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Customers are one of the most important parts of your business.  Without customers, you don’t have a business.

One of the first questions I ask other business owners when we sit down to talk about their business is “Got customers?”.  Because without customers visiting spending money in your shop, you don’t really have an actual business.  More of a creative hobby that you do in your “spare” time.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the marketing philosophy to put your customer first.  It’s the idea is that you put the needs of your customer above all else.

When a potential customer visits your shop, your goal is to make them feel valued.  They need to know they’re an important part of your business or they’re not going to buy from you.  No matter what amazing promotion you’re running that month.

To create a successful customer first strategy, start by adopting the giving mindset.  Being generous with others brings out the generosity in them. And people are more important than money.  You need to showcase this winning attitude through how your treat your customers.

Even if you lose money.

Yes, I just wrote that.  Sometimes you need to lose money to develop trust with your customers.  And that’s okay.  They’re more likely to become loyal customers over time and repeat buyers.

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After about a year of running my online shop, I knew something was missing in my marketing strategy.  I wasn’t growing as quickly as I wanted to.

When I compared my shop to similar shops in my niche, I realized that a lot of other shop’s had amazing 5 star reviews to back up their work.  Those reviews were important.  They showed that their shops had happy customers, which made others want to buy too.

So, instead of spending more money that I didn’t have on ads and outside promotion, I focused more on customer service in order to get more 5 star reviews.  I worked on my communication, turn around times, order process and overall cheerfulness.

And it worked.  Customers started leaving 5 star reviews often.  Without me having to ask or remind them.

Now my shop has over 1,400 five star reviews on a variety of products.  These serve as validations that our products are great and customers enjoy using them.

(Please note that if you don’t currently have a lot of reviews in your shop, that’s okay.  They take time to get.  But the customer first strategy does help.)

So, customers matter.  A lot.  And it’s important to find ways to put your customer first every day.  

Here are some of my favorite ideas that I use to put my customers first.  Pick one or two to start using.  You might be surprised, but your customers will notice.

Respond Quickly and Kindly

In this day of technology, customers expect responses quickly.  They have questions and know that with technology, you can answer easily.

I aim to respond to messages within 24 hours.  I do have some boundaries with customer communication too, though.  On the weekends, I close the studio for family time.  So, I don’t respond to messages from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.  I also don’t respond to messages sent after 6 p.m. or before 7 a.m. in the morning.

Responding to messages quickly is not only good for your customer service, but also creating revenue.  If you get an answer to a customer quickly, they are more likely to purchase from you.  

Not only do you want to respond quickly, but also kindly.  Emails are funny that way.  They can come across as short and sometimes rude even when you didn’t mean to be.

I took a class on email etiquette once that said that email shouldn’t be treated too casually.  You should start all email communication with an opening and end with a closing – just like a letter.

I always address my customer by name when I respond to their question.  I try to provide helpful information and links that they might need.  Since my shop is only online, I don’t have the opportunity to interact directly with my customer.  So, I make my communication as friendly and full of information as possible.

Bend the Rules when Necessary

Shop policies are important and written for a reason.  It helps everyone understand how your shop runs.

I’m pretty proud of my shop policies.  They’ve taken years to develop and are based on many lessons learned from business transactions with customers.

I used to be a stickler about those policies.  But sometimes they need to be bent.  Although I stick to them still most of the time, there are situations where I change the rules a little to put the customer first.

Remember, you wrote them, so you can break them.  At least sometimes.

Keep Them Updated

One of the most important things to keep customers informed about is delivery times.  If you can’t deliver on what you promised or you’re running late, let your customers know.

When I’ve looked at shops that have a sudden dip in positive reviews, it’s usually because they couldn’t get the product to the customer in time.

You can update the shipping times easily in the Etsy order management system.  If you’re using Shopify or another e-commerce platform, contact your customers directly.  They need to know when to expect their product and you don’t want them worrying.

I had a huge issue with delivery during Hurricane Sandy.  Do you remember candy tubes?  For awhile they were a huge favor trend and I couldn’t keep them in stock.

It was fall wedding season and I had a large number of orders to complete.  I’d purchased a new set of candy tubes from my wholesaler and they were scheduled to be shipped.  Then, Hurricane Sandy hit. 

The one manufacturer of candy tubes closed due to the hurricane destruction.  For months.  I couldn’t complete any of the orders.  It turned out that no one else could either.

Although I contacted and cancelled the current orders immediately, I forgot to update the website.  The product listing still showed that we had the tubes in stock.  When no one else could fulfill the candy tube requests, customers thought we had the tubes in stock.  The orders flooded in.

It was hard letting customers know that I couldn’t come through either for their events.  Lesson learned.  Make sure that your inventory numbers are accurate and you keep your customers in the loop.  No matter how much you might disappoint them.

Give Something for Free

This is some of the best marketing advice I’ve ever received.  Sarah Titus, the printables guru whose known for her million dollar businesses, believes that you don’t need fancy ads and promotions to grow your shop.  You just need to give, give and give some more.

The giving mindset doesn’t come easy to every business owner.  It seems counter intuitive.  I have a shop to make money, not to give everything away for free.

But, giving is a way to make money.  More importantly, it’s the best way to build trust with your customers and create loyal buyers.

Everyone likes to receive a little something extra.  By giving to your customers as much as possible, you let them try your products, build authority in your niche and give them a reason to share your shop with their friends.

So figure out what you can give to your customers.  It could be free products (digital downloads work great here), exclusive sale days, creative ideas and helpful resources.

For my stationery shop, I created an amazing free printable kids birthday party bundle.  I wanted busy moms to be able to celebrate at the drop of a hat without much planning involved.  I even included a boy and girl color scheme so you can use it for any celebration.

It’s been really popular and has started building relationships with new potential customers faster.  I’ve really loved connecting with people again and glad it’s such a useful set of printables.

So, give.  And give often.  Be the business that tosses freebies around like their confetti.

Just because you gave something last month, doesn’t mean you should stop.  You should be giving all the time.  Adopt the giving mindset for your business early on and you will build a trusting relationship with your audience that will last for years to come.

Know your Customer

You’ve probably heard it before, but to be successful you need to know your audience.  This mainly goes for marketing – you’d hate to promote your product to the wrong people – but it’s also is important to know how to put your customer first.

In my business, most of my customers are busy moms.  As I’ve learned over the years, busy moms don’t always have time to plan their kids birthday parties.  They want to, but it’s usually the thing that falls to the wayside when they’re juggling so many other things.

These busy moms also sometimes even forget that their children’s birthday are coming up.  Many function on little sleep and need designs quickly.

At the same time, they still want their children’s birthday party to be special.  Tough balance to find there.

Since truly understanding my audience more, I try to cut these moms some slack through my customer service.  Not everyone remembers to send the right information the first time or approve the proof immediately.

Take the time to understand your customers.  It will make it easier to create policies that put your customer first and actually help them.

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Build a Relationship

I’m going to let you in on a little marketing secret.  A potential customer might not buy from you the first time.  Or the second.  Sometimes not even the third or fourth.

They actually might not ever buy from you.  They might just tell their friends about you.

Instead of worrying about converting every single view and website user into a buyer, focus on building a relationship with them instead.  Make it easy for them to sign up for your mailing list, follow you on social media and learn more about you on your website.

Let your potential customers get to know you.  Build a relationship with them based on trust.  Provide your visitors with helpful resources and lots of freebies to try.  They will always come back to your shop.  Again and again.

Deliver What you Promised

Have you ever purchased something and when it arrived, you discovered that it WASN’T what you thought you ordered?  How did you feel?

I know I’ve had my fair share of disappointment from making purchases online.  It can leave me pretty annoyed and frustrated – especially when I go back to read the product description only to find out that the product that was shipped doesn’t match the description.

Make sure that your product description is clear and your customer knows exactly what they are ordering.  If you say you’re going to use certain colors, materials or design pieces, make sure you do.

Also, set reasonable shipping dates that you can actually meet.  Although you can’t affect postal service delivery times, you can control when it leaves your shop.  If you foresee any delays, contact the customer.  Let them know about a potential delay and when the product should be delivered.

Be Honest

This one is really important to putting your customer first and building a trusting relationship so they come back again.  Be truthful.  Don’t lie.  Don’t even bend the truth – I’ve seen that a lot.

I’m asked weekly about creating handcrafted designs for customers in really short turn around times.  These customers usually got behind in their planning and need the items within a couple of days.  The postal service couldn’t even deliver them that quickly.

As much as I’d love to take all of these orders, I know that it’s impossible to deliver them.  So, I let the customer know as soon as possible.  They can always order a digital version instead.  I hate to disappoint, but my customers would be more frustrated if I promised delivery and they didn’t arrive.

So, be honest and up front.  No matter what.  This winning attitude will build trust with your customer and they’ll be more likely to come back.

Don’t Skimp on Quality

When creating your product, use quality materials that make your product stand out from a crowd.  There’s a lot of competition out there these days. Make your product one that customers will want to purchase again.

Choose materials that make your product amazing.  I know that this can be more expensive and mean less profit for you.  But a customer that receives a beautiful well made item is more likely to leave an amazing review and buy from your shop again.  You’d hate for someone to receive your item and think that it’s something they could have made themselves, purchased at the big box store down the street or wish they hadn’t bought it at all.

So, spend time in the beginning sourcing the best materials possible.  It will be worth it in the end.

Listen to Feedback

Customers love to tell you what they think.  Sometimes the feedback is positive and sometimes it’s not.  Whether you like the feedback of others or not, be sure to consider it.

Surprisingly, sometimes, customers have great ideas.  They can also give you a better perspective of the user experience in your shop.  It’s important to take their suggestions into consideration.

Final Thoughts…

Although working with every customer who walks into your shop isn’t going to be a perfect experience, customers are really important to growing your business.

And if you feed the relationship correctly from the beginning, they can also help your business become something amazing.

I will admit, though, no matter what you do, sometimes it’s still not going to be enough.  I had two customers recently whom I went above and beyond with their orders only to receive anger in return.

Remember, you aren’t in the customers’ shoes. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives at that moment.  

All you can do as the business owner is show grace.   So keep your head up, be as patient as possible and remember that everyone’s life story is unique.

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