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Customers are not the interruption to your business - they are the reason for it

October 5, 2018

I couldn't find a solid source on that quote (and the actual quote is different from the version I like to say, it's something like "customers do not interrupt work they are the reason for work" which is also true but has less zing). Some people say Mahatma Gandhi (but they didn't start saying this till the seventies and since Gandhi died in the late forties I have my doubts), some people say L.L. Bean. Who knows.

 I wanted to write this post because yesterday I got a message from a customer on my Etsy page. Standard. this was a customer in the United States (and I am based in the UK). They were very polite, linking their order and letting me know that their pins had not arrived yet and though they were aware I am in the UK and it can take longer, they wondered if I could give them an ETA.


I sent back my usual for this case. I said that based on their order, it looks like I shipped it on [X] date, so it's been [Y] working days since it was sent. Royal Mail estimates [this time frame] for arrival to the US but that doesn't actually take into account customs or the time it takes once it's inside the country so the "to-your-door" time can be longer. I direct them to the policies, and the dispatch email confirmation, which both states 2-4 weeks for orders to the US and Canada; though these can vary with busy times, holidays and international incidents.


I tell them that for their specific location (state) it has taken 1-3 weeks in my experience for orders to arrive (based on the 48 orders I have sent there before) but as no upgrade was purchased at checkout, I'm afraid I have no way to track the order.


I go on to say that if there's no sign of their order by the four week mark (around [this date]), do let me know and I'll be more than happy to replace the order (and take up a non-delivery case with Royal Mail to get my money back).


I close by saying I can now only request their patience and for them to take care, and I thank them for supporting small business. And then I always sign off with "Cheers, Alyce" because that's just how I've always signed off. Not too formal, not too casual - in my opinion. It works for my business.


This is all, of course, something that I could save into a document ready to be brought out and freely embellished at my will with specifics (name, times, dates, locations) and I probably should do that I just haven't yet.


So, a few paragraphs disappear off into the interweb ether. Cool. I go to bed.


This morning I wake up to a message and I think oh gosh I hope I wasn't a bit to brusque - I struggle with text based communication coming off as a little callous (so I usually throw in some middle-aged-dad exclamation points and smiley-faces) so I hope it's not been misconstrued and misinterpreted. Hey-ho living with anxiety.


Nope. I open the message and my customer is thanking me profusely. They tell me briefly that they're really grateful for my message and that they have other orders open but nobody has been as polite as me, so thank you.


First of all I am British so I suppose that's a little par for the course but second of all, what the fuck.


Okay, I know that customers braying night and day about their order, assuming it's tracked, etc. can be a little annoying but we ALL (including me!) need to remember:


Customers are not the interruption to our business - they are the reason for it.


They don't rely on us - we rely on them!


I get it, I really do. I've had people from the US contact me having not realised I'm in the UK and they're in the US. Well... I'm sure they realise that they're in the US, but they had not realised that I am, in fact, in the UK quite a way away. I get at least 2-3 messages a day from customers wanting to know where their order is. It can grate, I understand.


But a little politeness and good business etiquette sure goes a damn long way. So, as above, maybe save a document that covers all the important points like where to find your policies where shipping estimates are that can be altered to include the relevant information for that specific customer. It will not only save you time, but will also save you writing your response in an emotionally-coloured way because you're pissed off with the sixth customer to message you that day about why there isn't a tracking number.


I get that one a lot because I send international standard (airmail) by default and although there is a tracking number on large letters they don't actually track. So I have to politely remind customers that if they did not select a tracked upgrade at checkout, then their order will not be trackable.


It's also worth mentioning that sometimes, customers just want to know that if something were to go wrong, you will fix it. That's why I always add the bit that says "if your order hasn't arrived by [whenever] please let me know and I'll fix it". Of course it is not your fault if an order gets lost in the mail but it is your responsibility to make sure that the customer's order gets to them safely and as advertised. And this may mean claiming back for lost post or for damage during transit and resending an order but that is part of your job as a business owner.


So just remember, customers are not the interruption to your business, they are the reason for it. Cut them some slack. If they're rude, try to keep your cool and be professional (I find this really tough too, don't worry!) and if they are properly threatening or abusive, report them to Etsy.


Just keep in mind that without them, you wouldn't be where you are, so take heed.

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Leeds, United Kingdom

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