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.
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, PaperConnection.com, 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!)