June 26, 2012

Placing Value on Customer Happiness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Meredith @ 9:28 am


You’ve probably heard this before but it bears repeating:

“If a customer has a good experience with a company they will tell one or two people, if they have a bad experience they’ll tell ten people.”

I can’t emphasize this point enough because I see the good and bad at work all day and if you own a business it’s important to think about this.

To begin with, at Ex-Boyfriend we strive for 100% customer happiness and we’re probably pretty darn close to that. This doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but when something goes wrong for our customers whether we are to blame or not, we try to fix it. If the postal service loses a shipment, we replace it on our dime. If we mail out a wrong or defective item to a customer, we don’t have them bother to mail it back unless they want to. If they want it off their hands, we send a prepaid postage label. If they don’t feel like mailing it back, we still replace the item fast and free of charge.

Does this sometimes mean we lose money on an individual transaction? Yes. But the rate at which this happens is very low, far less than 1%, and what we get in return is extremely happy customers who love us and tell people to shop with us and buy from us again and again. We are okay with losing a battle here and there if it means we’re winning the war. What we want with our customers is a long term relationship and that means treating them as we we’d want to be treated if we were the customer.

This all might sound like no-brainer stuff but you’d be amazed at how often I run into the opposite attitude when I’m a customer. A few months ago I decided to never buy anything ever again from a supplier I’d been buying from for years. I’ve spent at least $100 with her on every transaction and probably ordered from her at least half a dozen times before. The orders were always great, the replies to email were always fast. So what went wrong? The postal service lost a shipment she sent me. When I told her it was never delivered (even though the USPS marked it as such) she told us since the delivery confirmation says it was delivered she wasn’t replacing it and if we wanted our stuff we could buy it again at full price.

Was it the supplier’s fault our idiot mail carrier likely left a box of product unattended on our doorstep in the middle of Baltimore city and it was probably stolen 2 seconds later? Nope. But it’s not my fault either and the bottom line is I spent about $150.00 on a shipment I never got and I was pissed. This supplier was willing to do nothing to help us or try to make the situation right. So that was the end of her consistent business from us and the end of me telling other businesses to buy from her. Was it worth not replacing our $150 shipment that probably would have cost her less than $50? I wouldn’t think so. But this is the kind of short-sighted thinking I see from other businesses all the time.

Most of my suppliers and vendors aren’t perfect. Most of them screw up sometimes. The reason they continue to get their share of our company’s six figure operating budget is because of how they handle their mistakes. The vendors we keep are the ones who fix problems at their expense instead of leaving us on the hook.

Whether your customers are other businesses or consumers, making them happy can have a huge impact on future business. You’ll never know how much referral or repeat business you lost from pissing someone off. It’s not something you can measure. What I can see from doing our best to please our customer is the emails we get every day raving about our amazing customer service and how much our fans love our products.

Got a customer service story to share? Post in the comments below!


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May 25, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:53 am

Happy Friday! Settle in for a long holiday weekend with these small biz and marketing reads from around the web:


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May 18, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Check out this week’s recommended reads from around the web:


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January 16, 2012

5 Myths About Your Customers That Will Lose You Money


So you think you know your customers; would you be willing to bet on it? If you’re falling for these 5 common myths about your customers, you are betting on it. You’re betting the time and money you’ve invested in your business, and you may be betting on the wrong things.

1. Your customers are just like you
This is by far the most common mistake I see business owners make: they assume their customers are just like them. If only I had a dime for every time I heard an entrepreneur say “I would never _____ so I don’t ______ with my business”.
I recently wrote about adding social share buttons to my order confirmation pages. Several Etsy sellers were quick to protest that they’d never share what they buy with such a widget. Does this mean their customers wouldn’t do it and give them tons of free word of mouth? All I can say is I got this idea from Amazon.com, the largest online retailer. They’re #1 for a reason and they thought this type of feature was worth putting on their confirmation page. That alone makes this feature worth testing.

What to do about this
Don’t ever assume your customers think the way you do. The most reliable indicator of customer behavior is customer behavior — that means you have to test everything. Test new features and see what percentage of customers use them. Test new products and see how well they sell. Test different price points and see which ones are successful. Google has provided a terrific free tool, Google Website Optimizer, that allows you to actually test different versions of pages on your site.

I like to keep abreast of tons of online commerce sites like Practical Ecommerce and Get Elastic (you’ll notice I often feature my faves on Friday link lists). When I see an idea that looks promising I always test it out, regardless of whether the idea would work on me as a consumer.

2. Customers do what they say they would do
This is an easy trap to fall for. You’ll innocently ask on Facebook “Would you buy this in red or green?” your customers say red, so you order 100 in red and 20 in green. Sure enough you sell out of green in 2 days and you’re left with too much red.

There’s nothing wrong with asking customers for opinions or feedback, but don’t take what they say as a reliable indicator of what they would actually do. Testing in the real world is the best way to get an accurate answer.

What to do about this
Always test things before you invest heavily in an idea. When we’re trying out a new product at Ex-Boyfriend, we’ll usually pay more per unit to produce a smaller number of something new to see what sells best. Then we’ll invest in more inventory for the best sellers at a higher volume for a lower cost. Sometimes we ask for customer input, but we also listen to our gut a lot.

3. Customers speak your language
Nothing makes me crazier than maker-speak on product pages geared to customers. The average consumer doesn’t know what the hell cabochons or giclee means. They’re shopping with you because they don’t make their own prints or jewelry or bags or whatever you sell, so don’t use words they won’t understand. Your customer is not impressed that you used a toggle clasp for that necklace because she doesn’t know what it means. You’re better off writing “Includes a super secure locking clasp that won’t accidentally open, so losing this necklace on the go is never a worry.”

What to do about this
Ask a friend or relative to take a look at your product pages (make sure it’s someone who isn’t in your industry). Ask them if they see any words or descriptors on your pages that are unfamiliar to them. If your Aunt Sue or your next door neighbor doesn’t know what your product pages are talking about, your customers probably don’t either.

4. If they want to buy it, they’ll figure out how to use your website
Crappy user interfaces are another peeve of mine. I hate to see a product page where I can’t find the “add to cart” button, or websites where I can’t find the check out button. If your site is at all difficult or confusing to use, you’re losing sales. Don’t assume that your products are so great that your customers will suffer through a bad user interface to place an order. There’s too much competition out there, so your site’s usablity needs to be top notch.

What to do about this
Having fresh eyes on your site is a great way to see if your site suffers from this problem. To make sure my site is easy to use, I always give it a “mom test”. This means I call up my mom, who is probably less computer savvy than my cats, and ask her to buy something on a website. If she can’t figure out how to do it, there’s work to be done.

5. Customers read
Everyone is busy busy busy, this means they probably don’t have time to read every word on your site. Your job is to make sure the most important information is highly visible to customers, easy to digest and reiterated in key places. Customers are not going to read paragraphs of text, so if you’ve written your terms about ship times, returns, etc. inside a novel your customer probably never saw it. Customers look at pictures and headlines, customers skim.

What to do about this
Make sure your website is skimmable. You’ll notice I do that here on Smaller Box, you can usually get the gist of a post I’ve written by reading the headlines and then read the entire thing if you’re intrigued. This means my content can be a quick snack or a full meal, depending on how busy you are, but you’ll be able to get info you need either way. You can do this with your product-based website too and here’s how:

  • Put as much info as you can into bullets. Bullets are great for product descriptions.
  • Use bold and headlines for really important information (i.e. Return Policy should be a bolded headline, and then how returns work can be written in bullets or a few short sentences)
  • Reiterate information in key places (i.e. put delivery time frames on product pages, check out pages and confirmation emails. Your customers are looking for this information so don’t make them dig for it, put it every place they could possibly look so they’ll see it right away)
  •  Use images instead of text whenever possible. People are drawn to photos, so if your bag has interior pockets with zippers it’s important to put this in your product description AND show a photo of the inside of that bag.

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June 29, 2011

7 Little Tricks For Making Your Company Look Like a Big Deal


Ever hear the expression “dress for the job you want”? What it means is, if you keep showing up to the office in cut off shorts and ratty t-shirts, people will think you look like you belong in the mail room and that’s where you’ll stay. If your business is, figuratively speaking, dressed like a ragamuffin, it’s always going to be one. If you want to run a million dollar business, then fake it til you make it. Below are 7 ways you can make your business look like a big deal:

1. List your Phone Number
Real businesses have phone service. If you want to look like one, include a contact number on your website, ideally some place easy to spot. It says “we’re a real company, with real staff waiting to take your calls.” Even if you can’t man your phone line 24/7, have a professional voice mail greeting that implies that customer calls are returned in a timely fashion. (And then actually return the calls in a timely fashion.)

There are dozens of services that provide phone numbers for small companies. You can even get a free number from Google Voice (though it does have Google Voice branding on it). If you are willing to spend a little, you can get a toll free number for less than 10 bucks a month.

Bonus: Having a phone number ups your website’s trust factor, an important component of conversion rate optimization. People want to give their money to businesses that seem trustworthy. Having a phone number listed makes your business seem more like it can be trusted to take a credit card number and deliver products.

2. Have a beautiful web design
Not just any old website will do, you need a website that looks really great. Having an attractive professional website makes your business seem successful. It makes journalists more willing to write about you. It makes wholesale buyers more interested in doing business with you. It makes consumers more willing to trust you.

If you’re thinking “web design is hard” or “a web designer is expensive”, consider all the money and opportunities you’ll lose by having a terrible website.

3. Have great product photos
Great looking product photos are an extremely important part of your company’s image. Don’t bother with indoor lighting and a cheap camera. You want your photos to look compelling. Like a great web design, great product photos impress all kinds of online visitors from customers to the press.

If you want to take your own product photos, do some research to see how other people have staged photos of similar products. This will give you ideas on how to stage your photo shoot. Then be sure to work with proper lighting, so photos don’t look murky or gray. Finally, do some retouching in a program like Photoshop, so your photos look perfect.

If you’re not up for all this work, consider hiring a professional photographer to shoot your items. There are even photographers that specialize in doing product photography and will shoot your products for a pretty affordable rate, usually charging per product photo.

4. Merchandising
Merchandising products on your website in a variety of ways is useful for several reasons. It makes your product catalog seem bigger and it makes shopping for products easier. I wrote a detailed piece for Design Sponge last year on ways to merchandise a shop. You’ll notice a lot of bigger companies merchandise their online stores using the same strategies.

5. Publicity
Getting a mention from a major media outlet is not only a great way to increase brand awareness and give your sales a boost, it also makes your company look important. These placements give you credibility with both retail customers and wholesale customers, so they’re a valuable boon to your business if you can get them. Once you’ve scored them, you can use them on your website, adding logos like “as seen on” to product pages and your home page.

Not sure how to get publicity? Check this out, I’ve written a very detailed how-to.

6. Engaged Social Media Followers
Want to convince media outlets, wholesale buyers, competitors or potential new retail customers you’ve got an army of rabid fans? Of course you do, and social media makes that easier than ever. By truly engaging your fans on sites like Twitter and Facebook (instead of just selling to them), you can get them to talk to you and about you, thus making your fans seem like they’re crazy for you.

Some tricks that help:
- Ask questions that prompt responses
- In your product packages, include a note that asks customers to share a photo of themselves using your product on Facebook
- Take photos of fans at live events using your products and tag them on Facebook/share them on Twitter and Flickr
- Shoot videos of live events and interview your customers. You can just ask a couple of quick questions such as “what did you buy from [insert brand name] today?” or “what did you enjoy best about today’s event?” Then post to Youtube and let fans know they’ve been featured.

7. Product Presentation
If you’re just shoving your products into a mailer with an invoice print out from Paypal, STOP IT! You’re leaving the customer with the impression that you’re simply a transactional seller and not a real brand to be remembered. You want every customer who gets your package to remember it, so make sure your packaging isn’t an afterthought. This includes creating a stylish branded invoice and adding other little details to make your brand seem like a big deal. This can include hang tags, branded products or little freebies like branded vinyl stickers. These same rules apply to samples that go to the media. If your shipment looks impressive, it’s going to make an impression on anyone who gets it.

Bonus Tip for Wannabe Big Shots: A lot of small businesses who sell online take Paypal. It’s super easy and inexpensive to implement. The problem is, it makes you look pretty small time. Having the ability to take credit cards makes you look like a bigger company. If you’re a Paypal junkie, consider their virtual terminal product. It’s a nice all-in-one solution. This isn’t your only option, of course. A little research on merchant accounts will help you find plenty of other vendors that enable you to take credit cards online. And you need not completely ditch Paypal. Accepting both cards and Paypal is a great way to look professional and satisfy customers who have a preference for one of those two payment methods.


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June 10, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Happy Friday! Below are my recommended reads from around the web for the week:


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February 18, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 8:48 am


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


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January 21, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

December 17, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

December 3, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

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