“In this economy” is perhaps one of my least favorite catch phrases. It’s used as an excuse for anything and everything these days. So today I want to discuss something that is always important, regardless of the state of the economy, and that is – inspiring customer loyalty.
As a lifelong crafter, and as someone who has been scrapbooking since the time before rub-ons and Jolee’s Boutique (and when stamps and inks weren’t even a part of my local store), I am something of an old-timer when it comes to scrapbooking. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to use products, and have contact with manufacturers. I have come to be a loyal customer to some companies, and I will tell you that I also boycott some companies. Today I’d like to share what inspires my loyalty, what doesn’t, and what I hope to see in the future for customer relations in our industry.
Being good at customer service and inspiring loyalty isn’t hard – but it does take commitment. About two years ago I had an incident where I contacted a company (which will remain unnamed to protect the guilty) about some defective product that I wanted replaced. I received an email reply that said I wasn’t their customer because they sell only to retailers and not end consumers, so my issue was with the retailer that sold me the product. Outraged, I continued to contact the company until I reached a supervisor who promised to replace the product. They eventually sent me a box of product (that looked like it had been swept off the warehouse floor), but I never did get a replacement for my defective product.
Needless to say, I am no longer a consumer of that brand. Conventional wisdom is that unhappy customers are something like ten times more likely to talk about a brand than happy customers are – so doesn’t it make sense to inspire such bliss in your customers?
Is it truly hard to put a smile on and reply as if you care? Certainly not! As a former brand ambassador for a scrapbook company as well as a customer service representative for a bank, I’ve been through a lot of training and seminars, and read a lot on the subject. It’s simple: treat the customer as you’d like to be treated if the situation were reversed, and always do your best to make them happy and get the situation solved as simply as possible.
So what would inspire a consumer like me to repeatedly buy your products, talk about you, and support your company?
- If I have a problem, fix it and do so quickly.
- Never excuse a defective product or place blame elsewhere, just apologize and replace it.
- Answer your email in a reasonable (within 2 business days) time frame.
- Produce quality products that are useful to me as a crafter.
- Have a website that is easy to navigate and up-to-date.
The bottom line, of course, is that you have to make products I want to buy. How do I find out about you, as someone without a local store to shop in? Years ago local stores were everywhere and blogs were something most people knew nothing about. These days the opposite is true – and more than ever having an online presence is vital to a company’s success in the craft industry. The key is that it needs to be well done. The company’s website, even if it is simple, must be up-to-date and useful. A blog should have someone in charge of scheduling and content should be posted at a regular interval (whether that is daily, three times a week, etc) that is fairly predictable so that I know how often to check in. Giveaways and exclusive first peeks at new products are always nice, but really I’m after content that is inspiring me to use your products. Tutorials, projects, and bringing in guest designers are all great ways to both show off your product and get me to come back and see you again.
If you do not have a large design team, or if you are hoping to get more of a presence online consider reaching out to crafters who are active and influential as appropriate – feel free to ask them test your products, blog about them, etc – but make sure it’s someone who would be truly interested and that the offer would be beneficial to both of you. For example, do not contact a card maker and ask them to try your new layout building system. Do your homework, and keep your initial email both to the point and friendly.
If a company is going to have a Facebook page and Twitter account (and they should), I expect that I can contact them in that way. If you do not want me connecting to you, don’t join social media. Here are some suggestions I have:
- Do not try to make me help you get followers. Let your following grow organically and stop the “we must hit ___ number and then we will___” insanity please. Appreciate the fans you do have instead of making me feel less important because I’m already a fan and you’re searching for new ones instead.
- If you’re using Twitter, post original content - not just links to your facebook page.
- Reply when appropriate and join in conversations.
- Share peeks, behind the scenes glimpses, and other relevant info we couldn’t get elsewhere.
- Keep your consumers in mind, and share appropriate material. Political, religious, and other sensitive topics are bad choices to post about unless of course you’re a political or religious craft supply company!
- Keep it honest, interesting, and updated on a regular basis.
As I list out what I like (and dislike) in the online presence of a company (as well as customer service and quality of products in general) three companies stand out in my mind as excelling at all of the above. American Crafts, Pink Paislee, and Studio Calico have great blog content, enthusiastic and influential design teams that are active on-line, amazing service if you ever have need to call or email them, nice websites, and are truly all-around role models for how loyalty can be inspired in consumers like me.
There are a lot of other wonderful companies that I’ve had great experience with as well, and that I see getting into a more active role online, and that continue to put out products I love. I frequently email them to let them know I love what they’re doing and that I’m a fan. As a consumer, I find that it’s just as important to praise and support those who are doing great things as it is to complain about and boycott those companies who are doing badly. In fact – it’s more important! To use that dreaded catch phrase – in this economy, where we spend our dollars and who we support count for everything.
I encourage you to drop a note to your favorite craft company, and if you’re so inclined, please feel free to leave comments sharing your positive experiences with a company and/or who you are really loving these days.
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