Your Customer, Friend or Foe?

How do you treat your customers? If you are like most small business owners, you treat them well enough . . . to their faces.

The real question, however, is how do you feel about your customers? No, how do you really feel?

I have heard people criticize customers for things like not understanding saponification, lye and proper care of candles. I’ve seen them angry with customers who want to cancel orders, to return items or want custom orders.

How much of that derision is justified?

Yes, customers are not always friendly or fair. They can be selfish and rude, as a matter of fact. Those customers will always exist and it is up to the seller to develop policies and strategies to deal with them.

The real point, however, is the general attitude toward customers.

It is easy to forget that customers are the lifeblood of your company. They pay the bills.  They are, in fact, the reason your business exists.

I would venture to say that most of your customers are no trouble at all. They buy and you don’t hear anything else from them until they want more. Others are a bit more work. They ask questions and comment on your business or products. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, we cannot chat with customers all day, but they have a right to ask questions about the product they spend their hard-earned money on and to expect courteous answers.

Is it realistic to expect customers to know what saponification is? No, of course not. Chances are, you didn’t know what it meant before you began to research soapmaking. A good soap salesperson will cheerfully and readily explain lye and its role in soapmaking.

Should customers know about proper candle care? No, but you should teach them before they light the candle they bought. Improper candle care and burning can cause fires, so it behooves us to dedicate time and effort to teaching. Do not assume they know. It is, in fact, more likely that they do not know how to burn candles appropriately.  

Where cancellations, returns or custom orders are concerned, if you do not have a policy, why would you be upset that a customer asks? Yes, we all want the sale to end the transaction, but that is not the way things work. It is up to the business owner to decide ahead of time how they will handle the possible scenarios. If you did not, it is not their fault for asking. Consider it part of your business education and put policies in place.

Make those policies easy to access. Address cancellations, returns and custom orders, among other situations. Study others’ policies as you adopt yours to anticipate as much as possible so that when it comes up, you simply refer to the policies. Even better, make sure the customer knows the policies before purchase. Many websites even require the customer to say they read the terms, conditions and policies before they purchase.

Your policies are your business, but know that you will encounter situations that require attention, so decide in advance the correct reaction. It will benefit you and your customer. Make your policies fair and be willing to bend a little when appropriate to make the customer happy and to engender loyalty.

Most of all, respect and treasure your customers. They not only pay the bills, but many of them are abjectly faithful and will recommend and defend you. They can be your best allies if you show them the same courtesy. If your demeanor, on the other hand, suggests lip service, your customers will feel it and may take their business elsewhere. Know that it takes planning and finesse to deal with customers and your business will benefit.

May your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne, for Making Soap, Cosmetics & Candles Magazine

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