Customer service should be the easiest thing in the world; this is a group of people that want to give me money for a service which I provide. Their money allows me to continue providing the service and, as a by-product, allows me to purchase much needed food from time to time. I also find that the better my products become, the more customer revenue is generated and this is why I strongly believe in the notion of meritocracy and, to a lesser extent, the capitalist model itself.
I find the process whereby people give me money to be, frankly, beautiful.
However, this seamless revenue cycle wasn’t always so smooth. Back in December 2010 (BarSoap’s debut) both Kate and I were particularly green as salesmen; we knew wanted money, but how to get it? I can very simply outline our problem with this flowchart.
Desire for Revenue > Create Saleable product > ??? > Revenue
Basically, we lacked one vital element.
Although we sold a respectable 41 bars that day I felt our customer interaction could use some work. We were friendly and enthusiastic but, if you’re asking people to pay £3.50 for a bar of soap, you need to lucidly explain why this is twice as expensive as supermarket brands. Initially we tried to encourage discussion with the informal query “This is all hand-made, so if you have any questions…” Unsurprisingly, no-one had any questions about hand-made bars of soap – I’m a Soapmaker and I’d struggle to come up with a suitable question about soap if someone put me on the spot like that, I’d just stand there gawping like a dunce.
|Me, selling a moisturising Goats Milk and Honey Bar|
Our shortcomings were pointed out to us at the next fair by a stall owner who sold bits of newspaper fashioned in the shape of animals (quite a market for them apparently) and bless her tiny newspaper animals, she was right. Kate decided a better line of questioning would be “Have you tried handmade soap before?” which invites a response of at least “Yes.” or in other cases “No.” thus allowing us to explain the benefits to people who haven’t previously used handmade soap.
Now, I have noticed that other stall holders don’t actively engage customers as much as we do; I can understand that if someone had made a knitted jumper or fashioned a bracelet encrusted with diamonds and other shiny things then they’ll pretty much sell themselves. However, whilst I don’t like to think of us as pushy, this is a heathen age of shower gel, alcohol wipes and misleading beauty products, the humble soapmaker has to scream, shout and fight to survive. That’s right... fight to survive.
We at BarSoap do try to engage our customers and be friendly *and* informative though, at present, we don’t subscribe to the “Customer is always right” maxim. For example, the three customer who smelt each bar several times (and spent over 15 minutes at our stall) constantly intoning “But I don’t use soap” in an ever increasing vocal pitch… they were wrong (though did buy something to which I thank them) The customer who started using our soaps as lego blocks whilst making strange tutting sounds and asking Kate if soap would make his girlfriend love him, he was wrong (soap alone isn’t going to make anyone love him, I fear) and the customer who very vocally wanted a 50% discount on one bar of soap… he was wrong too. That said, customer service, for better or worse, does expose one to the gamut of human personality traits and I eagerly await out next stall – be it profitable or anecdotal.
A virtual hug to the person who posts their most disagreeable customer…