I hope you all had a great weekend! Brenda from Phydeaux Designs back to talk with you about writing again. Last week, we talked about writing your online shop announcements, profile and other business details. We touched on communication, which deserves its own post, if not entire series! This week, we’ll continue to talk about communication.
Were you surprised last week when I stated “you have not successfully communicated if your intended message isnt received?” People commonly believe that they have successfully communicated by virtue of saying or writing something. They often look at me like I am nuts when I ask if they confirmed that their audience understood – in the way they intended – what was communicated.
If you walk into a storeyou can speak directly with a salesperson. If you aren’t happy with that communication, you can ask clarifying questions. You can escalate your conversation to the supervisor or manager. You can tell if the people you’re talking with are sincere by the tone of their voice, body language, and expression on their face. You can adjust your voice or expression in response. Not surprisingly, face-to-face communication is more effective than other forms, because of the immediate interaction and what is clearly said nonverbally.
If you order something from an online retailer, you can call a phone number to speak with a customer service representative. Again, you can ask clarifying questions and you can speak with a supervisor or manager. You can make some judgments based on voice tone, but you aren’t able to see facial expression or body language. Verbal communication (phone, internet-based) is considered the second best form of communication.
If you order something from an online retailer without a customer service or other phone number, you have to entirely rely on written communication. Written communication is considered the worst form of communication, as a one-sided means of conveying one’s position or opinion without the interaction or engagement required to truly understand one another.
Most independent sellers really don’t have financial resources to set up a separate toll-free business phone number. Additionally, many of us don’t want to make our private phone numbers public. In an ideal world, your customers will never have to call you with a question or complaint about a purchase. In reality, nearly every online seller has the occasional less than satisfied customer. Rather than hope for the best, why not try to anticipate and prevent what may upset customers via your shop announcement, policies and product descriptions?
A common theme I’ve heard from sellers about customer complaints is this: “if they just read (fill in the blank), they would have known what to expect.” This is a perfect opportunity for improved communication, because if your customers don’t understand what you want them to know about doing business with you, you haven’t effectively communicated!
There’s a general rule of thumb that you have to say something at least three times for it to be heard (not the same as understood). If you put your shipping timeline only in an automated email to customers on ordering, you’re significantly decreasing your chances to communicate your time to ship. I update shipping time for made on order items in my announcements, include general shipping time in my policies, note in product descriptions to check my announcements for shipping times, and include shipping time in my automated email. Additionally, I let my customers know via personal communication when their item will ship. I don’t always use PayPal, so never rely on a PayPal-generated email alone to do that communication. I’d wager that the only communication most of my customers really read is the personal message I send them following order. They likely glance at the others, but don’t really read the content.
There’s another rule of thumb that you should avoid responding to an angry or distressing communication immediately, lest you respond in kind. I’ve more often than I care to admit sent emails that I almost immediately regret and have learned (the hard way) not to respond until the next day. With new perspective, I am almost always able to respond in a much more level-headed manner. If I respond emotionally, regardless of the situation, I will most likely miss out on the intended message. By delaying my response, I’m able to spend more time trying to understand the message, which may result in asking clarifying questions and making sure I understand what the person is trying to tell me.
This may be the single most important piece of advice I can give any online seller about communication. If you’re the customer, do you want to receive an emotional or unpleasant response to your concern or complaint? Probably not! If you were in a store or on the phone, you would immediately ask to speak to a supervisor! Wait on responding to messages evoking on emotional response – you will nearly always be grateful the next day. As you become more skilled with this, you’ll need less time to cool off and will be able to respond more quickly in a calm and professional manner.
You might not agree with any of the above. I often read in the forums of online venues questions about communication, with the invariable answer to communicate as little as possible directly with your customers, based on belief that there are far too many emails or other communications “cluttering up” their inboxes. However, in order to effectively communicate, you do need to interact with your customers directly. If your customers are annoyed by your personal communication, they will likely be a minority. If your message anticipates their potential questions (e.g., shipping time, how to contact you with questions), you’ll increase their satisfaction right out of the gate. I would never advocate using that message to refer your customers to your policies page, which just makes them do more work; instead, just tell them what you want them to know about your policies.
Effective written communication is not hard, but it does take some work on your part. You’re responsible for ensuring that you have effectively communicated your intended message. This isn’t up to your customers! Make it easy for them to understand what you are trying to say. Anticipate and answer their possible questions in your shop’s documentation as well as your own personal messages. Avoid responding emotionally to communications – take some time to cool off so that you can understand (and clarify) what is being asked or said. This may take time, but consistently practiced and deliberate communication will make your life as an online seller so much easier and will most certainly improve your customer satisfaction!
How does this resonate with your own business and experience, both as a customer and as a business owner? Do you agree with the need for deliberate and continual communication? If not, what makes you disagree? Finally, what best practices can you share about effectively communicating?