Etsy has a TON of articles on customer service and I will share some of those links in here as extra information.
The most important piece of advice I can give is to put yourself into the shoes of the other person and COMMUNICATE!
Here is a scenario to help put this into perspective. Let's say you purchased several items from a shop, that has mostly positive feedback. It is something you really want, and are excited to get. After 5 or so days you start running to the mailbox each day, looking..... but nothing. A week since you ordered and you are still anxiously looking for a package in the mail, but nothing. Almost 2 weeks have gone by and still no order, and there hasn't been a single conversation between you and the seller at this point. You start to get nervous, they seem repuatable with their feedback, but why would it take so long and why wouldn't the seller contact you if there was a problem?? You review their policies and shop again to make sure you didn't miss anything. Their policies state, all items will ship within 7 business days and it has been almost 2 weeks now. So you contact them.
***** At this point the customer is put in a bad position. If you know there is a delay or problem be UPFRONT. Don't wait for a customer to call you out. And do NOT lie about it. These will all lead to trust issues, and frustration. ********
You feel uncomfortable to have to contact them and ask, but you want to know where your item is. The good news: the seller does respond and in a fairly quick timeframe, within 24 hours of your request. The bad news: they only write a 2 line message, as if they are being bothered, and they state that the order is going out in the am. Now you are completely disappointed, it hasn't been mailed yet? Why didn't they tell you this? Why do you have to contact them to find this out?
But, at least you know the seller is still around, and is mailing it and now within a few days you should finally have your goodies!! 5 days later and still nothing. You are checking that mailbox every day, and every day now for 3 weeks you have been disappointed. The frustration is building, and FINALLY the box arrives! YEAH! You notice that the postmarked date is 3 days later than the person said it would arrive. Now the patience is really running thin. The seller clearly didn't ship in a timely manner, then lied about when they were shipping, and never bothered to tell you what was going on....
You rip open the packaging, get to the 2 boxes inside and you immediately see damage. It is obvious from the outside that when you open.... this it isn't going to be pretty. In the back of your mind you are still hoping it can be salvaged, because you couldn't have waited just about a month now for this?? As you open the box you are still trying to remain hopeful but all hope is quickly gone when you see a big pile of mess.
How disappointing, to check and check every single day for just about a month for this package then you finally get it and now it isn't useable. You take pictures of the box and the contents inside the box and dread having to send this to the seller. You know that they aren't going to be happy with this, because their non-chalant response before shows a lack of sympathy. Plus they lied about when it was mailed. There is a pattern now that would make it seem like this is a careless seller. You write a thought out convo to the seller that you are really sorry to have to bother them but... you explain what has happened and attach pictures. You let them know you are very frustrated at this point to have the delays and now this. And the convo is sent with pictures within hours of receiving the package so there can't be a dispute. Now you have to anxiously wait for a solution/answer. Again the seller does respond, within 24 hours.... but the response isn't moving. Very unsympathetic. There is information about a personal situation, they do say I am sorry but the apology is just thrown in, right in the middle of I can't understand how that happened, I have been going through ____ (insert personal issues), I will refund your money.
That is the end of the transaction, you have your money back.
Does that sound like a positive transaction/experience? Would you be satisfied to just have your money thrown back at you?
*** If you are truly sorry and want your customer happy then you don't make excuses and you sincerely apologize. A quick, well I am sorry thrown in the middle of other crap isn't going to cut it. Be sincere and show sympathy towards the situation. Express how you can relate/understand their frustration. Showing a compassion of your customers feelings and situation is most important at this point if you want to try to end things on a positive note.
So many lessons can be learned from this scenario. I am not one to say the customer is ALWAYS right. Just because we are a business doesn't mean we have to take abuse, so there IS a line between me and my customers. BUT the priority should always be the customer and doing all we can to make them happy.
So how could this have been handled? What could have been done differently?
There are so many options here that weren't done.
1. Don't make excuses or put personal things onto your customers. If you are having a rough time in your private life that should never be put onto your customer. Can you imagine walking into a home depot, or any major department store and them telling you I am sorry you want this, but we don't have it in stock and won't get it for 3 weeks because I had a wedding to go to, or someone died in our family etc. The show must go on in business, our customers don't wait for us, and don't have to wait with so many other stores available with just as nice items. The competition is too good with a place like Etsy providing hundreds upon thousands of shops. Your customers don't need this and won't come back if they have to deal with this.
2. Come up with a plan: In etsy we have more options then most businesses. We can actually put our shops in vacation mode and take a break. Most businesses can't afford a break like that, they would have someone filling in and making things happen. So, I highly recommend taking advantage of this feature if you are overwhelmed. If you have outstanding orders and THEN a situation arises you can always cancel those orders explaining the circumstances, refund and profusely apologize. OR put your shop in vacation mode and get those orders out asap so that you can do what you need to do for yourself. Of course communicating with your customers throughout as you get their orders done. But don't mix personal issues with your business. It will never end positively if you do.
3. COMMUNICATION: Another thing that could have been done differently and is absolutely KEY in customer service is to COMMUNICATE. Anytime a customer is involved the absolute best thing you could ever do is to be upfront, honest and communicate. Of course you can always over-do something but it is imperative that you let your customer know what is going on. Especially when dealing with customers through the internet. Without face to face contact it is hard to truly connect with customers, and build trust. Communication is the key to building trust. How many of you would have cancelled the order if you received a convo saying, "I greatly appreciate your business and would love for you to have ___. I unfortunately won't be able to get this mailed to you until ___. If you are ok with that wait time I would love to do this. I will of course keep you posted if anything should change. Please let me know your preference, I can cancel the sale and refund immediately if you would rather not wait. Thank you."
If you know what is going on then you can plan and accept the situation. In the initial scenario one or 2 convo's could have gone a LONG way.
And GIVE OUT HONEST information! Don't say you are shipping tomorrow if you aren't. If you say you are shipping tomorrow and now you can't, tell the customer the change in plans. Do not leave the customer in the dark!
4. GIVE OPTIONS. Give your customer options. If your goal is to make your customers happy, and your business is based upon this.... then you need to make their needs the priority. Throwing money back at a customer does not make frustration, and disappointment go away. Especially if you don't even ask what the customer wants, maybe they do just want their money back. But you don't know unless you ask. My parents house burned down last year and I had several orders that were hard to get out. I convo'd each person and told them how much I appreciate their business and that I would truly love to do these orders for them but that I would need more time than usual. I gave them a timeline and then said, I want you to be happy. SO it is up to you, are you ok with waiting? Or would you prefer your money back at this point? Of course be apologetic, empathetic and sympathetic to them. I also stated that I would keep in touch throughout the next several weeks so that they would know I am around and working and have not forgotten them. 100% of those customers waited, and gave positive feedback. They didn't care about waiting, they cared about being taken care of. They cared about the fact that I made sure they didn't feel like I was scamming them, or ripping them off, or ignoring them.... and that they got what they paid for.
I also included a few nice extras in the package when it finally arrived as a special thank you for their understanding and patience. Because I truly appreciate each customer and especially those that were so understanding.
Feedback (as a seller)
With that said, let's say you feel you offered what you can and the customer isn't happy? What if they weren't happy? What if they decide to leave negative feedback? You will never be able to keep 100% of the people you come in contact with happy. It isn't possible. But the key is to remain focused on the fact that this is a business, and your reputation is on the line. No matter how wrong you think they are, you have to keep your cool and be professional. This doesn't mean you allow yourself to be taken advantage of but that you leave factual feedback. So close out a transaction that hasn't been resolved......
Keep in mind what feedback is for. It is for information on a specific transaction. It isn't about your personal life... it is about how did this transaction transpire? As a seller your feedback to the buyer is about the buyers responsibilities. Their end of the transaction. Did they pay you immediately?
Did they contact you within a reasonable amount of time with a problem? Did they give you the opportunity to fix the situation? If they did their part and left you negative feedback you can not and should NOT leave negative feedback for them. Being angry and retaliating will only reflect poorly upon you and your business.
It is hurtful to realize that YOU didn't do your part. If you didn't ship for 3 weeks, didn't communicate, didn't package well etc. It is very hard to accept that. It is probably embarassing or SHOULD be embarassing if you have any integrity.
BUT as a business you have to be responsible and accountable. You can't take it out on your customer now because you didn't do your part, or because they are rightfully upset with you. Man up, take your negative and then leave honest feedback in return.
Honest feedback would be feedback that only addresses the facts of the situation. For example, "I offered a refund, communication was sent on __ date and __ date.: Or, "A refund was offered in the beginning when I knew I would have a delay and the customer declined and wanted to wait." Then give a timeline, and facts such as each time you communicated throughout the process.
Honest feedback contains information that only applies to the CURRENT transaction.
Honest feedback speaks of only the facts involved. There is some debate over what a buyer's obligations are, and when to leave feedback...such as a seller should leave feedback once payment was made, since that fulfills the buyers obligations (just an example, not a statement that I necessarily agree with) that is not the focus of this particular blog post.
***FINAL NOTE*** Have you ever hesitated to leave feedback for an order you weren't happy with? Were you worried about the possible ramifications if you left negative feedback when it was warranted?
The feedback system is definitely flawed. It is based upon "integrity". This means I should be able to leave honest feedback if a seller didn't communicate and I had to wait 3-4 weeks for my order and then the order was damaged.... without worrying about retaliatory feedback. BUT obviously that is not very possible. So look at feedback with a grain of salt and give your customers credit that they are smart enough to see vengeful feedback that contains no facts.
And do the right thing, leave HONEST feedback.
If you don't leave feedback when you have a negative experience you are setting up the next person to have to go through what you just did. It is irresponsible to be dishonest in your feedback, because you put other buyers at risk when they think this seller is reputable and they aren't.
Feedback should be used to help other customers know what to expect. Don't allow me to be scammed, after you were scammed because you are worried about a few bad apples out there that will make it personal and retaliate. That is my personal opinion on feedback and the importance of it being honest, despite those that make us want to run and hide from it to avoid retaliation.
Here are some really great articles from the Etsy storque on more tips about communication, packaging, shipping policies etc. Make sure you are as detailed as possible to prevent these situation but know that sometimes things can not be avoided.