Temporary setbacks have helped my business

Every online merchant dreads a telephone call or email from an unhappy customer or provider. However, as disagreeable as they are, those emails and calls often present opportunities to enhance an aspect of operations, merchandising, or pricing.

Here are examples from my own organization.

Setbacks, then improvements

Poor packaging. One of my products is an electroplated gold champagne flute. My initial half-dozen sales of them, which I sent with bubble wrap, led to complaints which one or more glasses were broken in transit. I needed to send replacements in my cost.

Now I wrap the flutes in bubble wrap, but I fill all possible openings in the box with scrunched tissue paper, which is light, packs well, and, as a bonus, is environmentally friendly.

Too short delivery dates. Until recently, about 20 of the merchandise comprised expected delivery in three days. The huge majority of my customers reside in Melbourne (Australia), where I am located. Thus the goods arrive within three days with no incident.

However as my earnings have grown, I’ve attracted clients throughout Australia, such as Cairns in far north Queensland, and Darwin in Northern Territory. Both towns take up to seven days for postal delivery.

1 client in Cairns complained that her order had not arrived three days after purchase. In that case, all of Australia experienced postal delays because of Easter, which meant no deliveries on April 19 and 22, and the national Anzac Day holiday on April 25. She was gracious about the delay. However, I changed my delivery deadline to seven days.

Delivery times. I must be certain about delivery and pickup times at event venues for leased items. Here’s why.

1 customer rented marquee letters and asked that we return to the place to collect them . My provider duly came, only to be informed by the venue staff the party was ongoing until 1:30 a.m. and providers could collect rental items then. The customer had not paid for a 1:30 a.m. pickup. I had to pay the supplier a further $150 ($100 came from the customer’s deposit) for the later-than-expected pickup time.

I plan for such contingencies with a higher delivery fee.

Quantity production. One of my most popular rental items is a cotton candy machine, that includes a human operator. Around three weeks ago, a client asked to employ the machine (and operator) to function 800 guests within a few hours.

Serving cotton candy to 800 guests in 2 hours is practically impossible. I’ve since specified in the item description that the operator can serve no more than 120 guests in just two hours.

Venue logistics. Many clients get so excited about their occasion they overlook logistics.

1 client wanted to rent a 79-inch diameter round leaves wall for her company event on the second floor of the venue. My provider asked me to check on the dimensions of the merchandise elevator. The foliage wall wouldn’t fit. I had to cancel the purchase. I’ve updated the item description to include the necessary size of the elevator, doors, and stairs.

Customer pickups. When possible, I allow customers to pick up purchased and leased items from my assumptions.

However, I had to stop offering such pickup for shuttle rentals for a number of my fragile products. A customer came to collect the acrylic plinths with a pickup truck (called a “ute” — utility vehicle — in Australia). She was going to put the plinths from the truck tray, which could have severely scratched or broken them .

Consultation fees. Last year I eased out of the wedding industry. However, I continue to have brides and their fiancés, moms, and best friends wanting to look in my showroom on weekends and evenings, often for an hour or longer.

Often these visits were a part of the wedding merry-go-round of visiting suppliers. The brides and their guests weren’t serious about reserving décor items.

After about five no-shows in a row, I used a $150 consultation fee for after-hours showroom visits. The outcome? No more no-shows and traffic (who now are usually corporate event planners) make appointments to see me during business hours.

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