If you’ve been an ecommerce seller for more than one season, you know what the weeks ahead will bring: long work days, troubleshooting customer and vendor issues, putting out fires and trying to keep your fulfillment warehouse stocked so you don’t miss a single order. You probably won’t get enough sleep until January and you’ll be biting your nails until you see the final numbers that will tell you what kind of sales year 2016 was for your business. But you love it, right? You wouldn’t trade the freedom and flexibility of being your own boss for anything.
But maybe this year you can make it through with a little less caffeine and a little more rest. Here are some tips to help you survive the holidays and come out the other side with a smile on your face.
Don’t Be a Grinch to Your Customers
Charlotte from Chattanooga didn’t get the red sweater with reindeer that she orders. James from Des Moines wants to know why you sent his wife a tennis bracelet instead of the necklace with her name in gold letters that he ordered (the fact that she liked the tennis bracelet better and doesn’t want to exchange it is beside the point). And Mattie in Cincinnati practically jumped through the phone and choked you after the teapot she ordered for her mother arrived in the color she actually ordered instead of the color she meant to order.
Oh, the joys of customer service. The customer is always right, even when he is completely wrong. You can swear and yell after you hang up the phone but you must be polite and kind while you are on the line.
Lucky you – customer service builds character. Your worst customers are making you a better person. If you can respond with compassion, you’ll be able to diffuse all but the most irascible shoppers. You might want to scream when they are wrong and won’t admit it, but don’t do it. Be the bigger person.
Here’s the secret of great customer service: with a positive attitude and a few empathetic and understanding words, you can turn your fiercest critic into your biggest fan. Mattie in Cincinnati will end up keeping the yellow teapot for herself and ordering another one – in blue this time – for her mother. You’ll give her free shipping and everyone will walk away happy. Next thing you know, Mattie has pinned the yellow teapot on Pinterest and her friends are placing orders with “Mattie sent me” in the comments line.
Be kind to your customers – especially the worst ones – and you might find your heart grows three sizes this holiday season.
Take a Lesson from Santa and Talk to Your Reindeer
Santa Claus runs perhaps the largest and most sophisticated fulfillment service on the planet. You can learn something from him about keeping things running smoothly through the holiday delivery season. Santa is always saying something to his reindeer, whether it’s “On Dasher!” or a kind word for Rudolf.
Take a page from Santa’s book and keep talking to your fulfillment warehouse. Regular communications to make sure you’re both on the same page and to review any issues that may come up can head off bigger issues – or at least put you in a good position to deal with them when they do arise.
Remember that your 3PL provider is one of your vendors. Make sure your fulfillment center has good systems set up to help you stay on top of inventory and returns and to get your goods logged and onto the shelves fast. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The better you understand the processes and systems your fulfillment warehouse uses to handle your merchandise, the quicker you will be able to turn around inventory. As Santa’s surrogate, you’ve just got to get those gifts out the door!
Remember Who’s Naughty and Nice
Santa keeps track of who’s naughty and nice and you should do the same. Did a vendor fail to deliver on time and put you in a jam? Did your fulfillment center come through for you at a crucial point and put in a heroic effort to get a big order out on time? You may remember these things but there’s no substitute for writing it down, in the moment, so you can look back later and glean lessons for next year.
At the same time, like Santa, keep an open mind. That vendor who delivered late might move from naughty to nice if she offers you a discount on your next order and ships it early.
Take a moment to make a note anytime you say to yourself, “I’ll never do that again,” or “That worked really well!” This is the path to better holiday seasons, year after year.
Appreciate Your Favorite People
There’s a rule of thumb that 80 percent of your business will come from 20 percent of your customers. Cherish those customers – they will make your holidays merry and bright. Send them extra emails and promotions and make sure to thank them for their loyalty.
The same goes for employees and vendors. The holidays are the perfect time to show your gratitude for all the people who make your business prosper.
Be a Social Butterfly
Don’t underestimate the power of social media to drive your sales. Build personal connections with your customers on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media sites and they will do your marketing for you. Respond personally where you can. Social media is where your personality can shine through and win you more sales.
A social media management tool like Hootsuite, SocialFlow, or Buffer to plan and execute social media campaigns and still have time for the million and a half other tasks in your week. You don’t have to get sucked into the Internet vortex to be social during the holidays.
Stop and Have a Hot Toddy
The holiday season can be like the sprint at the end of a race. It’s a four-week sprint, though, so you have to pace yourself. You may be up early every morning, working as hard as one of Santa’s elves, but don’t forget to take time to recharge your batteries.
Take an afternoon off and go to the movies. Have a nice dinner with friends. Take a nap. Turn off your phone for a bit. Shard some eggnog under the mistletoe. You’ll be more productive when turn your attention back to your ecommerce shop. The internet won’t break if you walk away for an hour.