Connection International last week for a custom order. I have dealt with them before and had been very pleased with the quality of paper they provided me in the past. However, this order was quite inferior in that the black dye was rubbing off one of the papers, and there were various other quality issues.

I contacted them, speaking mainly to the problems I experienced with the black paper. Their excuse was, "It is unfortunate that you were disappointed by some of the sheets. This latest batch of black is in fact, externally dyed with additional dye, upon the request of several of our customers." End of story. No offer for refund of that paper. And for the record, I was NOT one of the customers that requested extra dye, nor was that disclosed to me when I ordered the black paper.

They did offer for me to return the OTHER unused papers for a refund, with no mention of reimubusing me for shipping, so I assume that would be at my own cost. But again, completely lacking accountability for the black paper.

Their only other comment was, "We're not sure who else may currently stock black lokta in the US, otherwise, we would be happy to help you find some acceptable sheets." As if they are the only ones in the entire US that carry it! Apparently they are not aware of their competition.

Additionally, it was disclosed to me that they are charging a handling fee on top of the shipping, which for my order, came to 40% of the actual shipping costs. When my paper arrived and I could see absolutely no justification for the extra handling charge.

The vendor is using UPS Air Shipping supplies turned inside out for ground shipping, which is a violation of UPS's regulations. There was wadded up trash inside for padding and no cardboard tube...all the paper vendors I have ordered from wrap the sheets around sturdy cardboard tubes first before boxing them up. The only cost to the vendor that I could see was a sheet of newsprint and a sheet of kraft paper. Very unprofessional.

Their final response to me was, "We can offer free shipping on your next order. Or, perhaps, as you suggested, it is best to source another vendor at this time."

Next order?! Do they really think I would do business with Paper Connection again, particularly after the last statement, blowing me off as a valued customer?

So, all my ramblings aside, what can we learn from this experience?

-Monitor your product for quality control and keep your vendors accountable.

-Know your competition, what they offer, and their prices for like items. This will keep you humble!

-Always do your best (within reason, of course!) to keep your customers happy, no matter how "small" they may be. Word of mouth is a huge marketing resource, reaching thousands of people with just one post. A positive experience goes far for gaining new customers and respect as a vendor.

-If you need to cover labor to process an order, raise your prices on the items to reflect that. Don't try to hide it in the shipping costs. It seems dishonest in my opinion. I think this applies mainly to smaller businesses and Etsy and Ebay sellers. We all expect Amazon or Overstock to tack on a handling fee of a FEW dollars. (But not 40% of the shipping cost! Geesh!)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Just Listed on Etsy - Book Press

Several months ago I blogged about a most excellent birthday present, handmade by my husband--a book press! How in the world I got along without one prior to that I do not know. I shuffled stacks of heavy books around in my studio as a makeshift book press.
He was so pleased with his accomplishment, and the fact that it has been useful and I love it, that he made another one to list on Etsy. Truthfully, he made it a while ago but I have been hogging, uh, testing it...yeah, that's it...testing it. Just to be sure it works. And it does.
It is now officially listed for sale, all you bookbinders who are tired of stacking heavy books, here's your chance!
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