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Archive for the ‘Building Customer Loyalty’ Category

It really is true what they say. A loyal customer base can make or break your business. I work full-time and have my album business on the side. Some weeks, when work and life get crazy, I don’t get to list as much as I’d like because I run out of day before I run out of things to do.

These last couple of weeks have been just like that. Fortunately, I have enjoyed the good fortune to have customers, some of whom I haven’t heard from in a couple of years, email me, seemingly out of the blue, requesting additional albums. Income without any effort (at least before the sale).

Make your customers’ experiences good ones. Include them in the creative process if at all possible, make the experience personal and add special touches, and say thank you for their business. It goes a long way. And it really helps when there is just not enough time in the day to cultivate new lifelong customers!

PS. Some of my most successful crafting years were in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when we were in a, you guessed it, recession. When the economy gets rough, consumers don’t stop shopping. But they do become more discretionary in their spending, looking for value and uniqueness for those thoughtful gifts they must buy. What is more valuable or unique than a handmade necklace, photo album, stuffed doll or wonderful painting or photograph that reminds them of a special place or time? Don’t throw in your crafting towel just because the economy is wonky. Instead, think of the ways you can add value and uniqueness to your products and capture someone’s imagination and heart!

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Our Beloved Calvin

Our Beloved Calvin

My family and I are still reeling from the sudden death of our beloved cat on Monday. He was 15 and an integral member of our family. He was always playful, affectionate and cute as a button. And we miss him terribly.

It was unexpected. Even though Calvin was “old,” he was active and vibrant and seemingly healthy. I come home for lunch every day (I work nearby) to feed him and on Monday, Calvin was fine at lunchtime. However, when my daughter and husband got home from work a couple of hours later, he had passed away. I went to my vet to find out what to do next (I was so distraught I couldn’t even find the phone number). We wanted to cremate him and keep his ashes and we didn’t know where to start.

The vet put me in touch with Regency Forest, a pet crematory and funeral home. I was incredibly impressed with the compassion of these people. I called at 4:45 on Monday (they were closing at 5:00) and they told me very gently how to keep Calvin while waiting to bring him to them the next morning. They even have a service where they would have come right then to pick him up. We didn’t do this because they are pretty close by and this service, while convenient and thoughtful, was more than I could afford. They suggested I ask my vet to take Calvin overnight instead. My vet was more than happy to hold him for free.

When we got to Regency Forest in the morning–my 22-year-old daughter Kate came with me–I was greeted with sympathy, a beautiful environment, tissues, and a woman who made the process quick and easy. Kate wanted to take Calvin to the crematory herself to make sure we knew he would be cremated alone and we would get his ashes back (we’d heard horror stories). Even the gentleman who ran the crematory offered his sympathies and offered to walk us through the process if we wanted more information. Or we could have stayed. We graciously declined.

When I went back to pick up Calvin’s ashes, they were thoughtfully returned to me in a lovely tin placed in a gift bag with tissue and a heartfelt card that made us cry on the way home. They took such care with our baby that I would recommend this company to anyone who found themselves in the unfortunate situation we were in. Regency Forest offered us comfort at a very painful moment.

I realize this might be an odd post for a crafter’s business blog, but there is a point. Exceptional customer service–kindness and thoughtful touches–can make such a huge difference to your customers. Consider the companies you’ve dealt with that left an impression with you and how, and then keep those in mind when you are dealing with customers.

I will be forever grateful for the kindness of the Regency Forest people. They made a difference.

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On Friday at work, one of my coworkers and I were passing in the kitchen and we exchanged the usual “Hi, how are you?” Of course the answer we always expect is “Fine” or “Good, and you?” and we move on. This coworker jokingly asked me if I was going to wait around for the answer. We were crazy-busy and I was walking as I was asking.

It’s become a joke between us and that’s fine but it did get me to thinking. Are we really listening? Are we really doing the things that our customers would like to see? Or are we doing what’s easy and what we love. I get that as artisans, the whole point of creating is that we love what WE are doing. I’m not suggesting that if one of my customers (I’m a bookbinder) wants jewelry, that I’ll switch gears and start making jewelry. But if a customer asks for a slightly different style book or a fabric I don’t normally showcase, I see if I can do what they are asking or find that fabric. I’m not always successful, but I do listen to suggestion and I always try. I’m fortunate. I create custom products a lot of the time and I have to listen to my customers. But, I get really great ideas from them.

What I’m proposing for this holiday season is that maybe we should ask our customers what they’d like to see…what will get them to click on the “BUY NOW” button…..what they will be willing to spend their disappearing dollars on?

Have a mailing list? Send out a survey to see what people are looking for? Figure out the trends. Pay attention in convos. You may just find the “next big thing” that way.

And when you have a consensus about a color, a pattern, a style….try it. Someone out there will notice you listened and be happy to spend their money with you.

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I’m excited! I got my 100th Etsy heart today!!! Yippee!! And I haven’t been participating in forums where people critique stores or exchange hearts lately. And I haven’t really even been updating or paying very close attention to my store. Real work has gotten busy again and I had orders that had to get done before promoting could begin again. And yet, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten at least 20 new hearts and that’s so cool. Lots of them are strictly customers too (not other sellers).

What this tells me is while sales might be slow this month for me on Etsy, people are getting ready for their holiday shopping and bookmarking to come back when it’s time to buy gifts. I’ll be getting ready because I’d sure like to turn those hearts into sales and lifelong customers.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Everyone on Etsy wants to know how to create these little black heart symbols to add to their descriptive copy. ♥ I don’t blame them. I like them too. Unlike eBay, Etsy gives you very little creative range in the description area, so little hearts add something to the copy. They make neat bullet points.

On the Mac, like I am on today, I find that cutting and pasting works best. But on the PC, there are several ways to create the little hearts:

&heart; (all closed up like this) or

alt key  and the 3 on the number pad (obviously this might not work on a laptop, which doesn’t have a number pad).

now you know. And if those don’t work for you, cut and paste.

Here’s to lots of hearts, big, little, black and full of promise.

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I’m so angry at my son right now. He took my car last night to go to work (his is not running) on the terms that he’d be home by 7:00 am, so I can get my daughter to work and myself to work on time. It’s 8:05 and he won’t be home for at least another half hour, making us both very late. 😦

I’m not angry with him for being late. I get that stuff happens and we can’t always keep our promises. But he could have called. I had to call him 5 times before he picked up his phone….probably because he knew there would be yelling on the other end. But he could have avoided that by calling me first.

When you are in a family and something you are doing will affect another family member, the right thing to do is communicate. We all know this. By not communicating, it causes all kinds of friction. You’re all shaking your heads in agreement, I can feel it.

Well, it’s the same with your customers. If someone buys something from you, they expect at least to know what they need to do to complete the sale and when their package will arrive. And in this day and age, it’s really easy to get in touch, via email, phone, text message or even twitter! (Sidebar: What’s a twitter you ask? A really fun way to stay in touch! More about that in a future post.)

So guide your customers along the way. Talk to them. Email them when you receive payment, when you expect the product to ship, and when it has shipped so they know to watch for it. If you have a problem or are waiting on a back order of beads, email your customer and explain the hold up. Most people are very understanding, if you just give them the opportunity to be. If you don’t communicate though, and a package takes longer than expected to arrive or the product is not exactly what was pictured (and with handmade that is often the case), you might find you have an unhappy customer at the other end. And we all know we don’t want that.

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About a month ago, I sent out an order to a repeat customer (my favorite kind!) While she loved the album as always, this one was a rush order for her, and I made the mistake of throwing the album into a plain plastic bag and just sending it. She was very disappointed that it wasn’t wrapped the way I always send my albums…in tissue, a clear plastic bag with a bow and a thank you note. I apologized profusely, and I’ve been very careful not to send an order out that way again. Customers buy an experience and if they take your item out of the box and get excited even before opening the package, you could have a customer for life!

Your packaging should reflect the same care and creativity that goes into your products. It makes for a special experience for your customer and it also helps them to remember you and your name. I add a thank you note that I created in Microsoft Word, put my logo and a picture on there, so it helps customers remember my brand. Right now, I’m also enclosing a 20% off coupon for each customer’s next order. The holidays are closer than you think.

Treat your packages that are going to customers the way you would expect to receive something or would like a gift sent to a loved one.

Recently, I purchased some fabric on eBay. The fabric was gorgeous, arrived very quickly, but the seller only enclosed a receipt. There was nothing to remind me of her name. I might not buy from her again, because who knows if I’ll remember who she is? And that’s a shame because I buy A LOT of fabric, and I could be a great repeat customer.

Put something in each package that brands you and helps your customers remember who you are. Package your products with care so your customer knows that whenever they receive a package from you, it will be special. It doesn’t have to cost a lot! When those customers come back again and again, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

I buy tissue and bags at Nashville Wraps. They are inexpensive, I can buy in bulk and it’s easy. I’m off to get some gift boxes!!

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In this third part of how to take advantage of slow online summer sales and get ready for the holiday selling season, it’s all about getting your name out there.

On Etsy, on eBay, everywhere you find crafters and artisans selling their wares, you also hear grumbling about copycats or too many jewelry people at a show or not enough traffic to a site or a show. This is the time of year to take these matters into your own hands and promote your business, be it for local shows or your online store. Get your business brand out there as the best in your field. That way, if someone tries to copy your work, most people will know you and come to you anyway.

On the homefront, if you do local craft fairs, consider placing a small ad or two in local papers or on Craig’s list to let people know where you’ll be (offer a discount if they mention that they found you through one of your advertising venues). If you have a website, post a show schedule so people can easily find where you’ll be. Have kids? Pass out business cards (with your web address) and talk up  your upcoming shows with other moms at the pool, picking up kids from camp or daycare, wherever moms meet!

Offer to throw a home party where the hostess gets a hefty discount based on sales from your showing. Hey, it works for Pampered Chef and Candlelite! It’s a captive audience and a good show can net you some tidy profit in an otherwise slow selling environment.

Participate in local charity events, offering coupons for gift bags, your items as auctions or prizes.

For your website or online stores: Promote Now!!

Start blogging and talking about new items you are showcasing. Add pictures of your work! Or scope out blogs where you’d like your products and company featured. Comment on other people’s blogs where your work might get exposure. Check out Mommy bloggers who review products and ask if they’d like to review yours. Keep in mind, you’ll have to send free samples, but well worth it if you land on a blog with tons of traffic.

Issue press releases on PR Web. Join Facebook and flickr and upload new photos of your work. Join smaller social networks either related to your craft or with folks that might buy your craft like poshmama.com. Create an email list of past customers and start emailing them once every week or so now to promote new creations and give discounts. Stay front and center, so when customers are buying again, they come straight to you. Do these things now, and your holiday season will rock!

Last but not least, have faith. We all go through ups and downs. Before you know it, the weather will turn crisp, and sales will pick up. In the meantime, leverage whatever holidays/events there are. Sell jewelry specific for weddings. Create cards for baby occasions, cause those are always coming up. Get those bags and clothes ready for back-to-school season. And be ready for the rush of orders because they will come in!

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Ok, so this might be kind of an odd topic for a craft blog, but there’s a point.

I went to breakfast with a friend this morning, which required me to take the infamous Long Island Expressway a few exits to meet her in the middle, infamous because if you have to commute on it on any given weekday, it’s torture. I know. I did it for 10 very long years. On Sunday morning though, until the Hamptons traffic starts to go home, it’s never that bad…most of the time.

Then I took the LIE back east to go home and I noticed something that was so strange to me. They were closing off the westbound road, which I could only assume was for some kind of construction project because I didn’t see any horrible collisions. I didn’t notice any signs on the way in though.

And here’s the odd part. The police at the exits were at the entrance to the LIE, not at the top of the exit ramp, where motorists would have known NOT to get on at all. Instead, at at least 4 exits in a row, there were state police right at the LIE entrance, and cars backed up into the ramp, maybe 10 or 20…poor suckers. And then, AND THEN… I saw where the main closure was at exit 60, and I was just floored. Because the cops were not blocking the road where the exit let off….they were quite a ways past it, and there were at least 100 cars, if not more (hard to count when you’re going 60 miles an hour in the opposite direction), all jammed up in 4 lanes between where they should have gotten off and where the cops had them trapped. There was no place for them to go, and there was no way, with the cars piling up behind them, they were backing up.

I was so happy that I was going the other way. On a Sunday, the last thing you want to do is sit in traffic in 90 degree heat on the LIE. And let’s not mention the gas–oh the gas–to sit there with the car running for AC…Yikes!

I’d really like to know what brain surgeon set up that traffic closure pattern and why not one of the cops didn’t think to go to the TOP of the exit ramps to avoid traffic jams.

Anyway, if the brass or whoever is making the decisions had just used a little common sense, they could have avoided what may end up being a heatedly discussed topic in the homes of those who were trapped, and people like me shaking their heads in amazement the whole way home.

The point of the story? Common sense. We all need to use it…in our daily lives, our business and on our websites and online stores. Consider the traffic patterns before you lay out your site…how do customers browse? How can you make it easy for them to press that button and buy from you? How can you prevent roadblocks? Have clear directions and make your site/store easy to navigate. Avoid roadblocks. If it’s not easy to drive, people won’t stay and they won’t buy from you. They’re not trapped on the Information Superhighway.

Is my site perfect? Not on a bet. It’s pretty, but functionally, it’s clunky and I think difficult to navigate. I had a designer create it too fast (getting ready for a show), and I didn’t really know as much as I know now. I spent a sizable chunk of money on a website that I barely use. As soon as I have enough money to start over, I will be revamping that site.

That’s why I love sites like eBay and Etsy. They make it easy to navigate, when you do make mistakes, they don’t cost an arm and a leg, and it’s a good place to start so you understand what’s needed when you do have your own site.

I’m so glad I don’t have to go West on the LIE today!

A typical commute on the LIE

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I just came home from food shopping. Sam’s Club, the supermarket, and finally, the neighborhood butcher, where we have been buying all of our meat and cold cuts for the past 11 years. And I’m always amazed at this little neighborhood store. It’s not a pretty shop; it’s in a strip mall that could definitely benefit from a facelift, and yet, the place is always packed, and I mean always. And I’ll tell you why.

Everyone who works in this store is incredibly accommodating, courteous and friendly. I have never in 11 years had poor service. It is chaotic because it’s always so crowded, but you never wait more than 5 minutes. Everyone smiles and appears happy to help, even the newest generation of young ones learning the ropes. And they still figure out your tab on a little piece of paper, sometimes with a calculator, even though they have high-end registers.

It’s a family business, but the training must be rigorous. It’s got to be tough to smile at every customer when there are at least 15 people crowding the store. However, I bet it’s easy to smile at the end of the day when cashing out the register.

So here’s the thing. The owner of this store probably lives in the lap of luxury because he creates the ultimate customer experience in his little neighborhood shop. Customers buy “the experience.” Sure, they are buying a product too, but I can get cold cuts in at least 5 different places by my house, and I will only go to the butcher, even though he’s not the least expensive. I’ll wait until Monday because they are closed on Sunday if I have to. I know when I go into this shop, someone will always smile at me and brighten my day.

I try to live by those same principles in my own business, even though it’s online. I’m courteous and happy to serve. I’m accommodating and I always try to be cheery, even in the face of chaos. Because I want my customers to come back and have that same experience again. My albums are unique and they aren’t the least expensive. I know if I don’t treat my customers like the gold they are, while they may like my product, they’ll find something else and a better experience somewhere else. To have any thriving business, repeat customers are a huge part of the equation.

Treat your customers like gold. And you’ll go home from your little “neighborhood” shop much richer for the experience.

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