Not every person is a natural-born salesperson. Some people have a special talent for conveying value, and reading a customer that makes them great at selling! Even if you weren’t born with this natural gift, there are some ways you can easily upgrade your customer service skills to grab those sales and some things you can avoid to keep them from slipping through your fingers.
#1: Read the terrain.
We’ve all experienced it: you’re browsing at a local market and a salesperson approaches you and asks if they can help you. You indicate that you’d just like to look, and they continue to aggressively pursue the sale. Now, I’m not talking about offering information about current sales or specials – I’m talking about aggressive sales techniques like following you around the store, trying to show you products even though you’ve given every verbal and non-verbal indication that you don’t want or need assistance. Personally, this kind of “handsy” technique has dissuaded me from making purchases, even if I really like the product!
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t engage your customers when they come in to your shop or visit your booth…you definitely should! There are way to “read the terrain” and have a positive, non-aggressive interaction.
- Greet your customer cheerfully, ask them how they’re doing, and ask them if they’re looking for anything specific. Even if you’re not having a great day, remember: that’s not your customer’s problem. They might be having a bad day too, and just want to indulge in a little retail therapy without drama.
- If the customer says “I’m just looking”, avoids eye contact or seems curt, just say, “of course, please let me know if you have any questions about the products” and give them space. Don’t automatically assume that the customer is not interested at this point – some people are less talkative than others or shy. While some customers require your input and attention, be polite to those independent consumers who just want to take it all in before buying.
Essentially, put yourself in your customer’s shoes: give them a tailored, personal experience. Customer service is not once size fits all.
#2: Steer the conversation.
If you’re at a bigger show or market, there’s a fair chance you might not be the only maker onsite, and that’s ok – you can make sales based on the merit of your own products!
Of course, you may have customers who ask you questions about the other maker at the market, and it’s a good idea to have some answers ready to go.
- “Susie Soapmaker, the other soaper here, says her soaps are lye-free.”
- What you should NOT say: “Well, that’s stupid. All soap is made with lye.”
- What you should say: “I can’t speak to her process or formulation, but lye is required to make soap. Without it, you’d just have oils, water, and fragrance! All of my soaps have been pH tested, and are safe for use-no lye in the final soap.” Your customers will appreciate that you are not rude or catty.
- “Susie Soapmaker says her soap can cure eczema. Can yours?”
- What you should NOT say: “I’m not really allowed to make claims, but my cousin’s ex-fiance’s daughter had eczema and she said that the soap really helped clear up her symptoms. Don’t tell anyone.”
- What you should say: “The soap and cosmetic industry is regulated by the FDA, and unless a products has been drug tested, it’s actually illegal to make drug claims. I can say that my product has been carefully formulated with skin-loving oils, and is very moisturizing and luxurious on the skin.” Remember: you cannot insinuate that your product cures any condition; this means you cannot mention reviews from other customers.
- “Susie Soapmaker’s soaps and lotions are much cheaper than yours.”
- What you should NOT say: “Probably because she uses cheap ingredients and packaging.”
- What you should say: I have worked diligently to carefully formulate, create and package my products with quality ingredients and materials – and my price is a reflection of long hours researching and making every products you see by hand.” You don’t have to insinuate that your competitor makes low quality items just to make your product more attractive.
Customers don’t like drama, and don’t have respect for companies that bash other companies. You will only succeed in making your customers uncomfortable if you do business that way!
#3: Good photos = more sales.
If you’re selling your products primarily online, you need good product photos. You don’t need a professional camera to get good pictures! You do need a steady hand and good lighting; if you don’t have access to professional lighting, natural sunlight is your new best friend.
- Use complimentary props in your photos like flowers, rocks, rubber duckies, etc; but don’t over do it. You want your product to be the real star of the show.
- Don’t over-manipulate your photo with filters; if you alter the colors of your product too much, your customers aren’t going to be happy when they get a product in the mail that doesn’t look anything like they thought it would.
If you’re selling swirled products or products with an abstract design, you might also want to think about adding a little disclaimer somewhere on your site that says something like, products are handcrafted and colors may vary slightly or something of that nature. This reminds your customers that even though the same colors might be used, each product is handmade and you can’t guarantee that the same pattern or colors will show up in every bar.
If the design of any of your products changes drastically, it’s always a good idea to update the image on your website so that you are accurately representing your brand.
#4: Slow and steady does not win the communication race.
If a customer is emailing you or messaging you and you don’t reply in a timely manner, chances are good that you’re going to lose that sale. Consumers don’t expect to be kept waiting, but you’re busy making your products; so, what can you do?
- Dedicate time to answering messages each day, even if it’s only for half an hour. This will keep you from missing any urgent communications.
- Use an auto reply; for example, “Thank you for contacting the Amazing Lotion Company! We’re making products currently and will reply within 24 business hours”. Don’t forget to reply to messages that have been auto-replied to!
- Put up notices whenever you’re going to be out of town or absent from a market. This will set realistic delivery expectations for online buyers and will keep customers in the loop if you’re not going to make it to a market they planned on attending.
#5: If your product isn’t good, you’re sabotaging your company.
Ouch, right? Your customers may not always be right, but if you’re receiving multiple negative comments about a product, it’s time to check them out. Any products you sell, no matter how simple they may be, should be well-researched and carefully formulated. If your customers are bringing up valid complaints, don’t simply write off the feedback as a one-off non-issue. If customers are saying that your bar is too soft, your lotion is too greasy, or your lip balm is too grainy, it might be time to reevaluate your quality control processes.
If you receive a viable performance complaint (different from a preference complaint, which we will get to later), you should definitely do some testing. It’s helpful if you have products from the same batch, or the original product itself; if you don’t, test a product made with the same ingredients from the same shipment. This is where having a testing process already in place becomes very useful.
If someone has a serious reaction to one of your products because it was improperly made, you will need insurance and potentially a lawyer. Make sure that you have a process for testing your finished products that includes completely filling out batch sheets and keeping MSDS sheets on hand so that if an issue arises, you’ll be ready.
If a customer complains about a safety issue, the best practice is to pull the remaining products from that batch to test them and make sure they’re safe, or discard them if they aren’t.This is why testing your products before you sell them is so important! Test every batch, even if you’ve made it a million times before.
Sometimes, people buy products thinking they’ll like the scent, but it ends up not being their “thing”. Preference complaints are about how a customer feels something should perform or smell, and in this case, the customer isn’t always right; after all, preference is pretty subjective. Still, look into their concerns if a preference complaint is about a strong smell or texture, and be ready to quote your return/refund policy.
In any of these cases, it’s important to remember to fill out proper batch sheets, test your products after every batch to ensure quality and safety, make sure your company is properly insured, and have a return and/or refund policy in place just in case you need it.
Unless you’re a mind reader, it’s almost impossible to plan for every possible customer service scenario! That doesn’t mean that you can’t upgrade a few current processes to give yourself a leg up in the consumer arena – customer cues, safety and integrity are all tools for a successful customer experience!