I have been selling online my thrift finds and other stuff for a couple of years now. And aside from being an online seller, I also buy a lot online. I buy both personal items and items to flip. Sometimes, I do experience bad customer service from other online sellers. Luckily, there are way more online sellers that are very easy to talk to compared to those who just make you feel that they don’t even care about you as a prospective customer.
Online shopping is booming not only in the Philippines but also around the world. This has become more evident during the lockdown period. Since we’re not allowed to go out that much and most shops are close, people resorted to buying their needs online.
As an online seller, I always make sure that I provide the utmost care in dealing with every message that I get. It does not matter if it’s just a question regarding an item or if it’s a purchase.
I make sure that I treat all messages from everyone as an important matter. I always keep in mind how I also want to be treated as a customer when dealing with people who contact my online store.
What is Customer Service?
In my opinion, customer service is a process. It is a process of taking care of your customers before, during, and after a purchase. It’s a very difficult and time-consuming thing to do and sometimes it can be emotionally draining too especially if you’re a one-man show.
But I feel that this is one of the most cost-effective ways to stand out amongst the growing number of online sellers.
I run my online store on my own and some of the things that need to be done include:
- Purchasing inventories online and offline
- Washing and steaming clothes
- Cleaning leather goods
- Taking pictures of items
- Posting for sale items on multiple online shopping websites
- Answering queries
- Receiving payments
- Packing items to be shipped
- Shipping purchased items
- Monitoring shipments
- Continuous learning about trends, design aesthetics and brands
- Monitoring competitors online
- Observing best practices from competitors
I’m basically a one-man show. Sometimes I don’t even know how I survive a week LOL. But since I’ve been doing this for quite some time now, I feel that I get to do things faster now compared to when I was starting up. Nevertheless, doing all of the stuff I mentioned above gets overwhelming sometimes especially when activities overlap.
Most of the time, I’m in the middle of doing something else and I need to answer multiple queries at the same time. It’s tough. But every time I answer a query (regardless if they purchased or not), I feel happy and grateful knowing that someone took notice of my merchandise. In an ocean full of online sellers, someone notices a product of mine. And I know that that DM can be converted into sales.
Why is Customer Service Important in Online Selling?
Customers are the Lifeblood of Business
Customer service is the most important part of your business. If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.
People will have a hard time remembering you as their ‘Go-to shop’ because of the way you treated them the first time they contacted you. As online sellers, we have to understand that customers are the lifeblood of our business. Without customers, there will be no business to run.
The competition nowadays even for small shops, has become global. eBay, Grailed, Depop, and Instagram sellers can sell to anyone in the world that has a courier service. If you take your customers for granted, they will take their business somewhere else.
Prospective Customers can be Repeat Customers
This is one of the reasons why I always treat each message with the utmost care. Prospective customers or those who have not purchased anything yet can become repeat customers. I have some repeat customers who started as someone inquiring about the size of an item and they have been buying from me ever since.
Once they know that they can trust you, that you’re easy to talk to and that you provide hassle-free transactions, they will always remember your shop.
Customers can Help Market your Business
If your customers are happy, then chances are, they will tell you about their family, friends, and colleagues. I have some customers who have referred their friends to my online shop thus helping me sell more items.
It goes the other way around too. If your customers are unhappy with the products or services that they got from you, then they will surely let everyone in their friends’ list know about it.
Information is easily spread nowadays because of social media and you don’t want your shop to be famous for the wrong things.
Your Customers can Help Improve your Business
Customers whom you have impacted positively or negatively will provide you feedback. If you are using eBay, Carousell and Grailed, you know that there’s a feedback system that is shown to the public. In my years of experience working in the customer service industry, I know that there are only two reasons why customers leave feedback:
- You satisfactorily met and/or exceeded their expectation
- They had a horrible experience
Most customers don’t leave feedback. Why? Because writing a feedback takes up some of their time. And for sure, they have other things in their lives that they’d rather spend their time on than writing feedback. Some will only leave feedback if they’re either happy or unhappy with your business. And for sure, just like any other business, you would want your customers to leave your shop good feedback.
When customers leave feedback, be sure to read it and address the issue right away if it’s negative feedback. Even though you might not be able to change the previous feedback anymore, you can help yourself dodge future negative feedback by learning from that experience.
If it’s positive feedback, don’t forget to reply with gratitude and appreciation.
Pre-sale Customer Service in Online Selling
You can start taking care of your customer even before they contact you. Here’s how:
Provide All Needed Information in All Listings
I do sell thrifted clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories online. And, I always make sure that I provide the following information in each post to help the customer know what their buying:
>>> I include multiple pictures of the item (various sides) taken in a well-lit area with a neutral colored background. In case you’re wondering, I use a ring light with a stand to ensure that my items are well-lit when taking pictures.
>>>All posts include the actual measurements of the item. Since I’m selling preloved items, size tends to deviate from the size on the tag because of wear and (possibly) frequent wash.
>>>Flaws and damages are also mentioned in the posts if there would be any. I usually don’t sell items that have multiple flaws anymore. However, sometimes, there are gorgeous pieces with minimal flaws that I think someone will still like.
>>>Sometimes, regardless of how much I adjust my lighting, I could not capture the actual color of the product. I do mention this in my posts as well to help manage the customers’ expectations.
>>>Payment options, shipping options, and return policy are also included in each post.
Set Expectation Even Before the First Contact
I set the expectation to customers in all of my posts on the online shopping websites that I use. Aside from details about the items, I also tell them the following:
>>>I mention in my posts that I respond within 24 hours. Although in practice, I usually respond just a few minutes after I receive a message (as long as I’m awake).
I set this expectation because, in the Philippines, there are many call center employees who work in various shifts (adapting to the time zones of their overseas clients). And also, since I started selling in Grailed, some inquiries are coming from people living in various time zones. I don’t want prospective customers to feel ignored.
>>>All posts also include the cut-off day for payment and the day of shipping. Prior to the quarantine period, I only ship every Saturday but since sales have been fewer recently, I usually ship the day after they make the payment.
>>>I also include some disclaimers at the end of the posts to set the right expectations. Let’s be real, there will be a miss regardless of how much I inspect the item. I always mention on the posts that they are buying preloved items and there might be some small stains, flaws, or minor damages that I may have not seen during the processing period.
>>>I also mention in listings that possible delays in shipping might happen especially during holidays or calamities such as typhoons (which is common in my country).
Prepare Products the Best Way Possible
Your products are the main reason why people contacted you. They probably find your product appealing and they feel that it will provide them a good value. Having said that, part of my pre-sale customer service checklist is to ensure that my products will meet the customers’ expectations.
>>>I make sure that they are washed, dry-cleaned (for some very sensitive fabrics and expensive labels), and steamed (to minimize creases).
>>>Garments are packed separately to minimize the possibility of color transfer with other items.
>>>Leather goods are cleaned and conditioned every now and then.
>>>If someone expresses an interest for a deadstock (an item posted for quite some time), I do provide them updated pictures.
Customer Service during Live Interaction
If you’re using Carousell and Instagram to sell, then interactions with customers are real-time. eBay and Grailed can be real-time too but it looks more of an email than a live chat. Some of the most common questions that I get from customers are about the size and about the price. Here are some tips on how to ensure successful interaction with customers during an inquiry and/or order-taking.
Be Honest and Factual
I have questions coming from customers who are size Medium but they’re inquiring about a Small size garment and asking me if it will fit them. Do not be tempted to say yes just to make a quick buck. I always refer them to the actual measurement that I posted online. This is to ensure that they won’t return an item due to the wrong size.
I have also been asked by the quality of the item especially items that have been posted for quite some time or those items that I consider as deadstock. What I do is I check the item again just to be sure and provide new pictures if needed. Sometimes, because the item had been stored for quite some time, it may/may not acquire some damages/deterioration/discoloration especially leather items.
Do not rely on the old pictures that you have taken about the particular item that they’re inquiring about. Take some time to double-check the item just to be sure.
Stay Polite but Firm if Needed
Most customers will haggle the price and it’s an expected thing in my opinion in online selling of thrifted items. I do accommodate and I do provide discounts as long as I will not lose money in the process. Sometimes, there are low-ballers who will bargain for almost a fourth of the listed price. What I do is I politely decline their offer and thank them for inquiring.
Fulfill your Promise – Response Time
I get DMs at any time of the day. Sometimes, messages appear on my inbox when I’m out thrifting, when I’m about to sleep or when I’m out for some errands. I do reply right away saying that I will get back to them after my errand and I will give them an estimated time. As soon as I get back home, I will respond to them and will check whatever item they need more information.
In case I fail to respond within the timeframe that I gave them due to some reason, I will apologize to them for the late response and I will give them afterward their needed information.
After-sales Customer Service in Online Selling
As soon as items are shipped, I do give the customers their tracking numbers. And, included in my message is asking them to inform me once they receive the package.
Here’s a sample of what I tell my customers:
Here’s what I tell the customers who opt for same-day delivery service:
For items that have been shipped using the regular courier, I track the package a day after the estimated date of arrival.
If no updates are shown on the tracking page of the courier’s website, I give them a call to track the package. This is to ensure that I’m on top of the situation in case a package gets lost or delayed.
Almost all of my customers inform me once they receive the package. As soon as I receive their update, I ask them for feedback online (not available on IG).
I like surprising my customers, so I always add a freebie in almost all shipments.
How to Handle Difficult Conversations?
There’s a great article that I’ve read on Forbes a few years back titled “Your Customers Are Not Always Right, But They are Always the Customer” that helped me understand customer service better. It’s true that you will encounter some difficult discussions with customers, but you have to remember that – they are still your customers.
A Customer wants to Refund/Return an Item
I don’t accept a refund or return. This is one of the expectations that I have set in all of my posts. That’s why I encourage them to ask me anything before they purchase an item.
However, in certain situations wherein I failed to declare a flaw or damage, I do offer several options:
>>>If the item is totally unwearable due to some damage which I failed to see (hardware malfunction – zipper, snaps, etc) I do offer a full refund (plus the cost of shipping) and will not ask for the item back anymore.
>>>If the item has some very minor flaw that I failed to declare (but I did mention that in my disclaimer), I will offer a 50% discount and they keep the item or 100% discount + shipping fee if they return the item.
So far, I only had two customers who complained about an item that they received for me. They both opted for the 50% discount and kept the items.
There’s one weird situation though last year. I had one customer who complained that the jeans I shipped her had two huge holes in the crotch area which I think is very impossible for me to miss because:
- The holes were too big and VERY impossible to be missed by anyone
- I bought the item, washed, ironed, and took pictures of, I would have seen those very big holes. I also remove lint on garments if there are any prior to packing using the rolling lint remover, I would have seen the damage if it was there.
- She sent me a pic of the jeans while she was wearing it outside (Why would you still wear jeans with two big holes in the crotch area?)
- The denim jeans are stretchable. I had two theories, (1) it wasn’t her size and she tried to wear it even if it’s too small for her or (2) the pics she sent me of the damaged garment is not the one that I shipped her.
I declined to accept the return. The weird thing was, she gave me a 5 Star review rating.
Note: Return policy might vary in other countries so be sure that you’re aware of what the return policy needs to be followed wherever you may be.
Whenever I ship an item during holidays, the typhoon season and now during the MECQ period, I always remind customers that there might be some delays. Luckily, I only experienced a few delays with the courier that I’m using and luckily, I have not lost any packages.
I did have one delayed package that I failed to monitor last year. All the details were correct when I sent the item to the courier, however, the courier brought it to their hub in another city for some unknown reason (perhaps a mistake with sorting). The two-day shipment became almost a week. I apologize to the customer and offered a 50% refund on the item.
The item was supposedly her gift to her son and I felt really bad that they did not get the package on time.
From that day on, I always monitor shipments and I also include in my profile that I don’t accept rush orders or any orders with a specific delivery date requirement unless they opt for same-day delivery service.
Online selling may not be as simple as you think but it’s also not as complicated as it sounds. Just keep the Golden Rule in mind and you’ll be fine.
And also, if you want to last long in this business or in any business, always think of your customer first. As I have said above, if you won’t take care of your customer, someone else will.
I hope that you learned a thing or two from this post about online selling. And, I also hope that it helps you earn more money from your online selling business.
If you have additional tips, suggestions, and recommendations about providing awesome customer service in online selling, please feel free to comment below.Customer Service 101 in Online Selling Click To Tweet