Maker to Maker Business: Customer Service

When you start making something, there are a million things on your mind – minute design details, which parts to use, how to operate the tools, what it will take to assemble. All these problems are vital to the success of your product, and to a maker, they are inherently exciting: each decision is another tiny love letter to the unique awesomeness of your project, each an opportunity for error and complexity, but also for wonder and satisfaction.

Something you are probably not thinking about is customer service.

Ugh, customer service…

Let’s be very clear about this: selling your product involves a great deal of customer service. This might come as a shock to you, since so far you’ve been engrossed in the process of actually making your product, and it’s only when you list your first item for sale will it hit home just how much other work there is to do.

This realization can be a bit demoralizing initially, because in a lot of ways customer service isn’t actually part of making anything. It’s just a peripheral aspect of the process of selling your product, and as a maker, chances are that it’s the making part that got you started in the first place. But customer service is a crucial part of your maker business, and not something you can ignore.

This rest of this post is devoted to some practical tips we’ve learned in the process of operating our business. A lot of these concepts apply specifically to the DIY/maker business, but some of them are applicable to businesses in general.

Customer service is a product, too

It’s important to consider your customer service a product of your business. When your customers speak about their dealings with you, whether it’s on a feedback form or face-to-face with their friends, they’ll be rating both your product and their experience with you. 
Think of all the customer service interactions you’ve ever had. Chances are most of them were “good enough.” But those aren’t the ones you remember. It’s the amazing ones and the awful ones that stick with you. Don’t settle for a “good enough” customer service experience. After all, would you ship a “good enough” product, or do you want your business to be known for offering the best there is? If you try to go the extra mile to make your customer service excellent, it will pay for itself in a boosted reputation, happy customers, and additional sales.

Love your customers

It can be difficult to approach customer service with the right attitude. Every email you have to respond to takes time away from actually building your product.

The easiest way to get your head straight is to remember one simple thing: you love your customers. After all, they have a nigh-unlimited set of options, yet they eagerly forked over their hard-earned money to buy something you designed and manufactured. How cool is that? 

Once you’ve decided to love your customers, a lot of things get easier. In every interaction, you should always make it clear to them that you genuinely appreciate their business. When your customers have issues, you should always start off by apologizing, regardless of whether the problem is your fault. From their perspective, every problem they have with your product will be your fault, no matter what it is. Starting with an empathetic statement puts you on the same team as the customer. And then even if you have to give bad news later, you’ll at least have started out on a good foot.

Respond promptly

Responding to your customer service emails quickly is really important. A lot of times, surprising your customer by getting back to them within a few hours will really impress them and help you to reduce their irritation. When someone takes the time to send you an email with a complaint or question, it’s because of something that’s on their mind, and that’s going to stay with them for a while. The more quickly you can address it, the less of a strain it is for them.
When possible, try to reply to emails as they come in. If that’s too difficult, then you should at least answer all new emails every day, even if just to tell them you got the message and are working on a solution.

Take complaints to heart, but don’t take them personally

There is a 100% chance that you will get an irate email from a customer at some point. Your product will break in shipping, or get shipped to the wrong address, or be the wrong color, or one of a thousand other problems. They will be angry, they will be demanding, and sometimes they’ll even be downright rude. All of this can make you feel terrible, especially if what they are complaining about is actually your fault.
Feeling terrible is the last thing you want to do, though. This is something I learned back when I played a lot of online poker: it’s OK to feel bad intellectually about making a mistake, but you need to keep a fair amount of emotional detachment so you can make good decisions. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself making knee-jerk reactions that lose you both your customers and your hair.

When dealing with complaints, the first thing you should do is apologize and offer a remedy. Next, you should analyze the mistake and change your process so it doesn’t happen again next time. And then you should move on.

Stand up to your customers

Once in a while, you’re going to be up against a customer who is just plain being unreasonable. Some examples we’ve seen are customers asking for massive customization or complaining about our posted return policy after the fact. In our experience, these customers are really few and far between, but when you do run into them, they add a lot of stress.

Generally, I would say that you should go to lengths to provide a good customer experience, but sometimes that can go too far. In practice, only you will know the difference between making an exception to give someone a great experience and compromising your prior business decisions. But whatever you do decide, deliver the news clearly and calmly, and don’t let any irritation color your communication.

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