A Seller's Guide to Customer Service
This is an excerpt from Michael Kasmar's upcoming book on Autographs...
I don’t think I can emphasize enough the importance of customer interactions and would like to point out some key features that go into exceptional customer service. There is so much to gain by attempting to master this vital part of your business. It simply doesn’t matter if you are the top in-person grapher in the world and have the hottest items out there, when you interact directly with a customer that is going to overshadow all of that. You ALWAYS want to look for ways to improve your customer relationships and the best way to do that is to have exceptional customer service. Here lies the problem in this industry though. Full time graphers can often spend hours and days of frustration or even when successful, when you’re out graphing you’re not always available for your customers. It’s vital to you that you solve these issues in a manner which best suits your customers. If you’re going to be frustrated and tired replying to customer complaints then you can compound your frustrations by scaring away customers. You may be better served to have someone else handle some of the customer issues, especially if you’re going to be away for lengths of time. With social media and modern technology customers are not only use to but expecting prompt replies. Putting customers on the backburner for hours or days at a time simply isn’t acceptable so you need to work to find a solution to that. Let your competition fumble in this area. You need to excel here.
The most important aspects of good customer service rely on being able to carefully listen to your customer’s needs and attending to them. You should be constantly seeking opportunities to improve your customer service and by doing so you’ll improve vital relationships to grow your business. A common problem I see often is sellers focusing on the problem and trying to justify or make excuses. This is completely unacceptable if you intend to foster and grow relationships with your customers, let alone keep them. Your mindset should be that of humility not ego. Your goal of the entire conversation should be solution based, not focusing on the problem(s). That’s not to say you ignore what your customer is saying either. Clarify and rephrase what the customer is saying so they know you understand them completely. Saying things like “I completely understand why you’d feel frustrated”, or identify and say “I know I hate to be kept waiting in the dark”, etc. Own your mistakes but then work towards an amicable solution.
Here are some key factors that should go in to your customer service:
1) Be Available
You need to be prompt and attentive to all communication by your customers. This means if you’re going to be gone/unavailable for any length of time you need to find a solution to this. Again, let your competition make customers wait, not you! More times than not by replying to a customer’s issue promptly you’ll avoid unnecessary chargebacks or disputes. Also, you’ll find not all customers are wanting to complain. Many will have questions and some will be chatty. Your goal is to be able to adapt to each customer with your own personal touch.
2) Be Attentive To Every Detail
If a customer has multiple questions or multiple issues with a transaction, it’s important that you address each of the concerns. Again, that does NOT mean making excuses but rather acknowledging these issues and working towards a solution for each or as a whole and not to your satisfaction but to theirs. Not everyone is adept at active listening and there may be a learning curve here for you but it’s one you must master.
3) Patience, Empathy, and Consistency Are Key
Every customer is different and you’ll even find the same customer may react completely out of character at any given time. You should be able to handle surprises, sense a customer’s mood and adapt to the conversation accordingly. A healthy mindset is to treat every customer conversation like you’re talking to your number one top customer. This will create a consistency that will allow you to maintain healthy relationships with them. If in the back of your head you’re thinking “I can’t believe this guy is complaining about a $5 autograph” then clearly you’re doing this wrong. You have to have thick skin and be able to being able to accept negative feedback and more importantly, accepting blame is crucial for you to grow.
4) Clear and Concise Communication
If you’re going to tell a customer you are shipping on a certain day then do it. That’s your primary job. If for any reason you aren’t able to make that deadline then clear and immediate communication should be made to that customer letting them know of the delay. There’s simply no excuse to not keep your customer’s well informed. If you don’t, they won’t be your customers for very long. You need for your customer to also feel as if they have been heard. It’s important that you’re honest and admit your mistakes, even if they are ones your customer didn’t even catch. This will build trust and show humility while building confidence. By doing this it will re-focus the customer’s attention and allow you to work towards a solution.
Another important factor to consider is emails or messaging can often be misinterpreted as they lack your vocal tone and a short sentence in a reply can be completely misinterpreted. Clear communication can sometimes be avoided by simply providing a phone number so that you can avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings.
5) Follow Up
You should always follow up with your customers to make sure the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction. By communicating with them by following up, you may also prevent yourself from unwanted negative feedback online. Instead you’re giving them the opportunity to voice their issues directly with you so that you can learn your strengths and weaknesses and grow from there.
You really should be following up with your customers on successful transactions as well. A nice message contacting them after the item was expected to arrive making sure all is in order can turn that one sale into another simply by asking if there was anything else they were interested in. Keep detailed logs of who buys what so when you get fresh ink, you can search your spreadsheet and send off an email or message saying you remember they bought from you previously and wanted to give them first option on it. Making a customer feel known and special should be what this is all about.
The bottom line is you never truly know the value of a customer so don’t ever underestimate one. So many times a horrible transaction gone wrong can turn into an opportunity to not only fix the issue but grow that relationship with the customer and create long-term trust. Yes we work hard, yes we have a stressful job, but there’s simply no excuse for not doing your job right and one of your primary jobs should be customer relationships. Put half the energy you do into growing your customer service skills as you do into obtaining autographs and you’ll reap the rewards.
Michael Kasmar is owner of http://www.AutographPros.com
RACCTrusted.com Seller #101
Look for more stories like this in his upcoming book on Autographs.
I first started collecting in the very beginning of the 80's and amassed an incredible collection of autographs. Autograph Pros was one of the first legitimate autograph dealers to ever start listing on eBay, and has become one of the largest autographed guitar distributors in the world.All author posts
New York, NY
Los Angeles, CA