Doing business over the Internet is liberating. Business casual takes on a whole new meaning when you are sitting at your computer in your pajamas and haven’t showered in a day or two. The Internet allows us to stay at home with our families and be flexible about business hours, while still communicating and selling to people all over the world. It’s important to remember that while we can be casual about our business, being casual about communication can cost us.
I have received over 2,000 Etsy Conversations over the last two years. That’s a lot of opportunities to make sales, and I try to make sure each response is thoughtfully constructed to reinforce confidence in my shop. Here are a few key rules I’ve developed for myself when writing to customers, potential customers, retailers or press.
Always address the customer by name if it’s given. If someone buys something from my shop I have his or her name on the receipt, so I write Dear________. It starts things off on a great personal note, and lets them know I looked took the time to notice. If I have a repeat customer, I can now tell by the lovely star Etsy includes next to their name in Sold Items – awesome! I will thank them for shopping with us again.
Return emails and conversations within 24 hours if possible. During the holiday season, this can get rough but it’s a rule I created for myself and I stick to it. I use “flag” or “mark unread” buttons on my email and Etsy Conversations to keep track of whom I have gotten back to. I also purchased a smart phone to use when we travel so I can respond to emails. Even though that makes taking a real vacation difficult, this is the kind of business I’m in.
Send a confirmation message when I receive an order. Again, when things are busy this is hard, but think about what you like when you purchase online. It’s nice to know that your money and order has been received. If there is a note to seller I confirm the order details. If they purchased a custom or made to order item I let them know when it will ship.
Reread all messages to make sure my tone is positive and happy. I have found that in almost every case, good communication at the start of a sale means very few unhappy customers or rude emails later on down the line. It’s all about setting a good tone from the get-go, and letting folks know you want to do what you can for them. As creative people and small business owners we don’t want to be a doormat for rude customers or people trying to manipulate us by withholding positive feedback, however we need to always be professional. These are few and far between, so I try to give customers the benefit of the doubt.
Don’t address your customers in all caps. I get emails with all caps in them from time to time, and sometimes I feel like I’m being yelled at or talked down to. I don’t want to risk that with my customers. Sometimes people are just really excited about buying their dog a hat, and that makes me feel great. Other times they want to make sure I notice a particular detail about their order, and that’s understandable. However, I prefer lower case when I communicate because I know how it feels to read all caps. When you turn off the caps lock, you soften the tone. I don’t want to threaten or scare my customers in any way.
***As a side note, this goes for item descriptions and shop announcements too. I use stars to denote important information instead of all caps. The only time I’ve resorted to the caps button was during the holiday season when hasty shoppers were missing shipping deadlines. But maybe let’s leave it as a last resort.
Make the sale. It may feel a little sleazy, but we are salespeople and we need to hustle if we are going to make a living. When I respond to potential customers I include additional information like turnaround time so they know they will receive the item soon. Sometimes people imagine it takes me a month to crochet a sweater, and even though turnaround time is in the item description, I like to reinforce that yes, you actually will receive this handmade item in the same amount of time it would take you to order from a big box store. I also bring any special offers to their attention, and I feel that if I word it like – hey, there’s a deal I want you to be able to take advantage of to save some money – then they see me as a friend and not a salesman.
If I want something, I offer something in return. When I receive a cut and paste email asking me for something I am less likely to respond positively than when I get an email that opens with a positive comment about my work, or even better my name (available in my profile). It’s okay to cut and paste sections of an email, but I appreciate knowing people have taken the time check out my stuff before they ask me to do a give away or advertise on their website. The best collaborations involve giving on both sides. I have had people write great things about my shop in exchange for a giveaway item, or even better they traded me additional advertising or their own product for doing a giveaway. Reciprocity is just good business.
I love communicating with people about their pets. I have many customers that I consider friends and pen pals, and that’s what makes my job so rewarding. I love customer photos and hearing about people enjoying my work, and I know good communication has led to improved sales. I even had a customer email her entire address book to tell them about my shop and how great the customer service was. That’s pretty awesome advertising. In an age of text messaging and short abrupt exchanges, a well-crafted email goes a long way to help cultivate a base of repeat customers. So even as I sit here writing back to customers in my pajamas and slippers drinking coffee, I am imagining my writing voice is wearing a power suit.