Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Tara Swiger, author of Market Yourself: A System for Smart + Creative Businesses, and the community concierge at Vianza.com. At Vianza, Tara helps designers keep their wholesale information in one organized location, and today she is helping us better understand how to properly manage our wholesale relationships. Thanks, Tara, for this helpful post! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump . . .
If you’re a designer selling wholesale to indie boutiques, then you’re aware that the health of your business is directly related to the health of your relationship with your buyers. As a former indie boutique owner, a current wholesaling maker, and a community concierge for Vianza (where I help designers and boutiques simplify their relationships), I’ve learned that these relationships are built on communication. Clear communication will help set expectations, prevent misunderstanding and build trust. But all that communicating takes time and effort, which is in short supply in your business.
To save time, set up your communication strategy and system before you need it. If you’re already in need, take a day to create it now to save time later. Here are our five steps to keeping your customers happy and your communications clear.
1. Answer their questions before they ask.
Answering buyers’ questions before they ask will keep your inbox empty(ish) and give potential buyers the confidence that they have all the information they need to make that first purchase.
What kinds of questions should you answer?
Think through the buyer’s process: What will they need to know at every step? This includes product details, pricing, order minimums, policies, ship-by dates, shipping methods and payment procedures.
It used to be that you’d put all this info in a few dense paragraphs on your printed catalog or line sheet. But now your website can answer this and so much more, and it is infinitely easier to update. For the really important questions (like How do I place an order?), put the answer in more than one place: have it with your catalog, on your about page and anywhere else the buyer might think to look for it.
2. Respond promptly.
Yes, you’re busy. But what is more important than getting and keeping customers? You can save a lot of time by creating a system around replying. (Checking your email 50 times a day is a pretty ineffective system!)
- Start by scheduling times when you’ll answer questions and concerns, and make it daily so no one ever has to wait more than 24 hours (during the workweek).
- Draft a reply to the most frequently asked questions and save it, so you can just copy and paste it when you need to. (Gmail has an app called “Canned Responses,” which will let you save an email and then use it again in the future. You can find it under Settings / Labs.)
- If you find yourself answering a question with every customer, you know this is worthy of a one-time answer! Pop the question and the answer on your website.
- The last step in having a quick reply time is to train everyone on your team to answer the most basic questions (this is especially important if you speak to buyers on the phone). Everyone who answers the phone should be able to answer the most basic questions or find the information quickly. To bring everyone up to speed, keep track of the questions your team gets the most often, then compile the answers (or how to find the answers) and share them with everyone.
3. Check, check again.
The biggest obstacle between you and a happy customer is misunderstandings. Nip it in the bud by making sure you understand each other at every turn.
A few places to apply a particularly careful eye:
- Their order. After you’ve received it, let them know, and send them a copy so they can check that it’s correct (and so that they can compare it to what they receive).
- When their order will ship. Even if you’ve splashed this in 34-point font on every page of your website, you still need to give your buyer her specific, personalized date.
- Your payment policy. Ask your buyer to confirm that she understands the terms and when and how she’ll be expected to pay.
- After the order is shipped. Just because you popped it in the mail doesn’t mean she received it or that she’s happy with it. Follow up within a week of the expected receipt and ask for feedback. (This is a great way to collect glowing testimonials!)
4. Do what you say you’ll do.
Of course you intend to do what you said you would (or else you wouldn’t have said it!), but you can’t just rely on your good intentions. To be sure you do what you promise, keep track of what you say. And before you promise something, check yourself. Is it really possible to have their order ready in that timeline? Don’t overpromise; it’s far better to surprise the customer with your unexpected promptness than to disappoint her with your lateness.
One way you might be accidently overpromising is your website. Your buyer reads your website assuming it is current and true. If anything is out of date (from the products and the prices to the shipping times), buyers might expect something you’ve completely forgotten about. Give it all a quick read-through every month to make sure it’s current (this is another reason why it’s good to double-check with each order).
5. Communicate at every step.
It’s not enough to take the order and fulfill it correctly; your buyer wants to know you’re working on it. To keep her in the loop, let her know that you’ve received her order, are fulfilling it and when you’ve shipped it. And don’t forget to follow up to ensure that she happily received it!
Put these five points in practice, and you’ll soon be hearing how fantastic and easy to work with you are!