Customer support is an area that continually grows as your business expands and you acquire more customers who may need your help. I’ve been running PlanetJune for over 7 years now, and I have many thousands of customers – that’s the potential for a lot of people who may need my support!
Sometimes the task of helping my customers seems overwhelming and never-ending, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’ve realised it’s partly just my perception:
- Requests tend to come in clusters: the days that stand out are those where I wake to a dozen customer problems to solve, not the pleasant days where my inbox is filled with only orders and compliments.
- The hurt caused by one rude or demanding email outweighs the joy of receiving ten kind messages, and it weighs on my mind for much longer.
- Many of the questions I receive aren’t even from customers – some are general queries related to one of my tutorials, and many others are specific questions relating to a non-PlanetJune pattern. I need to set rules for how much time I can/should devote to these types of questions.
Reaching this point has helped me find a better perspective to cope with all the emails and requests from other sources (blog comments, and messages via Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc), but I still didn’t have a way to quantify how much work I really do to support my customers (and other people with questions for me).
A month ago, I started logging my customer support requests by categorising them, so I’ll be able to see a truer picture. Keeping track of how many questions and problems I actually deal with will help me figure out how much of my time I devote to customer support. Keeping track of the types of support requests I receive will help me to see where I can improve my instructions, systems and support resources to reduce that time commitment.
One month into this, I have enough data to do my first analysis. So what’s the verdict?
- The largest number of requests by far are for technical support. This is to be expected as I run a shop selling downloadable products, but I hope to reduce the number dramatically by making improvements to the way my shop works. That’s a long-term goal (I’ll start working on it once my pattern re-release project is complete) but I’m already planning the conversion and it’s exciting to think how much customer support time may be saved once I’ve completed it.
- The second largest category is people asking for help with non-PlanetJune patterns. Since I began blogging, I’ve spent countless hours helping people understand other (poorly-written) patterns, but I now have a policy on that: I provide unlimited support for my own patterns, but I can’t offer a free service to support other people’s patterns – that should be the responsibility of the designer or publisher of those patterns. Having this policy frees me from agonising over whether I should offer help just this once, and from feeling guilty when I don’t. I’m happy to support my customers; I can’t support every crocheter with internet access.
- The best statistic so far: only two support requests have been for pattern support for PlanetJune patterns. That means I’m doing my job properly by creating error-free patterns that very few people have any difficulty in understanding. And those two questions were both regarding amigurumi techniques, not my pattern instructions, so I could easily respond with a referral to my tutorial on the technique in question.
With only one month of data, I’m already seeing areas of my shop, website and business I can target for improvement. I’ve learnt so much already, and my log will become even more valuable as I add more data over time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been adding to my FAQ and building a bank of canned responses (stock answers I have ready to send in reply to common questions), and now I can judge how effective these are, and identify more FAQs and canned responses to develop.
I wish I’d thought to do this years ago, instead of relying on only my judgment to feel where things could be improved! I’ll be using the data from my customer support log to inform the systems I create, which will automate my business as much as possible. My end goal is to free up more time to concentrate on designing patterns and teaching through tutorials, and to allow my business to continue to grow without overwhelming me with a growing volume of administrative tasks.
If you have a craft business, how do you identify areas where your business could be improved, simplified, or streamlined? Could your business benefit from tracking your customer support requests?