Monday, July 11, 2011

The Ugly Underbelly

I have been selling stuff  for over 9 years now.  First on Ebay and now on Etsy and through a gallery and flea market.  Most of the time, everything works out hunky-dory, but occasionally you go through seasons that are just no fun.  I have been going through a season that is just no fun.

In the past month, I had a buyer report me for non-delivery. That was new.  (It was an international order and it just takes a long time.)  Then Canada had a postal strike so I couldn't even send a box their way for awhile.  Another buyer from January contacted me to say that her very large insurance refund had not come through yet.  Another box was returned, undeliverable.  Another buyer was unhappy with the quality of their item.  For a two week period, I had almost no orders (which is really odd).  At the flea market, I had over 100 dollars worth of stuff stolen.  And at the gallery there was a controversy over a possible new artist.  Some things that happened were my mistakes. Most were completely out of my control.  All of them were rather stressful as they required extra time, energy and money that won't be recouped in the immediate future.

I'm not whining.  I mean, I HAVE whined.  I have asked myself if I'm in the wrong line of work and maybe I should get a REAL job at....at....at....you know....someplace that I can wear my pajamas, work in bed until 9:30, be around my kids and church folks if they need me, be at home most of the time, not have to buy a work wardrobe, and limit my driving to places I would probably go anyway for fun.  Flexibility is expensive.

Robb laughs at me a little bit.  "Sometimes works sucks. That's normal." 

He's totally right.  It is normal.  You do have lousy stuff happen that is out of your control.  What is in your control is trying to handle things with concern for your customers, understanding that they might be coming on aggressively because they think they have to in order to get the attention they need for their problem.  They don't know me.  They don't know that all I want in the world is a smooth transaction with a happy customer, maybe even a returning customer.  I hate it when something doesn't go smoothly and I hate it when an item gets broken in the mail.  The reality is that the more people that are involved in the process, the greater the chances that something will go wrong. All I can do is pack boxes to survive a four foot drop, use common sense in labeling them (because it's easier than you think to switch two labels on similar boxes!)  and pray they are treated well when I send them out the door. 

I hope it's not too weird to say that some items give me a bad feeling when I ship them.  There is something about the interplay I have had with the customer already that I just know when a box isn't going to make it, no matter how I ship it.  I've been wrong on my "bad feelings" before, but not often.  This too is out of my control. 

It helps to have an action plan for certain kinds of problems.  In my case, if I switch the labels, I pay for the items to be shipped to the right location and refund all the shipping fees the customers paid in the first place.  I have begun insuring anything over 50 dollars.  I can afford to refund something that is broken if is less than 50 bucks, but after that it gets rather spendy.
Recently, I have learned that a seller can file an insurance claim and have a refund sent to the customer.  I will be doing this from now on.  The process is so complicated and frustrating, I don't want my customers to have this burden any more.  If an item disappoints for quality reasons, I usually give a percentage refund.  I am well acquainted with the taste of humble pie.  To err is human.
 
I do wonder how some sellers never seem to get a negative feedback score.  I have one out of over 1400 transactions.  The buyer left no comment about her problem and would not respond to any messages.  I also have 11 neutral comments.  I have addressed each and every one of them as well, asking what I could do better, how I could fix their concerns.  Some I was able to fix and some they just didn't respond.  I confess that I find reading people's feedback on etsy and ebay wildly entertaining and can spend hours scrolling through pages of comments.  Geeky, I know. 

For me, being in business is a spiritual exercise.  My values don't allow me to simply focus on the bottom line.  I choose not to reveal my Christianity in my selling venues because I personally tend to be suspicious of a seller who uses their faith as a selling point.  But I do think carefully about how to act like a Christian when things go wrong.  It often comes back to fear and trust.  Do I trust God to provide for us?  If I do, I won't be stingy and unfair to a customer with a legitimate concern.  On the other hand, I can also trust God to give me the confidence I need to deal with a customer that is a bully.  I don't have to be afraid to handle a conflict.  I always try to remember my Philo of Alexandria...

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is in a great battle."

And now, it's time to pack a box.
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